Allergic rhinitis, often called hay fever, is a common condition that causes sneezing, stuffy nose, runny nose, watery eyes and itching of the nose, eyes, or the roof of the mouth.
These days, food allergies don’t have the corner on the misery market; seasonal nasal allergies cause their fair share of misery, as well. Nasal allergy symptoms can be triggered by indoor or outdoor allergens. Knowing which allergens you react to can help you and your health care provider create a plan for limiting your exposure, and potentially, your symptoms.
About 16.9 million adults and 6.7 million children have been diagnosed with allergic rhinitis, more commonly known as hay fever, in the last year.
But, don’t be misled by the name—you don’t have to be exposed to hay to have symptoms. And despite the name, it’s not usually accompanied by fever.
Allergy symptoms occur when the immune system overreacts to an allergen. If you have an allergy, your immune system acts as if the allergen were dangerous, releasing a chemical called histamine that causes allergic reactions.
Outdoor nasal allergy symptoms are usually caused by allergens at specific times of the year, with some variation due to weather. Common triggers: in the spring—tree pollens; from late spring to summer— grasses; from late summer to early fall—weed pollens including ragweed; throughout the year, but especially after a spring thaw—outdoor mold spores are a trigger and are found in soil, mulches, fallen leaves, and rotting wood.
The best way to determine if you have an allergy is to have a doctor perform a physical exam, review when and where your symptoms occur, and consider your family’s medical history. If allergies are suspected, allergy testing by an expert such as an allergist/immunologist can determine which, if any, allergens are responsible for triggering your symptoms.
Avoidance is the best way to prevent allergy symptoms from occurring, but avoiding allergens such as pollen or pet dander isn’t always feasible.
Antihistamines often help for short-term relief of symptoms. While over the counter medications might ease mild symptoms, newer classes of antihistamines prescribed by a physician tend to have fewer side effects. It’s best to start taking allergy medications before pollen and other spring or fall allergens are in the air. Taking medications early can prevent or lessen symptoms.
Immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, is a long-term treatment approach that decreases symptoms for many people with allergic rhinitis and other allergies.
You and your allergist can determine which treatment approach is right for you.
Both children and adults can receive allergy shots, although it is not typically recommended for children under age five. When considering allergy shots for an older adult, medical conditions such as cardiac disease should be taken into consideration.
A humidifier can provide a little relief for people with indoor allergies. Moisture from a humidifier can soothe dry sinus passages. However, dust and mold from the humidifier may do more harm than good. It is important to clean and change the filter in the humidifier on a regular basis so mold does not grow in the unit and blow into the home. If possible, use distilled or de-mineralized water in the humidifier. This is because the higher level of minerals in tap water can increase bacteria growth, resulting in a white dust and additional irritation.
Pollen counts are used to measure how much pollen is in the air and can help people with allergies determine how bad their symptoms might be on any given day. They are usually higher in the morning and on warm, dry, breezy days, whereas the counts are lowest when it’s chilly and wet. Although not always exact, the local weather report’s pollen count can be helpful when planning outside activities.
Mobile pollen apps can prove convenient help as well.
This information and more is available on the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology website.