Steroids for Hay Fever

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Steroids can be used in hay fever to help relieve the symptoms associated with swelling and inflammation. The full length name for steroids is corticosteroids. Corticosteroids closely mimick the properties of a hormone found in the adrenal glands called cortisol.  Corticosteroids should not be confused with the performance enhancing drugs used in sports to maximise muscle potential (anabolic steroids).

For hay fever sufferer’s steroids can be very helpful in reducing the ability of the vessels in and around the nasal passage to swell. As the effects of steroids cause the reduction in the size of the vessels it is harder for any of the specialised immune response cells to reach the site affected by the introduction of the allergen (in this case, pollen). Without the accumulation of the cells in the regions the allergic response symptoms are greatly decreased.

Types of Steroids used for Hay Fever

Nasal sprays are the most common form of corticosteroid prescribed for hay fever. They can quickly and effectively reduce the itchy runny nose. It is important to note, however, that nasal sprays will only work on the symptoms involving the nose. They have no impact at all on any of the other symptoms associated with hay fever.

Corticosteroid tablets can also be used for treating hay fever symptoms, although they take longer to work and are not as effective as the localised application of a nasal spray. Tablets are usually only prescribed in severe cases of hay fever, and even then only for a short time. The negative side effects outweigh the positive effects for most individuals.

Injections were used initially for hay fever sufferers, but due to the wide range of alternatives they are rarely used for this today. They are used mainly for localised joint pain.

Corticosteroids can even be used topically (on the skin or surface of the body).  Creams or lotions can be used just under the eyelids or in the nasal passages to help reduce redness and swelling.

Side Effects of Steroids for Hay Fever

Although useful in the treatment for the inflammation and redness associated with a hay fever attack, corticosteroids use can lead to a variety of unpleasant and even dangerous side effects.  If taken over a long period of time some people experience mood swings and personality changes. They can feel tired and lack energy.  They can become very agitated and nervous.  In very extreme cases people can become depressed.

Long term use of corticosteroids can also increase your susceptibility to diabetes (insufficient levels of insulin in the blood) and glaucoma (increased pressure in the eye). Studies by scientists have uncovered evidence that links the long term use of corticosteroids with what has been termed Central Serous Retinopathy (CS). This is a permanent form of eye damage which is characterised by diminished sight.

Additional side effects can include bleeding in the bowels or the stomach, high blood pressure, diminished healing capacity, lack of muscle growth (atrophy), electrolyte imbalance in the body and weight gain (obesity).

One final thing to note with corticosteroids is that once a course of treatment has begun, you must come off of it gradually in order to allow the body to readjust naturally to the levels of cortisol it needs to maintain a healthy balance. Always consult your GP when thinking of taking corticosteroids as a form of allergic relief for hay fever.

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Guide to Hay Fever