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What is Hay Fever?

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Millions of people around the world have experienced hay fever with all its symptoms. Hay fever is arguably the most common of all allergic reactions and for most people it can be quite annoying when it strikes.

But what exactly is hay fever and how can it be treated? The answer is one that involves extensive research into this phenomenon that has been a part of the human condition for arguably many thousands of years.

What is Hay Fever?

The scientific term is allergic rhinitis which is an inflammation of the nasal passages when elements such as pollen, animal dander or dust are inhaled. In individuals who have sensitive immune systems, the inhalation of these elements triggers a reaction which is normally in the form of producing antibodies to fight what is believed to be an infection or virus.

In essence, the production of the antibodies is combined with elements that contain histamines which in turn create the watery eyes and mucus that expand the lining in the nasal cavities. As a result, the body reacts as if a cold, infection or virus is present when in actuality it is not. Thus, hay fever is really an allergic reaction to harmless pollens, animal dander or dust. For very sensitive individuals, hives or rashes may break out on the skin as well.

The term “hay fever” is derived from the incorrect belief that the symptoms were caused by the smell of freshly cut hay. Another name at the time was “hay asthma” which has since faded into memory. However, the link between grass pollens and the allergic reaction was documented, if not accurately, after the turn of the 19th century.

The History of Hay Fever Research

Although observed for many centuries, John Bostock, a physician was the first to identify the condition in 1819 which he believed at the time was a disease. It was not until 1859 that Charles Blackley properly identified pollen as being the source of the hay fever. However, it still took until 1906 before the actual mechanisms of the allergy were properly noted as found in the work of Clemens von Pirquet.

During this time, it was observed that allergies were quite common among the people of the day and that certain conditions could amplify the reaction. This type of allergy affects up to 25% annually of the people living in Western countries and is passed down from generation to generation as well. In fact, upwards of 75% of all people will experience some form of hay fever or allergic reaction of this nature at least once in their own lives.

For most people, hay fever is an annoyance that will last for a few days up to a few weeks depending on the individual. This is also quite common for people who have moved into a new area where different types of pollen for example can trigger a new reaction. However, for most people once the body recognizes the particular type of pollen, hay fever does not strike again in that form.


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