Allergies can affect adults as well as children and the incidence of allergic diseases is on the rise dramatically.
Allergic rhinitis, generally known as hay fever, results in a type of inflammation in the nose when you breathe in certain allergens. Allergic rhinitis is seasonal, usually not severe, non-life-threatening, and can be treated with simple medications and remedies.
An allergy occurs when you react to substances in the environment that are harmless to most people. These substances that are recognized by the immune system and cause a reaction are known as allergens.
Dust mites, pollen, ticks, and moulds are common allergens that can cause allergic rhinitis. Allergic rhinitis can also be triggered by indoor pollens such as saliva on pet dander, mould, pet urine, dried flaky skin of pets, etc.
Understanding Causes of Inflammation in Allergic Rhinitis
Your nasal passage is a channel of airflow through the nose. The walls of your nasal passage are coated with mucous membrane, which contains tiny hair-like cells that are responsible for the movement of mucous (a normal, slippery, and stringy fluid in the nose) towards the throat.
When you come in contact (breath in) with certain allergens like pollen from flowering or wild plants, weed, pet dander, dog fleas, or mould, the membrane lining your nasal passage becomes swollen, inflamed, and irritated.
As a result, your inflamed tissues begin to produce more mucous to flush out the allergens that cause the irritation. This build-up of mucous makes you feel stuffed up, leading to nasal congestion and postnasal drip (when your nose or your sinuses produce extra mucous and it drips down from the back of your throat).
Symptoms of Allergic Rhinitis
Allergic rhinitis can last several weeks, longer than a cold or the flu. It generally does not cause fever. Common symptoms include:
Clear watery nasal discharge
Itching and watering of eyes
Loss of sense of smell, mainly due to a blocked or congested nose
An interesting symptom of allergic rhinitis is reduced appetite due to the change in flavour of your food. This happens because the flavour of your food arises out of a combined ability to smell and taste; loss of sense of smell also affects the taste perception of the food you eat.
Diagnosis of Allergic Rhinitis
Allergic rhinitis is simple to diagnose and treat. If left untreated, apart from days lost to suffering, the allergy may 'march' to the lungs and cause bronchial asthma (a condition in which your airways to the lungs swell and become narrow) or lead to complications like nasal polyps or sinusitis.
Nasal polyps are noncancerous growths in the lining of your nasal passage. Sinusitis, often confused as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, is the infection (inflammation) of your sinuses. Sinuses are air-filled sacs (4 in number) present in your facial bones.
Your doctor will ask you questions about your allergy symptoms before recommending any lab test. Usually, minimum testing is required for allergic rhinitis and these could include a simple blood test, such as the radioallergosorbent test (RAST). RAST identifies antibodies in your blood that determine what you’re allergic to.
If required, you may also be asked to do a skin allergy test to observe and record the way your skin reacts to different allergens.
Prevention of Allergic Rhinitis
The most important way to prevent allergic rhinitis is by avoiding the allergens, triggers, or the condition which causes the symptoms. If you have frequent episodes of allergic rhinitis, it might help to:
Keep windows closed, especially during high-pollen seasons (during the months of spring).
Wash your hands immediately after coming home from outside, petting animals, or playing/walking in the garden.
Keep your bedding and mattresses clean. Vacuum them regularly to get rid of dust mites and moulds.
Wear glasses, when outside to protect your eyes.
It is also advisable to stay away from factors that can worsen your symptoms such as industrial fumes, tobacco smoke, forest fire smoke, aerosols, cold temperatures, and air pollution.
All of these factors can irritate the mucous membrane linings of your nose and cause inflammation, resulting in an allergic reaction.
Treatment of Allergic Rhinitis
Antihistamines are generic, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to treat allergies and allergic rhinitis.
Decongestants (medications in the form of sprays, nose drops, eye drops, etc.) to relieve a stuffy nose and reduce inflammation.
Immunotherapy (treatment to suppress your immune system) for specific allergens to decrease symptoms.
Surgery is a rare option, which is done only on the recommendation of an ENT specialist. Adjunctive or endoscopic sinus surgery can be done. Talk to your doctor to understand more about this line of treatment.
Remember that hay fever and allergies often run in families. If both of your parents have hay fever or other allergies, you are more likely to have them too.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis is usually not severe and can be managed by medications. If your symptoms prolong and do not subside, it is advisable to consult your doctor/ENT specialist immediately.
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