How Is Hay Fever Diagnosed?

Hayfever Testing
Some doctors simply diagnose hay fever by the description of your symptoms (what are the signs of hay fever?). However, we believe the following method for diagnosis is more thorough.

1. Skin Prick Test

Skin Prick Test

The standard diagnostic tool for hay fever (as well as food intolerances) is the skin-prick test. In a skin-prick test a small drop of liquid containing the allergen is placed on the arm. The doctor makes a small prick in the skin, under the drop of liquid, allowing a minuscule amount of the allergen to enter the bloodstream. A positive reaction is recorded if a red bump develops soon after. See how is a food allergy diagnosed? for more details of this test.

2. Questions

In diagnosing hay fever the following 3 questions should be asked:

1. Is it actually hay fever? See, what is hay fever?
2. Which pollen or pollens are responsible?
3. Are allergens other than pollen also involved?

Don't be surprised if none of these questions are asked. In most countries, if you have hay fever-like symptoms during the pollen season (in other words when most hay fever sufferers have symptoms), the doctor will conclude that you have hay fever - and that's that!

If hay fever seems likely to you, and you respond to drug treatment, or manage well on pollen avoidance, then there is probably no reason to go further. Should you want a more thorough investigation, you will need to be persistent.

These are good reasons for requesting a full diagnosis:

• Your symptoms are worse in the pollen season, but they never really go away, suggesting that you may be allergic to year-round allergens, such as house-dust mite or molds, as well. It is worth knowing which ones, so that you can avoid them. If you live in an area that is always warm (such as California or Southern Australia) it may be that your culprit pollen is in the air all year round - even so, knowing which pollen it is can help with avoidance. Around the Mediterranean, the pollen from cypresses can keep hay fever going through the winter (or cause symptoms in winter only).

• Your symptoms are sometimes worse when they should be better, and vice versa. If you are consistently worse indoors with the windows closed this could indicate that a seasonal indoor allergen is the culprit - mold spores or cockroach perhaps (cockroach is often seasonal in regions with cold winters).

• Your symptoms begin before the pollen season begins, or go on long afterwards. Or the severity of your symptoms does not match the daily pollen count for your suspect pollen. In Britain, the mold Cladosporium herbarum produces spores in June, roughly coinciding with the grass-pollen season. Allergy to this mold can easily be mistaken for grass-pollen allergy. You would need skin-prick tests for both Cladosporium and grasses.

• You are much worse near home than elsewhere. It could just be a garden plant or tree. As one California resident noticed, her olive tree on her front lawn was the cause (she had it removed).

• You want to plan vacations free from the culprit pollen. Moving house - especially to a region with different vegetation - can be a spur to finding out exactly what your allergens are.

If you are going for a full diagnosis make sure it is done correctly. Don't accept testing with 'mixed tree and shrub pollens' for example, or 'weed pollens'. The result tells you very little. Ask for tests with specific pollens.

How is hay fever treated? Treatments discussed.

Pollen Counts
What is a high pollen count? Grass, trees and plants.
How to avoid pollen at home. Ways to reduce pollen getting into the house.

• Got another question? See: Allergy Questions

Are allergies becoming more common? Or are they just being noticed more?
What is an allergy? Understanding the nature of allergies.

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