Hay Fever - Treatment
The best treatment for hay fever is to avoid the allergens that cause the condition. For example, people who are allergic to grass should not mow the lawn. It may be difficult to avoid allergens, however. In that case, two other treatments are available: drugs and immunotherapy.
Some types of drugs used to treat hay fever include the following:
- Antihistamines. Antihistamines block the action of histamine (pronounced HISS-tuh-meen) in the immune system. Histamine is a chemical that causes many of the symptoms of hay fever. Antihistamines can be used after the symptoms of hay fever appear, but they are more effective if used before the symptoms appear. Many older types of antihistamines caused drowsiness. Some newer types do not have this side effect.
- Decongestants. Decongestants constrict (shrink) blood vessels. They reduce the loss of fluid from blood vessels that causes many symptoms of hay fever. Decongestants are sold as pills and as nasal (nose) sprays. One dangerous side effect is that they increase blood pressure and heart rate. They should not be taken for more than a few days at a time.
- Topical corticosteroids. Topical corticosteroids (pronounced kor-tih-ko-STIHR-oids) reduce inflammation and swelling of tissue. They tend to work more slowly and last longer than other forms of medication. As a result, they should be started before the hay fever season begins.
- Mast cell stabilizers. Mast cells are cells produced by the immune system. They are responsible for the early stages of an allergic reaction. Mast cell stabilizers stop the allergic reaction before it gets started. They can also be used before the hay fever season begins. In that case, they reduce the chance that hay fever will develop.
Immunotherapy is also known as desensitization or allergy shots. The principle behind immunotherapy is to get the immune system more familiar with an allergen. The procedure consists of a series of injections of the allergen to which the patient is allergic. The first few shots contain a very small amount of the allergen. Over time, the shots contain slightly more allergen
each time. With each shot, the immune system becomes more familiar with the allergen. It produces a more limited reaction to the material. Eventually, the injections contain as much allergen as a patient is likely to encounter in daily life. At that point, the immune system may no longer react to the allergen.
Immunotherapy may take many weeks, months, or even years to achieve this goal. Sometimes the procedure does not work at all. One serious side effect of immunotherapy is anaphylaxis (pronounced a-neh-feh-LAK-siss). Anaphylaxis is characterized by a sharp drop in blood pressure and difficulty with breathing. A person can go into anaphylactic shock and die very quickly. For this reason, the person giving an allergy shot must watch the patient very closely for any unexpected responses.
Some alternative practitioners believe that hay fever should be treated by strengthening the immune system. They may recommend a more balanced diet and changes in one's lifestyle. Vitamin C is sometimes recommended to reduce inflammation of tissues. Some herbs that are recommended for relief of hay fever symptoms include eyebright, bee pollen, and nettle.