Medical Terminology Made Simple: Hay Fever

Barry Lenson

Medical Terminology Made Simple: Hay Fever

Medical Terminology Made Simple: Hay Fever  As a service to students who are thinking of entering the medical and medical support professions, StraighterLine is running short posts on medical terms. Each post will define one medical problem or condition.

Today’s medical term is . . . Hay Fever

If you’ve been sneezing and wheezing over the last few weeks, chances are you have seasonal allergies, which are commonly referred to as hay fever.

The explanation is pretty simple. This is the time of year when many plants – ranging from mighty trees to puny little flowers and grass – start to send out pollen in many regions of the country.  Pollen is essentially powder that plants release as part of their reproductive activities. It sits on your car and porch. It goes up your nose and into your eyes too. If you are allergic to the stuff (and some lucky people aren’t), you have allergic reactions.  You sneeze, your nose runs, and your eyes itch and water up.

So, what do you do?

Most people who suffer from hay fever at this time of year simply head to the pharmacy and buy some kind of antihistamine, a medicine that limits the body’s reaction to allergens.  Often the products they buy also include a decongestant agent, which basically represses the body’s ability to make mucus. Many people are able to get relief by using these medications, but problems are associated with them. One of the biggest is that they often make people drowsy, which can be dangerous if they drive after taking them. They can also make people fall asleep at work, which will not do a lot to burnish their professional images.

Other people find relief from saline or steroid nasal sprays that can be purchased without a prescription.  And over the last few years an over-the-counter medication called Nasalcrom has gained in popularity. (Where do the pharmaceutical companies come up with those names?) Lots of people find it effective. One drawback is that you might have to take the stuff for a week or more before it kicks in and provides relief.

One way to feel better that doesn’t include medications is to try to limit your exposure to the pollen that is making you miserable. That can be tough to accomplish, but some sufferers report that if they try to remain indoors, sleep with an air conditioner running instead of opening a window, and stay away from outdoor tasks like mowing grass, they can soldier through hay fever season with some measure of comfort.

Still another approach – for severe allergy sufferers – is to visit an allergist.  If you’re in this camp, he or she can test you to pinpoint the substances that are making you sneeze, which could be anything from pet dander to mold spores to cosmetics. Tests typically involve injecting small quantities of extracts from those allergens under your skin to see which of them produce swelling.  There is little pain associated with this procedure. It is probably worth considering only if your annual bout with hay fever makes you completely and totally miserable.

So as you see, hay fever can be caused by hay, but it has little to do with fever. That’s just the way it is. Happy sneezing.

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