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March 2009 Chirurgeon's Message

Aaaaaaachoooooo!

It's that time of year again. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the flowers are blooming and everybody is sneezing. It's Hay fever time! So what is Hay fever really?

Hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, causes cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose, congestion, sneezing and sinus pressure. But unlike a cold, hay fever isn't caused by a virus - it's caused by an allergic response to indoor or outdoor airborne allergens, such as pollen, dust mites or pet dander. Some people have hay fever year-round. For others, hay fever gets worse at certain times of the year, usually in the spring, summer or fall. One of the most common allergic conditions, hay fever affects about one in five people.

How do I know I have Hay fever?
The sign and symptoms usually develop immediately after you're exposed to specific allergy-causing substances (allergens) and can include:
  • Runny nose and nasal congestion
  • Watery or itchy eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Itchy nose, roof of mouth or throat
  • Sinus pressure and facial pain
  • Swollen, blue-colored skin under the eyes (allergic shiners)
  • Decreased sense of smell or taste

Your symptoms may start or worsen at a particular time of year, triggered by tree pollen, grasses or weeds. If you're sensitive to indoor allergens such as dust mites, cockroaches, mold or pet dander, you may have year-round symptoms.

But I just have a cold, right?
The signs and symptoms can be different. Here's how to tell which one's causing your symptoms:
Hay Fever
     Signs and symptoms - runny nose with thin, watery discharge; no fever
     Onset - Immediately after exposure to allergens
     Duration - As long as you're exposed to allergens

Colds
     Signs and symptoms - runny nose with watery or thick yellow discharge; low-grade fever
     Onset - One to three days after exposure to cold virus
     Duration - Five to seven days

Do I need to see a doctor?
    See your doctor if:
    • You think you or your child may have hay fever
    • Your symptoms are ongoing and bothersome
    • Allergy medications aren't working for you
    • Allergy medications work, but cause side effects that are a problem
    • You have another condition that can worsen hay fever symptoms, such as nasal polyps, asthma or frequent sinus infections
    You may want to see an allergy specialist for evaluation and treatment if:
    • Your symptoms are severe
    • Hay fever is a year-round nuisance
    • Allergy medications are not controlling your symptoms
    • Your allergy medications are causing side effects
    • You're thinking about allergy shots (immunotherapy)
    Other health problems that often occur along with hay fever include:
    • Asthma. If you have asthma, you may have signs and symptoms such as difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, a tight feeling in the chest, coughing and wheezing.
    • Eczema. Also called dermatitis, this condition causes swollen, red or itchy skin.
    • Sinusitis. Prolonged sinus congestion due to hay fever may increase your susceptibility to sinusitis - an infection or inflammation of the membrane that lines the sinuses.
    • Ear infection. In children, hay fever often is a factor in middle ear infection (otitis media).
    See your doctor if:
    • You think you or your child may have hay fever
    • Your symptoms are ongoing and bothersome
    • Allergy medications aren't working for you
    • Allergy medications work, but cause side effects that are a problem
    • You have another condition that can worsen hay fever symptoms, such as nasal polyps, asthma or frequent sinus infections
    You may want to see an allergy specialist for evaluation and treatment if:
    • Your symptoms are severe
    • Hay fever is a year-round nuisance
    • Allergy medications are not controlling your symptoms
    • Your allergy medications are causing side effects
    • You're thinking about allergy shots (immunotherapy)
    Other health problems that often occur along with hay fever include:
    • Asthma. If you have asthma, you may have signs and symptoms such as difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, a tight feeling in the chest, coughing and wheezing.
    • Eczema. Also called dermatitis, this condition causes swollen, red or itchy skin.
    • Sinusitis. Prolonged sinus congestion due to hay fever may increase your susceptibility to sinusitis - an infection or inflammation of the membrane that lines the sinuses.
    • Ear infection. In children, hay fever often is a factor in middle ear infection (otitis media).
So how can I get some relief?
There are a number of over-the-counter and prescription medications available that help relieve hay fever symptoms. They include pills, liquids, nasal sprays and eyedrops. Many people get the best relief from a combination of allergy medications. You may need to try several medications to identify what works best for you. Over-the-counter medications may be enough to relieve your symptoms; or, you may need a prescription from your doctor.

If your child has hay fever, talk with your doctor about the best treatment. Some medications are approved for use in children, while others are only approved for adults. If you want to try an over-the-counter medication for your child, be sure to read the labels carefully.

What can I do to prevent getting hay fever?
There's no proven way to avoid getting hay fever - but you can prevent allergy symptoms by avoiding the things that trigger your reactions. It's not possible to completely avoid allergens, but you can reduce your signs and symptoms by taking some steps to limit your exposure to them. It helps to know exactly what you're allergic to so that you can take steps to avoid your specific triggers.

THL Blase di Angelo
Kingdom Chirurgeon


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