Spring is the season that brings an energetic reprieve from the chilly days of winter, except for people who suffer from allergic rhinitis. Spring is more often an ominous time of year for them.
Allergic rhinitis, often called allergies or hay fever, occurs when your immune system overreacts to particles in the air that you breathe. These allergen particles cause you to have an allergic reaction. Your immune system attacks the allergens in your body, causing symptoms such as sneezing and a runny nose.
People with allergies usually have symptoms for many years. You may have symptoms throughout the year or just at certain times, such as springtime. You also may get other problems such as sinusitis and ear infections as a result of your allergies.
In most cases, when you have allergic rhinitis:
- You sneeze again and again, especially after you wake up in the morning.
- You have a runny nose and postnasal drip. The drainage from a runny nose caused by allergies is usually clear and thin. But it may become thicker and cloudy or yellowish if you get a nasal or sinus infection.
- Your eyes are watery and itchy.
- Your ears, nose, and throat are itchy.
Symptoms that may develop later include:
- You have a stuffy nose (nasal congestion)
- You cough more than usual
- Your ears are clogged and you have a decreased sense of smell
- A sore throat develops
- Dark circles appear under your eyes
- Puffiness under the eyes develops
- You experience fatigue and irritability
- You have headaches
Some of the most common allergens that cause allergic rhinitis include dust, animal dander, or pollen. Plants that cause allergic rhinitis (or hay fever) are trees, grasses, and weeds. Their pollen is carried by the wind. (Flower pollen is carried by insects and does not cause hay fever.) Types of plants that cause hay fever vary from person to person and from area to area.
The amount of pollen in the air can affect whether allergic symptoms develop.
- Hot, dry, windy days are more likely to have a lot of pollen in the air.
- On cool, damp, rainy days, most pollen is washed to the ground.
Allergic rhinitis, hay fever and other allergies often run in families. If both of your parents have hay fever or other allergies, you are more likely to have hay fever and allergies, too.
Allergy testing may reveal the pollen or other substances that trigger your symptoms. Skin testing is the most common method of allergy testing. If your allergist or doctor determines you cannot have skin testing, special blood tests may help with the diagnosis. These tests can measure the levels of allergic antibodies you are making against allergens, like pollen or dander. A part of the complete blood count (CBC) test called the eosinophil count may also help diagnose allergies.
The best treatment is to avoid the pollens that cause your symptoms. It may be impossible to avoid all pollen, but you can reduce your exposure to the outdoors during the allergy season. Keeping windows and door shut and running the air conditioner can reduce the level of pollen in the home.
You may be prescribed medicine to treat allergic rhinitis. The medicine your doctor prescribes depends on your symptoms and how severe they are. Your age and whether you have other medical conditions, such as asthma, will also be considered.
For mild allergic rhinitis, a nasal wash can help remove mucus from the nose. You can buy a saline solution at a drug store or make one at home using one cup of warm water, half a teaspoon of salt, and pinch of baking soda.
Treatments for allergic rhinitis include:
Medicines called antihistamines work well for treating allergy symptoms. They may be used when symptoms do not happen often or do not last long. Be aware of the following:
- Many antihistamines taken by mouth can be bought without a prescription.
- Some can cause sleepiness. You should not drive or operate machines after taking this type of medicine.
- Others cause little or no sleepiness.
- Prescription antihistamine nasal sprays work well for treating allergic rhinitis. Ask your doctor if you should try these medicines first.
- Nasal corticosteroid sprays are the most effective treatment for allergic rhinitis.
- They work best when used nonstop, but they can also be helpful when used for shorter periods of time.
- Corticosteroid sprays are generally safe for children and adults.
- Many brands are available. Ask your allergist or doctor for a prescription.
- Decongestants may also be helpful for reducing symptoms such as nasal stuffiness.
- Do not use nasal spray decongestants for more than 3 days.
Allergy Shots (Immunotherapy)
Allergy shots (immunotherapy) are sometimes recommended if you cannot avoid the allergen and your symptoms are hard to control. This includes regular shots of the allergen you are allergic to. Each dose is slightly larger than the dose before it, until you reach the dose that helps control your symptoms. Allergy shots may help your body adjust to the allergen that is causing the reaction.