Do you have bouts of sneezing and itching, or a runny or stuffy nose that do not seem to go away? If so, you may have rhinitis. With the peak of the spring allergy season fast approaching, millions of Americans are keeping their tissue boxes close by. The budding trees and blooming flowers associated with the early return of spring mark an increase in itchy, watery eyes, sneezing and other allergy symptoms.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis, or “hay fever,” affects more than 20 percent of the people living in the United States, roughly 40 million Americans. Allergic rhinitis is caused by substances that we breathe called allergens.
The immune system of people with allergic rhinitis mistakenly identifies these substances as intruders and generates a reaction against them. During this reaction, the immune system cells release substances such as histamine and leukotrienes that cause the symptoms of allergic rhinitis; these and other substances also cause inflammation in the nasal lining that makes the nose very sensitive to irritants such as smoke and strong odors or to changes in the temperature and humidity of the air.
When allergic rhinitis is caused by common outdoor allergens, such as airborne tree, grass and weed pollen or mold, it is called seasonal allergic rhinitis, or “hay fever.”
Allergic rhinitis is also triggered by common indoor allergens, such as animal dander (dried skin flakes and saliva), indoor mold, droppings from dust mites and cockroach particles. This is called perennial allergic rhinitis.
Stuffy nose (congestion)
Itching in the nose, roof of the mouth, throat, eyes and ears
Dark circles under the eyes
The symptoms of allergic rhinitis tend to flare up in the spring because many trees, grasses and weeds contain small and light pollens that are easily carried by the wind.
If you have symptoms of allergic rhinitis, an allergist/immunologist , such as us, can help determine which specific allergens are triggering your illness. We will take a thorough health history, and then use tests to determine if you have allergies. Skin tests or blood tests are the most common methods for determining your allergic rhinitis triggers. Skin test has superior accuracy, therefore is used when an accurate diagnosis is necessary. Blood test can serve as a good screening test.
Once your allergic rhinitis triggers are determined, your allergist will work with you to develop a plan to avoid the allergens that trigger your symptoms. For example, if you are allergic to dust mites or indoor mold, you will want to take steps to reduce these allergens in your house as much as possible.
Sometime allergic rhinitis is best treated with allergy immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots. Allergy shots work like a vaccine. Your body develops immunity or tolerance to the allergens after receiving a gradually increased dose of the allergy antigen. It decreases patients’ sensitivity to allergen, prevents development of new allergies and prevents the progress from allergic rhinitis to asthma in children. It is currently the most effective treatment for allergic rhinitis. It can also lead to long-lasting relief of allergy symptoms after treatment is stopped.
Additionally, your physician may prescribe medication to decrease your allergic rhinitis symptoms. Some of these medications may include antihistamine pills, nasal antihistamine sprays, nasal corticosteroid sprays, antihistamine eye drops or decongestant pills.
Make sure your exposure to irritants like pet dander, dust and mold is limited. To avoid pollen, keep windows and doors closed and use air conditioning. Stay inside when pollen counts are high, and bathe or change clothes after being outdoors. During the spring time, dry clothes in a dryer, not outdoors.
To avoid mold, do not walk through uncut fields or rake leaves. Keep windows and doors closed and use air conditioning. Clean moldy surfaces in the house, fix water leaks and use air conditioning and a dehumidifier to reduce indoor air humidity.
To avoid house dust mites, put mattresses, pillows and box springs in dust-proof casings. Wash bedding weekly in water that is hotter than 130º F and remove stuffed toys from bedrooms.
To avoid animal dander, preferably, pets should not be kept in the house. If they are, keep them out of the bedroom and keep the bedroom door closed. Do not let pets sit on furniture.
If you have:
Prolonged or severe symptoms of rhinitis,
Co-existing conditions such as asthma or recurrent sinusitis,
Symptoms interfering with quality of life and/or ability to function,
Found medications to be ineffective or have had adverse reactions to medications,
Come to visit your allergist – We can help you!
-- By Dr. Anlin Xu