Allergies, including allergic rhinitis, affect an estimated 40 to 50 million people in the United States alone, so imagine how many sufferers there are throughout the world! Many of these allergies, and their consequent symptoms, may interfere with day-to-day activities, lessen the quality of life, and generally bring us down. So, what is rhinitis? Rhinitis is the term describing the symptoms produced by nasal irritation or inflammation and affect those of us who have a sensitivity to specific airborne substances (allergens).
Allergic rhinitis takes two different forms: seasonal and perennial. Symptoms of seasonal allergic rhinitis are usually caused by pollens from trees, grasses or airborne mold spores. Different pollens are present at different times of the year and thus the time that you may be affected depends on the pollen to which you are allergic. Other sufferers experience symptoms year round, a condition called perennial allergic rhinitis, and is generally caused by a sensitivity to house dust mites, animal dander, feathers, chlorinated pool water, sand and dust, and/or mold spores. Sneezing and itchy, watery eyes are also natural responses to irritation caused by reactions to cigarette smoke, temperature changes, newspaper print, aerosol sprays. Hidden food allergies can also be a cause of perennial nasal symptoms.
The symptoms of both forms of allergic rhinitis usually appear soon after contact with the airborne irritant and can include:-
- itchy throat
- red, watery eyes
- itchy eyes
There are many ways of treating allergies. Each person's treatment must be individualized based on the frequency, severity and duration of symptoms and on the degree of allergic sensitivity. Your doctor will begin by taking a detailed history. To look for clues in your lifestyle that will help pinpoint the cause of your symptoms including work and home environments, eating habits, and family medical history. Testing may be required - skin testing is the easiest, most sensitive way of making a diagnosis.
Antihistamines are the most commonly used treatment for rhinitis. These medications counter the allergy effects but do not cure; they help to relieve nasal allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, itching and runny nose; eye symptoms such as itching, burning, tearing; skin conditions such as hives, eczema, itching and some rashes; and certain other allergic conditions. There are dozens of different antihistamines and wide variations in how patients respond to them - some are available over-the-counter and others require a prescription. Consult your physician for advice before taking antihistamines as they can be side effects, i.e. drowsiness, excessive dryness of the mouth, nose and eyes.
There are many "self-help" measures we can introduce into our day-to-day lives aimed at maintaining an allergen-free environment:
- avoid keeping furry/long haired animals as pets if you are allergic to them
- replace pillows and quilts containing animal materials such as duck feathers
- cover mattresses with plastic or special allergen-free material
- remove dust-collecting items such as carpets and curtains
- avoid dust traps like teddy-bears, dried flowers, cushions etc…(a good tip for cuddly toys is to regularly place them in a plastic bag in the freezer which temporarily kills off the allergens)
- Don't allow smoking in your home
To help prevent many of the symptoms of seasonal allergic rhinitis (hay fever), experienced whilst outdoors, the following measures can be very effective:
- avoid areas with long grass or where grass is being cut
- wear sunglasses, when outside, to help prevent eye irritation
- stay indoors when the air outside is windy and sand blown
Allergies can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race or socioeconomic status. While it is true that allergies are more common in children, they can occur for the first time at any age or, in some cases, recur after many years of remission. Always remember, your symptoms can be controlled by treatment, but you can't escape your hypersensitivity