The symptoms of hay fever are very similar to the symptoms of a cold. However, a cold usually gets better and goes away after about a week. Hay fever may hang on for several weeks or throughout a season. Year-round (perennial) hay fever may be nearly constant. An accurate diagnosis will help you know how to treat and manage your symptoms.
Hay fever can usually be diagnosed from a physical examination and health history. Your doctor will want to know:
- what your symptoms are and how long you have had them
- whether symptoms are constant or seasonal
- whether you have any other allergies
- whether you have a family history of allergy
- what measures you have taken to treat your symptoms
- whether these measures have worked
- what triggers your symptoms
If standard treatments do not provide relief, your doctor may order tests to determine exactly what is causing your symptoms.
During a skin-prick test, the skin (usually on the forearm, upper arm, or back) is pricked with a potential allergen. If you develop swelling, redness, or a bump at the site, you are allergic to the substance. Results can be seen within 15 to 20 minutes. The number of tests and the allergens selected will be based on your:
- living space
- environmental exposures
The most commonly used antigens are pollens, molds, house dust mites, and animal dander.
In some cases, your doctor may choose to do intradermal testing. In this method, a small amount of the allergen is injected just under the skin and the site is monitored for a reaction.
If skin tests are not appropriate, or if their results are not clear, your doctor may order radioallergosorbent (RAST) test. RAST is a blood test. A sample of your blood is mixed with a suspected allergen. IgE antibodies, which the immune system produces normally in response to a very particular type of perceived threat (parasite infection), are then measured. Allergy is indicated if you produce IgE antibodies in response to the substance.
In some cases, an allergist or other physician may choose to order a special test such as a video inspection inside the nose (fiber-optic nasal endoscopy). This test can identify nasal polyps as a cause of allergy symptoms.
Primary Care Physician or Internist
If you’re experiencing symptoms that you think could be caused by an allergy, see your regular doctor. They’ll be able to recommend or prescribe any necessary treatments or medications.
Allergist or Immunologist
Your initial medical visit may result in a recommendation to see a specialist, such as an allergist or immunologist. This will happen especially if your regular doctor believes you should have a skin prick or other allergy test. An allergist is a pediatrician or internist with at least two additional years of specialized training in diagnosing and treating allergies.
This type of doctor helps to diagnose and treat conditions on the ears, nose, sinuses, and the voice box (larynx). For allergies, the typically treat my medication, allergy shots, or having people avoid their triggers. They are trained to treat:
- hay fever
- seasonal and perennial rhinitis
- chronic sinusitis
- sore throat