Hay fever? This will make you feel better quickly!

Anyone who suffers from hay fever has a very hard time in the beautiful spring - because that's when the pollen is flying more. What helps against itching and sneezing?
What is hay fever?
Millions of Germans suffer from hay fever. This means that they react to plant pollen (the smallest pollen particles from grasses, trees, and herbs in the air) with cold-like symptoms such as a cold. Peak pollen season is from April to August, but earlier or later outbreaks are also possible.

What are the symptoms of hay fever?
Many sufferers initially mistake the symptoms of hay fever for a cold before diagnosis. Hay fever can cause the following symptoms:

Heavy sneezing
Blocked nose or runny nose (rhinitis)
Itching and / or burning in the throat
Watery and burning eyes
Swelling of the mucous membranes, e.g. in the nose
Aggravation of skin diseases such as neurodermatitis
Hay fever can also affect the lower respiratory tract like rhinitis, causing shortness of breath. In addition, hay fever patients have an increased risk of allergic asthma because the allergy can also become lodged in the bronchial tubes.

Hay fever: The pollen allergy does not itch me!
Unfortunately, it does. One in seven people is allergic to pollen, but hay fever is still underestimated. How can you recognize it - and what can you do about it?

"My nose is always running. Is that already a sign of hay fever or simply a minor cold?"

"If your eyes are also itchy, there is a lot to be said for an allergy," says Dr. Jörg Kleine-Tebbe, a member of the board of the German Society for Allergology and Clinical Immunology. In his Berlin practice, he has also found that people who permanently need nasal drops are often unknowingly allergic to pollen and the like. 

Dr. Christa Wilcke, an ENT specialist with an allergology focus such as hay fever in Hamburg, advises: "Anyone who has a cold for longer than 14 days should at least have a check-up. Sometimes the doctor can then already recognize from the mucous membranes whether an allergy exists or something else is behind the continuous rhinitis, such as a chronic sinusitis." 

By the way: Even though 80 percent of allergies break out before the age of 30, older adults can still develop hay fever triggered by pollen and also a cross allergy. Experts even believe that these late first manifestations are currently on the rise.

"I went to the doctor, but the allergy test didn't give any results. Now what?"

Allergy tests, such as the prick test on the forearm or the detection of IgE antibodies in the blood, only detect sensitization, a readiness for a pollen allergy, so to speak. One speaks of an allergy such as hay fever only if complaints also fit to it. "The clarification of an allergy takes time," explains Kleine-Tebbe. "And talking to the patient plays a decisive role in this: what exactly are the complaints, when do they occur, are there other allergies in the family, etc." 

If the tests don't work at first, it only means that there is no allergy to the tested substances. But the list of possible triggers is long, so it can become detective work to find the "culprits" among them. So it doesn't always have to be hay fever. "The problem is that this effort doesn't cover costs for the doctor," Kleine-Tebbe says. "Unfortunately, it happens again and again that allergy sufferers are treated too quickly." Dr. Wilcke then advises agreeing with the doctor that after an inconclusive test, further examinations will be made at least in the next billing quarter. Helpful to quickly isolate the allergen: Log already before the doctor visit your complaints.

Allergic rhinitis: "I manage quite well with remedies from the pharmacy, but can I really take them permanently?"

"With all medications that you take for long periods of time, you should consider the relationship between effect and side effect," says Wilcke. And although second-generation antihistamines (e.g., with the active ingredient cetericine) no longer make you as drowsy as older preparations, fatigue and dizziness still occur frequently, especially with over-the-counter tablets. 

Because hay fever in itself often also makes you sleepy, it becomes really annoying. "But there are definitely remedies that make you less tired," says Wilcke. "Also, the medications each have a different focus." With one, it's mainly the eyes that are affected, with the other it's itching in the ears - and accordingly, different remedies help best. Another argument for an appointment with a specialist: He knows the range of medications and can advise accordingly to find the right one. "As a patient, I wouldn't want to try it all myself," says the ENT doctor.

"Does a pollen allergy like hay fever turn into more allergies over time?"

Not necessarily, but the risk exists. Among other things, so-called cross allergies are responsible: In this case, antibodies formed against a specific allergen also jump to other proteins with a similar structure. Birch pollen allergy sufferers, for example, usually also develop reactions to other tree pollens and two-thirds of them to certain foods such as apples, other stone fruits, carrots, and nuts. 

This becomes noticeable through itching, tingling or swelling in the mouth. In the past, cross-allergies were much rarer. "Today, they are the main reason for food allergies in adulthood," says Kleine-Tebbe. And even with the floor change, an allergy can turn into more allergy, in the sense of more severe symptoms, and even permanent damage to the respiratory tract.

"Is there any chance that my hay fever will go away on its own?"

This happens, but only in phases in which hormone balance and thus the immune system of our body change: for example, during puberty, pregnancy or menopause. However, there is also a risk that this is exactly when allergic symptoms first appear. "It's definitely not the case that allergies become more and more pronounced the older you get," says Wilcke.

"Could hyposensitization for hay fever make sense for me?"

Hyposensitization is the only causal therapy because the immune system gradually learns to tolerate the allergen - pollen, for example - through regular confrontation with it, with weekly injections or taking drops or tablets daily. According to a survey, 70 percent are satisfied with the results of hyposensitization: On average, the need for medication and symptoms of hay fever and co. are reduced by half, the risk of asthma is demonstrably reduced or already existing asthma can be alleviated. Unfortunately, hyposensitization does not work for nickel allergy.

In addition, allergies do not spread as much afterwards. "Through hyposensitization, you obviously stabilize the immune system so that it develops a general tolerance," says ENT physician Wilcke. The guidelines recommend immunotherapy with allergens for moderate to severe symptoms of hay fever and other allergies. It is already possible in children and, unlike in the past, there is no upper age limit today. "According to experience, the treatment works better when the number of allergens is manageable," says Kleine-Tebbe. Always required: the willingness to consistently follow through with treatment, even over three years. "Nothing is as bad as a discontinued hyposensitization," says Wilcke.

Reading tip: Here we explain what you should know about pollen allergy, which allergens there are and how an allergic reaction manifests itself.


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