Spring time hay fever isn't really related to hay. Usually, it's a complex of sneezing, runny nose, post nasal drip, nasal stuffiness and sometimes cough, no fever. Progression of illness down the respiratory tract can cause allergic asthma with symptoms of wheezing, shortness of breath or chest tightness.
Allergic rhinitis is the consequence of exposure to the pollens of trees in the early Spring February, March and April and pollens of the grasses in early Summer April, May and June, with ample overlap of the two for a double whammy in some allergic people.
When the delicate lining of the nose and the bronchi are exposed to pollen or other allergens, inflammation causes the typical symptoms. Other allergic causes of rhinitis and asthma include sensitivity to dust, animal dander, cat in particular, and mold spores. However, it is the timing of symptoms with nature's awakening that signals the probability of Spring hay fever.
Are there other causes of allergic type symptoms besides allergies? Irritant or vasomotor rhinitis is a good imposter. Candidates for irritant rhinitis in susceptible patients include smoke, particulate dust, dry air, cold air, and fumes of perfume, paint, after shave, gasoline and diesel, soap powders, and even permanent press fabrics. The same stimuli can irritate the bronchial passages.
What about infection? Well, different stimulus there but the same response. Viruses, bacteria, and in some cases fungi, can wreak the identical havoc. Exercise is another very important stimulus to asthma.
Today, a lot of products, previously by prescription, are available over the counter. For rhinitis there are non-sedating antihistamines, decongestants and nasal steroids, which are anti-inflammatory as well as sinus rinsing preparations. For asthma, nothing presently is over the counter.
The next step might be a trip to the allergist where a good, carefully done history will help to sort it all out and a proper physical examination will help to distinguish allergy from infection. Skin tests may be used to identify the specific culprits ranging from pollens of trees, grasses and weeds to house dust mites, mold spores and animal dander.
Treatment options include avoidance measures, medical treatment, and immunization. Avoidance might include the advice to try to stay indoors on dry windy days, exercise indoors if possible, delegate gardening (now you have an excuse), use a pollen mask and avoid hanging laundry outside. You can check the pollen count on the internet and by checking with the National Allergy Bureau (NAB). Indoor air cleaners and humidifiers in the winter are effective, too, and a reminder to the cat to stay out of the bedroom might be timely.
If the over the counter approach fails and the cat is not cooperative, prescription medicines abound for rhinitis and asthma and in many cases immunotherapy (allergy shots) may be used to induce immune tolerance to those allergens in the first place.