Hay fever is an allergic inflammation of the nasal airways. It occurs when an allergen such as pollen or dust is inhaled by an individual with a sensitized immune system, and triggers antibody production. These antibodies mostly bind to mast cells, which contain histamine. When the mast cells are stimulated by pollen and dust, histamine (and other chemicals) are released. This causes itching, swelling, and mucus production. Symptoms vary in severity between individuals. Very sensitive individuals can experience hives or other rashes. Particulate matter in polluted air and chemicals such as chlorine and detergents, which can normally be tolerated, can greatly aggravate the condition.
Allergies are common. Heredity and environmental exposures may contribute to a predisposition to allergies. It is roughly estimated that one in three people have an active allergy at any given time and at least three in four people develop an allergic reaction at least once in their lives.
It is possible to suffer from hay fever throughout the year. The pollen which causes hay fever varies between individuals and from region to region; generally speaking, the tiny, hardly visible pollens of wind-pollinated plants are the predominant cause. Pollens of insect-pollinated plants are too large to remain airborne and pose no risk. Examples of plants commonly responsible for hay fever include:
Trees: such as pine , birch (Betula), alder (Alnus), cedar, hazel, hornbeam (Carpinus), horse chestnut (Aesculus), willow (Salix), poplar, plane (Platanus), linden/lime (Tilia) and olive (Olea). In northern latitudes birch is considered to be the most important allergenic tree pollen, with an estimated 15–20% of hay fever sufferers sensitive to birch pollen grains. Olive pollen is most predominant in Mediterranean regions. Grasses (Family Poaceae): especially ryegrass (Lolium sp.) and timothy (Phleum pratense). An estimated 90% of hay fever sufferers are allergic to grass pollen. Weeds: ragweed (Ambrosia), plantain (Plantago), nettle/parietaria (Urticaceae), mugwort (Artemisia), Fat hen (Chenopodium) and sorrel/dock (Rumex)