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Hayfever is a term that doesn’t make much sense. The term is widely used but the condition isn’t caused by hay and the symptoms aren’t exactly a fever. Hay fever is actually “allergic rhinitis” and a symptom of allergic disease.
I grew up with hayfever (or hay fever) and often heard the term from my parents and from doctors. I remember I tried to understand the term.
- Had I been around hay?
- Would my fever affect others?
I grew up in a small city and there was no hay in sight. After hearing it several times, I began using the term without really understanding its meaning.
Symptoms of Hay Fever
I experienced many, if not all, of the symptoms of hay fever. My symptoms included:
- Itchy and congested nose
- Watery, red, irritated eyes
- Slight cough
- Mild rashes on the face
- Post nasal drip
- Itchy ears
I’d endure these symptoms in spring, summer, and fall when there was ample pollen in the air. Weed, tree, and grass pollen all bothered me and I’d feel exhausted due to a lack of sleep.
I’d make sure to sleep 8-10 hours a night but I’d always wake up tired. I don’t believe I slept well because my nose was always congested and I wasn’t getting enough oxygen.
I also noticed that the various types of pollen induced different symptoms.
In late summer and fall I’d experience rashes from the weed pollen. In spring, tree pollen would make my eyes red and itchy. My hayfever symptoms would change with the seasons!
1. Why It’s Called Hayfever
Hayfever gets its name from the fever-like symptoms it produces. The “hay” in hayfever came from the common misconception in the 19th century that damp hay in the summer caused the symptoms. Early on, this was known to be untrue, however, the term remained and continues today.
In the Southwest U.S. the term “cedar fever” has become a common phrase to describe the cedar pollen that is released in the winter. Cedar fever is a more accurate description of pollen allergy, however, it’s still a stretch to use the term “fever”.
2. Hayfever Is Not Contagious
Although hayfever might sound like a virus, it’s far from it. As mentioned, hayfever is an allergic condition that results in “fever-like” symptoms (minus the high, feverish body temperature).
People who experience hayfever might feel tired, lack energy, and have dark spots under their eyes. They may have itchy, watery eyes, and a stuffy nose.
Someone who spends a lot of time outdoors will likely experience more hay fever symptoms than someone who primarily works indoors. If you hear someone say they have hayfever, know that the word really means they are experiencing allergy symptoms.
3. It Was Known As The “Fever Of The Elites”
The immunologic disease was first documented among the elites in England. Medical doctors, the clergy, and people from the upper class reported having allergy-like symptoms early in the 19th century.
Even people in the royal family had hayfever. Though reliable studies did not exist at the time, the distinction was observable between city dwellers and people who lived rurally.
4. People In Cities Tend To Experience It More
Elites more commonly lived in cities and they were the first to show signs of allergic disease. Even now, in the 21st century, city dwellers, both wealthy and poor, have higher incidence of hayfever than people who live rurally. The same is true for asthma.
5. The Condition Has Only Been Recognized For 200 years
The earliest documentation of the allergic disease was recorded by John Bostock in 1819. His observations were outlined in the Medical and Chirurgical Society of London where he detailed a sufferer who complained of itching, coughing, and sneezing in the summer months.
It turned out, the patient he was describing was himself!
As a medical doctor, he knew his illness was not contagious and noticed that his symptoms were always present during summer from the early age of 8. Dr. Bostock even shared his attempts of relief which included opium, purging, bleeding, mercury, and confining himself inside his home (the latter provided the best results).
6. Caucasian’s Have A Higher Rate Of Disease
Because this disease was first recognized in England, it makes sense that the highest incidence would be with people of Anglo-Saxon decent. Today, diverse areas in the U.S. still have a higher incidence of hay fever in Caucasian populations.
7. Hay Fever Affects 26 million Americans Each Year (and rising)
Hay fever has slowly become more common in the U.S. (and other Western countries). According to the Washington Post, almost 26 million Americans have hay fever symptoms, with varying severity.
Most Americans manage their symptoms with antihistamines, air purifiers or filters, and by staying indoors just as Bostock recognized 200 years ago. Those who experience severe symptoms often opt for allergy immunotherapy (mentioned below).
8. There Is A Cure For Hayfever (at least a partial cure)
Allergy shots (also know as allergy immunotherapy) are a great treatment option for people suffering from hay fever. They work best for environmental allergies (things in the air).
Allergy shots take time and are only given by a medical doctor. Unlike antihistamines which help minimize symptoms, allergy shots can actually cure the underlying disease.
It’s important to know that allergy immunotherapy is not a quick fix and there’s no miracle drug.
The injections are filled with the allergens you are allergic to. Over time, and with a consistent shot schedule, the amount of injected allergen is increased.
Eventually, your body realizes it’s a harmless substance and stops reacting to the allergens. For many people, the symptoms totally disappear. For others, symptoms can be reduced by 75%.
I’ve been on allergy shots for several years and I’ve improved about 80%. I continue to use the therapy because it’s a natural (no synthetic drugs) therapy and I hope to further reduce my symptoms (read more about my experience with allergy shots).
Hayfever is one of those puzzling terms which doesn’t accurately describe the condition. If a child were to share with others that they have hayfever, it might scare children and parents who are unfamiliar with the term. Thankfully, hay fever is not something to fear.
For those of us who have allergic rhinitis, the condition is uncomfortable and can negatively impact our quality of life. During pollen season, I have problems exercising and working outdoors.
Sometimes I’ll wear a mask and I find myself constantly checking pollen reports for my area (a great resource is the National Allergy Bureau).
Hayfever is first mentioned in literature about 200 years ago. It was misunderstood as a fever and as an illness of the elites.
Early observations noted that it was more common in people with Anglo-Saxon heritage and in more urban areas. These days, it continues to be more prevalent in cities and in Caucasian populations although it can affect people from all races.
Although Dr. Bostock was likely not the first person to suffer from hayfever, he was the first to document the symptoms and possible treatments. His insight helped advance the study of what we know today as allergic rhinitis.