Character And Nature Of Hay Fever
( Originally Published 1943 )
IT IS one thing to determine that your hay fever is due to the ragweed pollens in the air, but it is quite a different problem to discover what causes you to have hay fever while your neighbor who breathes the same pollens, remains unaffected. A natural reaction on your part, if you are an adult who has developed hay fever after adolescence, is to ask, "Why, when, where and how, after all these years, did I acquire this dubious distinction of being allergic?" And the answers to these questions reside in the very nature of hay fever as we have come to know about it.
HAY FEVER IS NOT CONTAGIOUS
You may have thought at one time or another that you "caught" your hay fever from some other infected person. Or else, you may fear that you will pass on some infection to another member of your household during the period when you are severely affected. Such thoughts and fears are groundless. Hay fever is not contagious in any manner or at any stage, for there is no bacteria or virus involved in its cause.
HAY FEVER IS NOT CAUGHT IN THE FIELDS
There are many persons who believe they contracted their hay fever as a result of being in a particular locality. One often hears hay fever sufferers say, "I caught my hay fever last summer on my vacation in the mountains" or "I caught my hay fever in the country" or "I caught my hay fever on a camping trip." According to the opinions of most present day authorities these beliefs are just popular misconceptions. The chances are that you would have contracted your hay fever whether or not you had gone to the country. No camping trip or picnic can be held responsible for your hay fever. The theoretical explanation offered for the sudden appearance of your hay fever symptoms is that you have become sensitized to the pollens that bother you.
ON BECOMING SENSITIZED
The concept of becoming sensitized is just a theory. But at the present time it is the one most generally expounded by allergists and other students of the subject.
The explanation of hay fever or any other allergy on the basis of an individual's becoming sensitized, really isn't an explanation. It doesn't tell very much but looks like a well fitting suit and so it is used by all authors on books pertaining to allergy. We shall not be an exception to the rule.
According to the theory, whenever allergic individuals are exposed for the first time to a substance which causes an allergy, they become potentially sensitive to that substance. The potential sensitivity means, that any subsequent exposure to that substance may result in an allergic reaction such as hay fever symptoms, if the substance is pollens. Thus when your hay fever symptoms first appear, it is reasoned, that you were originally sensitized to the pollens and on being exposed to them again you reacted with hay fever. Upon reading this, you naturally ask, "Why didn't I have hay fever in all the previous years when there were similar pollens in the air?" And this is explained by what is called "allergic balance."
According to the theory of "allergic balance," you and everyone else has a certain level of ability to tolerate or absorb pollens and other substances to which persons are allergic. This level of ability to absorb pollens is considered your "threshold of tolerance." When you come in contact with a quantity of irritating pollens that do not cause you to show hay fever symptoms, you are said to be in "allergic balance" and the dose or quantity of pollens is considered to be below your threshold or limit of pollen absorption.
At the time you first experience your hay fever symptoms, one of two things has taken place. Either you have been exposed to an unusual amount of pollen or your level of tolerance had become too low to absorb the irritating pollens. In all probability the latter was the case.
How your level of tolerance became lowered after Io, 20, 30 or 40 years of being high enough, is a question that science cannot answer at the present time. Why it was you and not your neighbor who became so affected, may be answered by the fact that you were predisposed to your hay fever from birth because you inherited the tendency to become allergic.