An Overview of Hay Fever Rashes

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Hay fever, another term for seasonal allergies or allergic rhinitis, causes symptoms such as sneezing and running nose when allergens are inhaled. When these same allergens come in direct contact with the skin, it can trigger a hay fever rash. Hay fever rashes cause itchy, red, inflamed bumps or welts across the skin.

Symptoms

Hay fever is an allergic reaction to certain types of pollen. Common causes of hay fever include allergies to grass, trees, and weeds. However, all kinds of allergies can cause this condition even dust mites or mold spores.

Symptoms may include a runny nose, itchy or watery eyes, and sometimes an itchy skin rash. A rash is not a common symptom of hay fever, but it can happen occasionally. Some people are more prone to developing a hay fever rash than others.

Why Is It Called "Hay Fever?"

The term "hay fever" itself can be a bit misleading since it's not really caused by a hay allergy, nor does this condition typically result in a fever. It probably got this name because plant pollens are often to blame and symptoms may be worse during the spring, fall or summer.

When farming was more common in the U.S. many people probably often developed symptoms while working with hay on a farm, leading to the name hay fever.

There's actually more than one type of rash associated with allergic rhinitis (hay fever). Allergic dermatitis and hives are types of rash you might develop if you have skin contact with something you're allergic to, but eczema can also be associated with hay fever.

  • Hives: Hives are red raised bumps (also called weals) that itch. The size can range from as small as a pencil eraser to larger than several inches across. Hives can also occur along with swelling of the skin (angioedema). Hives typically fade after several hours to days, but they can be chronic.
  • Allergic contact dermatitis: This type of rash is red, swollen, and itchy. Unlike hives, allergic contact dermatitis causes blister-like bumps across the skin surface that may weep. This rash may also be scaly and dry, especially if it is chronic or long-lasting.
  • Eczema: Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is another type of skin rash that can be associated with hay fever. However, it is different than hives or allergic contact dermatitis in that it is a chronic skin condition. Eczema is red, itchy or painful; the skin also looks or feels dry and scaly. Patches of eczema recur in typical areas such as the face, elbows, behind the knees, hands, and feet, rather than on areas that have come in contact with a trigger substance. Like most rashes, scratching will only make it worse.

Causes

Hay fever rashes develop when you come into contact with a plant you are allergic too. For example, if you come into contact with a plant you are allergic to while weeding your garden you could develop a skin rash.

The amount of time that occurs between when you touch a triggering substance and when the rash appears is variable. It can occur within minutes or it can develop hours or days after you've been exposed to a triggering substance, a phenomenon called lag time.

You may be surprised to know that you can develop a rash after having skin contact with a plant or substance you have been able to touch previously without developing a rash.

Hives typically develop after you've eaten something that you're allergic to, but they can also happen after you've come in contact with an allergen. As the name suggests, allergic contact dermatitis develops only after direct skin contact with a trigger substance.

Contact dermatitis isn't only caused by skin contact with allergens like pollen, dust, and dander. There are many different substances that can cause the condition, including nickel, topical medications, latex, among many others. Triggers vary from person to person.

Again, eczema is different from the other types of hay fever rashes. For one thing, it is chronic in nature rather than appearing, say, after you've weeded your garden.

The association between eczema and hay fever is twofold. First, while pollen is a known trigger for eczema rashes but, unlike with the other two types of rashes, it doesn't have to come in contact with the skin in order to trigger the rash. Simply inhaling the allergens can make eczema worse.

Secondly, genetically speaking, individuals who develop eczema are known to be more likely to have problems with hay fever and asthma. Hay fever itself does not cause eczema, nor vice versa, but the conditions are linked. If you have one you're more likely to have the other.

Hay fever is not the only type of allergic condition associated with eczema. It is also associated with food allergies and other sensitivities.

Identifying eczema triggers can be difficult and other factors including stress and dry skin can contribute to a flareup if you're prone to this skin condition. Irritants such as soap, lotions or other chemicals can also cause eczema to flare up or make it worse.

Diagnosis

A physician can diagnose most rashes with a physical exam coupled with your medical history. There are other tests that can be done, such as a KOH prep test (AKA skin scraping) or skin biopsy, to rule out other possible conditions.

It's always a good idea to see a doctor if you're experiencing a rash for the first time.

Allergy testing may be necessary to determine what triggered your rash. Identifying and avoiding this substance will be very important.

If you don't know what you're allergic to a specialty doctor called an immunologist can perform certain tests to identify the culprit. This may include blood tests or skin patch testing.

Once you know what substance you are allergic to you can take measures to avoid the substance in the future to prevent future problems. The more you are exposed to the triggering substance the more severe your symptoms may be.

Treatment

Many of the treatments that you normally use to control your hay fever symptoms can also be beneficial in preventing and treating associated skin rashes.

  • Cold compresses, calamine lotion or colloidal oatmeal baths can soothe irritated, itchy skin no matter what the cause.
  • Antihistamines, including fexofenadine and diphenhydramine, help relieve itching and are the first-line treatment for hives. If you are looking for an antihistamine that specifically helps skin rashes talk to your doctor or pharmacist. Antihistamines typically treat hives very effectively, but many rashes do not respond to antihistamines.
  • Topical steroid creams, including over-the-counter hydrocortisone, desonide, and clobetasol are common treatments for both eczema and allergic contact dermatitis.
  • Use moisturizing creams several times per day, because dry skin makes eczema worse. You may also wish hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
  • Avoiding the triggering substance is crucial. If you have not yet been able to pinpoint the cause of your symptoms you should consult a doctor who is qualified to do allergy testing. You may need to change your clothes after spending time outside, keep your windows closed when pollen counts are high or take other precautions to help you avoid certain allergens.
  • Immunotherapy (allergy shots), for severe allergies, may be an option that can reduce symptoms or even cure your hay fever. This treatment continues to evolve in ways making it more cost-effective, convenient and less painful (many sublingual versions are now available or will be made available in the future). Discuss immunotherapy with your doctor to see if this is a good option for you.

A Word From Verywell

Hay fever can cause various skin rashes, each slightly different in the causes and symptoms. If you do have seasonal allergies, you will always be more prone to developing allergic skin rashes. Fortunately, in most cases, these rashes can be managed. Talk to your doctor or allergist to get the most effective treatment plan for you.

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