Allergic Rhinitis: Hay fever Causes, Symptoms, And Prevention
Allergic Rhinitis (a.k.a: Hay Fever) occurs due to the allergic response of the body to certain irritant substances referred to as allergens. Allergens are not harmful by themselves but in certain individuals, it may trigger an undesired immune response. Pollen grains, dust mites, skin and animal dander are some of the common allergens responsible for allergic rhinitis.
Coughing, sneezing and nasal decongestion are the common symptoms of allergic rhinitis. When left untreated, these symptoms result in asthma, reduced quality of sleep and increased risk of sinusitis.
What is Hay Fever?
Allergic rhinitis is an immune system disorder. When exposed to an allergen, the bodies of certain susceptible individuals produce antibodies (Immunoglobin E) to fight against the allergen. These antibodies produce certain chemicals such as histamine which causes inflammation of the mucous membranes of the nose.
Types of Allergic Rhinitis
Allergic rhinitis can be classified into seasonal and perennial.
- Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis: While the seasonal onset of allergies occurs during spring and fall when the pollen count is high.
- Perennial Allergic Rhinitis: Perennial allergies may affect around the year that mainly occurs due to dust or hair of pet animals.
Allergic rhinitis produces symptoms that affect the daily activities and makes your condition miserable, thus affecting the quality of life and reducing the performance at work or school.
What Causes Allergic Rhinitis?
Histamines are the natural chemicals produced in the body when they come in contact with allergens. These chemicals cause symptoms of allergic rhinitis such as coughing, sneezing and runny nose.
Pollen grains are the common cause of allergic rhinitis. The other common causes include:
- Animal dander
- Dust mites
- Grass pollens
- Saliva of cat and dogs
Allergic Rhinitis Symptoms
The common symptoms of allergic rhinitis include:
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Stuffy nose
- Watery eyes
- Itching on the roof of the mouth
- Itchy dry skin with blisters (similar symptoms to eczema)
- Itchy eyes
- Itchy nose
- Itchy throat
- Dark circles around the eyes
The common risk factors associated with allergic rhinitis include:
- History of asthma or allergies
- Family history of asthma or allergies
- Mothers who smoked during the first year after childbirth
- History of eczema (atopic dermatitis)
- Living in an environment continuously exposed to bird or animal dander
The complications associated with allergic rhinitis include:
- Worsening of Asthma: Common signs and symptoms of asthma such as coughing and wheezing worsens over time with co-existing allergic rhinitis
- Reduced Quality of Life: Coughing, itching, sneezing and nasal congestion affect the ability to work efficiently, thus affecting the performance at work or school
- Reduced Sleep: The symptoms of allergic rhinitis keep you awake during night. This affects the quality of sleep and increases fatigue and day time sleep
- Sinusitis: Allergic rhinitis usually causes prolonged sinus congestion. This increases the susceptibility to infection and inflammation of the membrane lining the sinuses
- Ear Infections: Children with allergic rhinitis are prone to infections in the middle ear (otitis media)
If the doctor suspects that the patient has allergy like symptoms, he would first order the following tests to confirm that the patient has allergy and not any other respiratory disorder. The test also provides scope for further treatment and long-term management of the condition.
- Skin Prick Test: In this test, the skin of the forearm or back is pricked and small quantities of common allergens are applied at various areas of the skin. If the patient is allergic to any of these substances, a bump (hive) would form over the skin on which it was applied. The test is performed by an allergic specialist who is well equipped to perform the tests for allergic reactions
- Radio-allergosorbent Test (RAST): Blood samples are collected to measure the amount of specific antibodies that are produced in response to an allergen. The test also known as radio-allergosorbent test measures the amount of allergy-causing antibodies in the blood, commonly known as immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies.
Allergic Rhinitis Treatments
Allergic rhinitis can be treated using home remedies, medication therapy or alternative medicine. However, the mode of treatment depends on the severity of the condition.
The drugs used in the treatment of allergic rhinitis include:
- Antihistamines: These drugs act by inhibiting the action of histamines that are responsible for the production of allergic reactions. They relieve symptoms of itching, sneezing and runny nose. Antihistamine drugs are available in tablet form, eye drops and nasal sprays.
- Decongestants: These drugs are available in tablet, spray and solution form. They are used to relieve symptoms of stuffy nose and sinus congestion.
- Immunotherapy: Allergic shots are administered in individuals with severe allergic reactions. These shots decrease the body’s response to allergens. The duration of this treatment usually lasts longer when compared to other treatment options.
The buildup phase is the initial phase of treatment that is followed by the maintenance phase. While allergic shots are administered 1-3 times a week for six months during buildup phase, during the maintenance phase they are administered for 2-4 weeks for every six months duration.
- Use of a humidifier or high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters can help in controlling indoor allergens.
- Washing your bed sheets and blankets in hot water above 130˚F or 54.4˚C could minimize the risk of allergies due to dust mites.
- Avoid using carpets in your home or workplace.
Prevention and Cure:
If you are prone to allergens, following these steps can help you to prevent allergies:
- Cover nose and mouth while travelling outside
- Bathe immediately after getting back from outdoors
- Bathe your pet at least twice in a week to reduce dander
- Stay indoors when the pollen count is high in the air
- Exercise indoors early in the morning
- Keep doors and windows during high frequency of wind
- Avoid raking the leaves or mowing lawn
- Avoid using carpets and curtains if allergic to dust mites