Millions of Americans suffer from allergic rhinitis (commonly known as nasal allergies or hay fever). Symptoms appear when the immune system reacts to a substance that has entered the body as a harmful pathogen. The immune system produces special antibodies to attack the substance if it enters the body again.
These antibodies can cause tissue destruction, blood vessel dilation and the production of many inflammatory substances including histamine. Histamine produces common allergy symptoms such as:
Chronic sinus and ear infections and even respiratory problems like asthma may result from allergic rhinitis. Other less common symptoms are balance disturbances and skin irritations such as eczema.
Many common substances can be allergens, including:
One of the most significant causes of allergic rhinitis in the United States is ragweed. It begins pollinating in late August and continues until the first frost. Late springtime pollens come from the grasses, i.e., timothy, orchard, red top, sweet vernal, Bermuda, Johnson, and some bluegrasses. Early springtime allergies are most often caused by tree pollens such as cottonwood, elm, maple, aspen, poplar, beech, ash, oak, walnut, sycamore, cypress, hickory, Russian olive, and alder. Colorful or fragrant flowering plants rarely cause allergy symptoms because their pollens are too heavy to be airborne.
Certain allergens such as house dust, pet dander and certain foods and chemicals are present all year long. Symptoms from these are frequently worse in the winter, when houses are closed up and have little ventilation.
Molds are present all year long and can grow outside and indoors. Dead leaves and farm areas are common sources for outside molds. Indoor plants, old books, bathrooms, and damp areas are common sources of indoor mold growth. Mold is also common in foods such as cheese and fermented beverages.
Allergies are rarely life threatening but can often have a negative effect on the quality of life. Considering the millions of dollars spent on anti-allergy medications and the cost of lost work time, allergies cannot be considered a minor problem.
Allergy symptoms may appear seasonally or year-round. They are best controlled by using multiple management approaches. These may include:
Over-the-counter drugs can help. However, be aware that some may cause drowsiness.
In addition to avoidance measures, a wide array of medications can help control allergy symptoms. If over-the-counter medications are not effective, your doctor may recommend prescription medications. The mainstays of allergy medication therapy are nasal steroid sprays and oral/nasal antihistamines. New evidence shows that a combination of topical medications may provide greater improvement in symptom control. Nasal steroid sprays work by decreasing inflammation in the nose but the effect is not apparent immediately. They may take one to two weeks before improvements are apparent. Other medications include leukotriene inhibitors and anticholinergic nasal sprays. Your doctor will work with you to tailor your medical therapy to your specific symptoms.
Allergy shots or immunotherapy can also help control allergy symptoms when avoidance measures and medications provide incomplete relief. Immunotherapy is a prophylactic, therapeutic treatment that may decrease the need for allergy medications. One method of immunotherapy called sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) involves placing drops of an allergen under the tongue. A consultation with an otolaryngic allergist will determine if you are a good candidate for immunotherapy.
For more information on SWIENT’s allergy testing and treatment options, contact us.