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).

An estimated 18 million UK people suffer from hay fever (source: NHS).

Allergic rhinitis affects about 15 percent of Australians, or about 3.1 million people. It is most commonly reported in the 25-44 age group
(source: National Health Survey, 2007-8).

• Need more information about allergies? See:

What are the signs of hay fever? Top symptoms.
How is hay fever diagnosed? Hayfever tests and questions to ask doctor.
How is hay fever treated? Treatment and remedies.
What is an allergy? Definition to understanding allergies.

Pollen Counts
What is a high pollen count? Looking at the forecasts.
How to avoid pollen at home. Tips for reducing pollen in the home.

Do allergies run in families? Checking your DNA!
Can allergies kill you? When an allergy can be fatal.
Can you grow out of allergies? An old wives tale?

• Got another question? See: Allergy Questions

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