Hay fever has little to do with hay and never causes fever

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DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I think I have hay fever. I am sneezing all the time, my nose itches and my eyes itch. There’s no hay around where I live. How did the name arise? I have taken antihistamines, which help some, but they make me so drowsy that I can’t stay awake. Someone told me to get shots. What shots? — A.C.

ANSWER: I don’t know where the name “hay fever” came from. Hay is a grass, so the pollens from it might be involved. The “fever” part, I cannot answer.

You have all the symptoms. It’s an allergic reaction to many airborne pollens and mold spores. Trees, grasses, weeds and flowers are pollen sources. In the early spring, trees are the biggest contributor of pollen. In later spring and early summer, it’s grasses. And in the fall, it’s weeds. When these allergens land on the nasal lining, histamine is released, and all the symptoms you experience occur.

Antihistamines are the bedrock of treatment. The older ones, the ones available without prescription, can make a person drowsy. Newer ones, mostly prescription drugs, are not so sedating. Allegra is an example.

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The “shots” recommended to you lessen symptoms by gradually exposing you to higher doses of the offending pollens. Eventually, tolerance to the allergens is achieved. First the doctor has to determine what you’re allergic to. That’s usually done by putting a blob of allergen on the skin, making a slight scratch through it and seeing if the skin reacts. Allergists are the doctors who perform hyposensitization treatments.

Do you need shots? You do if your allergies are disrupting your life. If your symptoms can be controlled with medicines, then you don’t need shots. You will, however, have to find an antihistamine that you can tolerate and that works.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Will you please answer my question? I bet lots of other people would like to know too.

Can you catch genital herpes from an infected person by handling objects after he or she does, or from eating or drinking? What are the symptoms of genital herpes? — J.H.

ANSWER: Genital herpes is spread by skin-to-skin contact, infected skin with noninfected skin. You do not catch it from handling inanimate objects after a person with the infection has touched them.

I’m not clear what you mean about eating and drinking. Do you mean sharing the same food utensils or drinking glasses? The answer to that is: No, you don’t catch herpes by sharing utensils or glasses.

 The first outbreak of genital herpes can be severe, with sores on the genitals. Painful urination, swollen nodes in the groin and sometimes an elevated temperature are other signs. The sores heal on their own in approximately two or three weeks. Some have less-serious symptoms.

 Recurrent infections are shorter and milder. Often, they are preceded by a tingling of the affected skin. Then small patches of tiny blisters break out, which merge to form a sore. It, too, heals on its own.

 DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Is there such a thing as an overactive thyroid gland? Can it cause a person to have insomnia? Does treatment of it allow a person to sleep again? — R.S.

 ANSWER: Definitely, there is such a thing as an overactive thyroid gland — hyperthyroidism. The excessive amount of circulating thyroid hormone throws the body into high gear. The heart races. Sweating is common. Affected people feel warm when others are cool. Weight is lost in the face of eating more calories. Sleep can be affected.

 Treatment is achieved with medicines, radioactive iodine or surgery. Seldom, if ever, is insomnia the only sign of hyperthyroidism.

 The diagnosis is made through blood tests and a doctor’s examination.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.

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