What is hay fever?

Hay fever symptoms are fairly well-known. Sneezing, watery eyes, and congestion are all allergic reactions to airborne particles such as pollen. Skin irritation or rash is another symptom of hay fever that gets little attention.

Nearly 8 percent of American adults get hay fever, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, isn’t a virus. It is, instead, a term used to refer to the cold-like symptoms that appear as a result of airborne allergies. While some people experience these symptoms on a year-round basis, for many people symptoms are seasonal, depending on their particular allergies.

Here are a few ways to determine if your rash is related to hay fever, or from a different cause.

While other symptoms of hay fever are traced to breathing pollens and other allergens, hay fever rashes can often be traced to allergens coming in direct contact with the skin.

For instance, you may be touching various pollens in plants and flowers when you’re working in your yard. When compounded by the fact that you’re stirring up these pollens by working in flowerbeds, you have a recipe for a skin irritation that can develop into a full-blown skin rash or hives.

A rash may be mistaken for hives. Hives are generally caused by an allergic reaction to something that’s been ingested or inhaled. However, hives can occur as a result of hay fever.

The first symptoms you’ll notice are itchiness and possibly red patches or eruptions on the skin. These look more like welts than bumps, with edges that are clearly defined. The surface of the skin will appear swollen, almost as if you’ve been scalded.

As time goes on, the spots may increase in size. They may even disappear and later reappear. Hives specifically tend to turn white when pressed.

Atopic dermatitis isn’t caused by hay fever, but can be made worse by hay fever. Atopic dermatitis is more common in infants and young children. It can appear as an ongoing rash and usually includes a host of other symptoms.

Atopic dermatitis appears as patches of dry, bumpy skin. It appears especially on the face, scalp, hands, and feet. Other symptoms may include:

  • oozy blisters
  • discharge or cracking
  • lizard-like skin changes that appear as a result of constant scratching

The itchiness is usually described as intense or unbearable.

If you’ve been spending quite a bit of time outdoors recently, you may assume your skin rash is related to hay fever. But there are other factors that could be to blame.

Heat rashes are common. If you’ve been spending time outside, heat could be the culprit. You also may have unintentionally come into contact with poison oak, poison ivy, or some other poisonous plant.

Numerous other factors can cause skin rashes. You may have an allergy to the laundry detergent or soap you’re using. You may have a cosmetic allergy.

Lastly, it shouldn’t be forgotten that hay fever can cause generalized itchiness. In fact, it’s one of the main symptoms. All that scratching can cause skin irritation. This leads people to believe they have a rash, when really it’s simply a reaction to scratching. Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can help reduce that itchy feeling, cutting down on skin irritation.

One key to finding the cause of your rash is to observe how long the rash persists. A rash that keeps coming back may be related to hay fever, rather than temporary exposure to something.

Also, what time of year does the rash normally appear? If you notice you’re developing recurring rashes consistently during certain seasons (like springtime), it may be related to the pollens of that season. This is known as seasonal allergies.

Note that allergic reactions aren’t limited to the pollens in the spring. Fall allergies are common and, in some areas, trees and certain plants grow in the winter and summer that can cause skin irritation. Ragweed and grass can cause hay fever during spring and summer, the two best-known seasons for allergy problems.

In addition to a rash, you may also experience below-the-eye puffiness as a reaction to hay fever. Dark circles may also begin to appear. These are known as allergic shiners.

A person with hay fever may also feel fatigued without realizing hay fever is the culprit. Headaches can also occur. Some people with hay fever may feel irritable and experience memory problems and slowed thinking.