Many people think hay-fever symptoms consist simply of a runny nose, nasal congestion, itchy eyes, sneezing and post-nasal drip. These symptoms do not seem serious even though they may be annoying. However, chronic or untreated hay fever can lead to serious and longterm conditions.
Nasal congestion can cause dry mouth and halitosis (bad breath). Nose bleeding is a common side effect of allergies. A constant runny nose which results in frequent nose wiping may lead to skin irritation and even infection around the nose. Post-nasal drip (drainage down the back of the throat) contributes to coughing, hoarseness, sore throat and wheezing in some patients with bronchial asthma.
Breathing Through The Mouth
Many people breathe through the mouth due to nasal congestion. When mouth breathing is persistent during childhood, the palate, which is still developing, can become narrow and high-arched. (A higharched palate is a common physical finding in hayfever patients.) The change in the palate can result in overbite and other orthodontic problems.
Hay fever causes itchy eyes. When the patient frequently rubs the eyes, infections such as sties can occur. Swelling and darkening (“allergic shiners”) under the eyes also occur due to allergies.
Patients with hay fever often suffer from ear popping and congestion. Some people develop severe inner-ear disturbances and experience dizziness. Persistent fluid in the ears can cause frequent ear infections and a need for antibiotics or even tubes in the ears. The fluid and frequent ear infections may result in decreased hearing or even hearing loss.
A more common side effect of chronic or severe hay fever is sinusitis. If the hay fever is not controlled or treated, the sinus infections can become recurrent. Polyps may develop as the result of chronic sinusitis or frequent exposure to allergens.
Headaches are a painful side effect of hay fever. Headaches may be triggered by sinus congestion and strong odors such a perfumes or scented products, chemical or exhaust fumes, smoke, flowers and moldy soil in potted plants. Chronic headaches can mean loss of time from work or school, fatigue, irritability, poor concentration and decreased work or school performance.
The side effects of chronic or untreated hay fever can make a person feel constantly ill. Adults and children can become crabby and moody. Young children, who cannot communicate how they feel, are vulnerable to the psychosocial side effects of hay fever. They may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep at night due to nasal congestion, headache, postnasal drip, etc. These side effects and a difficulty swallowing due to mouth breathing may also cause a decrease in their appetite. Ear congestion may decrease hearing and result in learning difficulties at school. All of these hay-fever side effects can cause the “allergic irritability syndrome”: irritability, disruptive behavior, mood swings, a short attention span and poor school performance. Patients 4 to 8 years of age who had this problem were studied, and it was discovered that they improved when treated with antihistamine/decongestant products and steroid nasal sprays.
It is now known that asthma can be a side effect or complication of hay fever. Asthma may be worsened because the nose is congested and cannot filter allergens, which are then inhaled directly into the lungs. Seasonal asthma, occurring in the spring and fall, is worsened by high pollen counts.
Undiagnosed and untreated hay fever can lead to serious problems. Once hay fever is diagnosed, these side effects can be controlled environmentally (by avoiding allergens and irritants), through medication and/or with allergy shots. If treated early, hay fever’s side effects will less likely progress to chronic or severe problems.