Seasonal allergic rhinitis, sometimes known as hay fever or simply allergies, is an allergic response to pollen (the male component of the plant reproductive system) or other microscopic substances that are present only at certain times of the year. Allergic rhinitis can also be perennial (year-round).
In the spring, pollinating trees are most often responsible for causing allergic rhinitis. Over the summer, grasses and weeds mainly produce the offending pollen. And in the fall weeds are mostly to blame, with ragweed being the main culprit. Allergic rhinitis can also be caused by mold releasing its reproductive cells, called spores, from late March until November, usually peaking in late summer and early fall. But they can also be present year round.
Perennial allergic rhinitis is caused by agents that are present throughout the year, such as dust mites, mold, animal dander, and feathers. These irritants can be found in pillows, down clothing, draperies, upholstery, thick carpeting, and bedding.
It is common for people who suffer from allergies to be allergic to more than one pollen or agent.
[wptabs type=”accordion” effect=”slide” mode=”horizontal”] [wptabtitle] What Are the Symptoms of Allergic Rhinitis?[/wptabtitle] [wptabcontent] In cases of allergic rhinitis, your body’s immune system interprets the allergen (pollen, mold, dander, etc.) as an “invader” and responds by releasing chemicals such as histamine into the bloodstream.
Histamine causes inflammation (swelling and redness) of the sinuses, nose, and mucus membranes of the eyes and triggers sneezing. The swelling reaction is designed to block the allergen from entering the body and sneezing is a method to expel it out of the body. Histamine also allows fluids to enter the nasal tissue, resulting in congestion and an itchy, runny nose.
People with allergic rhinitis have sudden sneezing and a watery nasal discharge. Symptoms can occur at all stages of life, but most people develop them before reaching 30 years of age.
[/wptabcontent][wptabtitle] How Do I Find Out What Causes My Allergies?[/wptabtitle] [wptabcontent]
The season in which your allergies occur will narrow the list of possible culprits. To pinpoint the cause, a doctor, typically a board-certified allergist, may perform a skin testto determine which substances (allergens) cause a reaction.
The skin prick test involves placing small drops containing extracts of potential allergens on your arm or back, and then scratching the surface of your skin so the extract can interact with immune cells in the skin. Typically these extracts have been developed and tested over time to ensure that the specific concentrations are appropriate and that they typically will only cause a reaction in those who are sensitive to an allergen. Those areas that become red and itchy indicate which substances trigger an allergic response by your immune system.
Your doctor may also perform a blood test to check the levels of antibodies produced by your immune system. Elevated levels of certain antibodies can identify particular allergies. Each test has its own advantages and disadvantages that should be discussed with your doctor when selecting which tests are best for you.
[/wptabcontent][wptabtitle] Why Do Some People Only Get Seasonal Allergies/Hay Fever?[/wptabtitle] [wptabcontent]
Hay fever affects 10% to 20% of the U.S. population and is the most common allergic response in the country. It is unknown why some people get allergies while others do not. However, there is some evidence to suggest that hay fever and other types of allergies are in part hereditary (passed on from parents to children). People who suffer from asthma or eczema are also more likely to develop hay fever or perennial (year-round) allergic rhinitis.
[/wptabcontent][wptabtitle] Why Are My Allergies Better on Some Days and Worse on Others?[/wptabtitle] [wptabcontent]
While the pollen seasons for particular plants are very consistent within each geographical region, the weather plays a large role in determining how heavy the pollen count (and other potential allergens including mold) will be, both seasonally and daily. The severity of your allergies will generally mirror the rise and fall of the specific allergen count to which you are allergic.
[/wptabcontent][wptabtitle] What Is the Treatment for Allergies?[/wptabtitle] [wptabcontent]
The most effective treatment for allergies is simply to avoid the allergen. Some air conditioner filters can remove 99% of airborne pollen. Face masks, similar to those worn by surgeons, can significantly reduce the amount of allergen you inhale while outdoors.
If you have eye allergies, try wearing wraparound or goggle-type sunglasses to protect your eyes from pollens. If you are exposed to pollen, wash your eyes and your eyeglasses frequently with soap and water. Use cool compresses to relieve eye symptoms. Ask your health care provider about over-the-counter and prescription drugs that can provide relief.
Effective drug therapies for allergies include antihistamines that block the chemical that causes symptoms, cromolyn which prevents the mast cells (a type of blood cell) from releasing histamine, and topical nasal steroids that decrease swelling, mucus production, histamine release and inflammation.
- Antihistamines: Antihistamines are often the first medicines used to treat nasal allergies. Nonprescription antihistamines include Allegra, Benadryl, Chlor-Trimeton, Claritin, and Zyrtec. Antihistamines don’t prevent the release of histamine, but they do prevent some of reactions triggered by histamine, which in turn reduces symptoms. But most antihistamines can cause drowsiness. They should be taken with caution and only after consulting your health care provider if you are going to be driving a car, drinking alcohol, or taking other drugs that cause drowsiness. Claritin and prescription antihistamines like Clarinex may be less likely to cause drowsiness, although each individual can react differently. Caution should be used with any new medication. Astelin and Patanase are antihistamine nasal sprays that are also available to treat the symptoms of allergies. These tend to have fewer systemic effects than oral antihistamines.
- Decongestants: Over-the-counter decongestants (either pills, drops, or sprays), such as Neo-Synephrine and Sudafed, help unblock nasal passages and improve nasal breathing. But a note of caution: Over-the-counter nasal sprays or drops can, after a few days, start to have the opposite effect and may make congestion worse.
- Cromolyn: This drug can inhibit the effects of one of the cell types involved in the allergic reaction. The over-the-counter form of this medication is Nasalcrom. Unlike some other medicines, the effects of cromolyn take approximately two weeks to be felt. On the plus side, it is used for long-term treatment and has few side effects.
- Steroid nasal sprays: Prescription nasal sprays such as Rhinocort, Beconase, Flonase, Veramyst, Qnasl, Nasonex, and Nasocort can effectively limit reactions to allergens. If used regularly in patients with allergic rhinitis, these medications are usually most effective in treating symptoms.
- Saline nose sprays: Salt water saline nose sprays help clean out allergens caught in the nasal passages and keep the passages moist.
- Eye drops: Eye drops can relieve itching and watering and come in prescription and over-the-counter forms.
Before using any over-the-counter drugs, make sure you discuss with your doctor how they may affect other medicines you take.
[/wptabcontent][wptabtitle] Will Allergy Shots Help My Allergic Rhinitis?[/wptabtitle] [wptabcontent]
Immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, is a treatment designed to increase your tolerance to the substances that trigger your symptoms. It is thought that through gradual, regular exposure to increasing amounts of the allergen, a person will become more tolerant, reducing symptoms. Immunotherapy can reduce your sensitivity to certain substances. The allergen is injected at regular intervals in your upper arm just under the skin in successively larger doses. The injections increase in concentration until a maintenance dose is reached, then the spacing between injections is typically increased and maintained usually for three to five years.
Allergy shots have been shown to be highly effective in people with allergies and are usually recommended for people who suffer from allergies more than three months each year.