What Is Hay Fever?
| Definition: What Is Hayfever?
Hay fever is a common condition which produces cold-like symptoms (sneezing and runny nose). It is occurs when the membranes (tissues) of the nose become inflamed. When symptoms occur seasonally it is known as hay fever, and when they occur all year-round it is known as perennial allergic rhinitis. Both belong to a general group called allergic rhinitis. Allergic rhinitis occurs after exposure to allergens floating in the air (like tree or flower pollen) trigger the white blood cells to produce antibodies. These antibodies (immunoglobulin E, or IGE) bind to other cells and lead to excess mucus, itchiness and sneezing.
People who are allergic to certain tree pollens, weeds, grasses or flowers may develop symptoms on a seasonal basis (the primary cause of hay fever is grass pollen). Others with allergies to molds, dust mites, cockroaches or animal dander (skin cells that animals shed) can have symptoms all-year round. Your likelihood of developing either type of allergy is largely a matter of genetics - people with a family history of allergies, as well as those with asthma are more likely to develop allergic rhinitis. In most cases symptoms will occur before the age of 20 and can continue into adulthood.
Nearly all classic allergic diseases are on the increase, but none as rapidly as hay fever. But what is particularly interesting, is that up until 200 years ago, the condition did not even exist! Careful research by medical historians show that it was not a case of hay fever been ignored or unrecognized, it simply did not exist. The first case was reported in 1819, but even by the 1930s it was so rare the symptoms baffled doctors. See: are allergies becoming more common?
Hay Fever Statistics
Nearly 8 percent of Americans adults suffer from hay fever. Whites are more likely to be affected (10 percent) than blacks (8 percent).
• Need more information about allergies? See:
What are the signs of hay fever? Top symptoms.
WOMENS HEALTH ADVICE: ABOUT QUESTIONS ON ALLERGIES