What is Allergic Rhinitis?
Allergic rhinitis is a fancy term for what you know as nasal allergies. The prefix rhin derives from ancient Greek and means "of or pertaining to the nose" - aptly demonstrated in English words like "rhinoceros". Allergic rhinitis is an inflammatory reaction of the nasal passages to allergens, such as dust mites, animal dander, mold spore, and pollen. Rhinitis is one of the most prevalent and chronic diseases in the U.S., affecting up to 40 million people annually, including 10 to 30 percent of adults and up to 40 percent of children.
Allergic conditions like rhinitis happen when a person's immune system mistakenly identifies pollen as an intruder, much like bacteria or viruses. Once the body has identified a particular allergen as an intruder, it produces antibodies specific to that allergen and sends them to line the lungs, throat, nose, eyes, skin, and stomach. In the future, when that allergen enters the allergic person's body, it attaches to the antibodies and triggers the release of histamine. For more specific information on how our bodies react to allergens, you can read an excellent 2-part article written by Lois Turley, RN - it's just one of many articles you'll find in our extensive Learning Library.
Rhinitis can be seasonal or perennial. Unfortunately, many people, myself included, suffer from both seasonal AND perennial allergies. If you know you've got allergic symptoms, but aren't sure what to call them or what kind they are, below are some diagnostic questions which may be helpful to you as well as some tips on how to improve your symptoms any time of year.
Do I Have Seasonal Allergies?
Many who suffer with seasonal allergies may never have been to an allergist, but have just assumed pollen allergies are a way of life. See how you fare with this quick quiz:
- Do you dread going outdoors between the months of March and May or in August
- Does the mere thought of springtime blooms make your nose start itching?
- Do you consistently experience cold-like symptoms when the weather starts changing in the spring and fall?
- Have you had an allergy skin test that identifies you as pollen or grass allergic?
If you can answer yes to any of the above questions, you probably have seasonal allergic rhinitis. Seasonal allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, is triggered most frequently by pollens, but mold can play a factor as well. "Allergy season" usually lasts a few weeks to a few months, and its severity can vary by region. About 36 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies; many of them experience symptoms in both spring and fall. Below is a chart detailing which pollens are most prevalent in which season.
To further complicate matters for seasonal allergy sufferers, a new study has shown that people with hay fever or seasonal allergic rhinitis are more likely than those without seasonal allergies to react when exposed to triggers like cold air, perfumes, cigarette smoke, household cleaning products, and even exercise. Dr. Dennis Shusterman of the University of Washington reported his findings about seasonal allergies and "non-allergic triggers" at the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy & Immunology meeting in San Diego last week. You should talk to your doctor if you have noticeable allergic reactions to these everyday triggers.
How Can I Find Seasonal Relief?
If you dread the spring and fall, there are some things you can do to reduce your allergic symptoms. The most common short-term remedy that many doctors prescribe is a steroid nasal spray. Intranasal corticosteroids (INCS) reduce nasal inflammation by blocking allergy mediators, thus reducing the symptoms caused by nasal inflammation - nasal congestion, sneezing, and runny or itchy nose. While steroid sprays can be an effective treatment for your seasonal allergy symptoms, a recent study sponsored by a prominent manufacturer of such sprays found wide-ranging dissatisfaction with INCS. User complaints centered around the bitter taste, the sensation of medication running down the throat, lack of long-term relief, and confusion about prescription refills. If you have concerns with these issues, you should give allergen avoidance a try. Yes, it's possible to reduce allergen exposure, even with pollen and airborne mold that are so ubiquitous during allergy seasons!
In Your Home:
- Avoid open windows, attic fans, or any other unfiltered openings for pollen to get into your home. Instead, run your central air or a well-filtered window unit air conditioner for circulation.
- Enjoy fresh breezes while filtering pollen: consider using a window screen filter to trap irritating outdoor particles.
- Replace disposable furnace filters or wash permanent electrostatic filters regularly with Nu-Stat to help clean pollen out of the air. Covering room air vents with easy-to-install vent register filters will catch particles, pollen, and other allergens that may have already settled in your air ducts.
- Run a powerful room air purifier in your bedroom with the door closed to help eliminate pollen that is trying to make its way into your room.
- Don't dry your clothes on an outside line where they can collect pollen. Instead dry them in a vented dryer.
- Your pets' fur can attract pollen's sticky granules. Wipe down or bathe your pet(s) when you let them indoors during pollen seasons. You should especially avoid letting them track pollen onto your bedroom.
Out and About:
- Avoid yard work like mowing the lawn or raking leaves, which stir up even more allergens than are already airborne. For "must-do" projects, wear a pollen mask to trap allergens before they irritate you.
- Take a shower when you come inside to remove pollen from your hair and skin.
- Use nasal irrigation to remove pollen from your nasal passages. The Hydro Pulse is an especially effective system for this purpose.
- Keep car windows and sunroofs closed while traveling and choose your A/C system's recirculation option, rather than using outside air.
- If you travel often, consider using a portable HEPA air purifier that runs off the D/C power in your car and can be used in hotel rooms or offices.
- Avoid activities outside on windy days, when pollen can be at its worst. Pollen counts are lowest soon after a prolonged rain has cleared the air.
- Your clothes and shoes collect pollen when you go out. Leave your shoes by the door when you return home and change your clothes as soon as possible.
- When planning a spring or fall vacation, seek out areas with less pollen such as the beach or climates that are not yet experiencing high pollen counts.
Do I Have Perennial Allergies?
Research has shown that those who suffer from seasonal allergies may also be more prone to having some year-round allergic sensitivities, so even if you're sure about your pollen allergy, it doesn't mean you don't have other sensitivities!
- Have you ever wondered if you might have "sick building syndrome" when at work or school?
- Does being in your own home or friends' homes make you particularly allergic regardless of the time of year?
- Does the mere thought of a cat make your nose start itching?
- Have you been identified by your allergist as dust mite allergic?
If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions, you probably have perennial allergic rhinitis. Again, it is as it sounds: allergic symptoms that happen all year 'round. Why? Because the things you are allergic to don't take a summer or winter vacation! Pet dander, dust mites and even some mold spore are viable allergens in any season.
How Can I Find Year-Round Allergy Relief?
The key to living comfortably with year-round allergies is a combination of doctor-prescribed treatments and avoidance of the offending allergens. Antihistamines and nasal decongestants are most often used for short term allergy relief. Another commonly prescribed treatment for allergies, whether seasonal or perennial, is immunotherapy, or allergy shots. While you may not like the idea of getting stuck regularly with a needle, immunotherapy has been shown to be a viable treatment method to reduce allergic symptoms. The use of any prescribed medications could possibily be reduced or even eliminated if you are able to practice allergen avoidance by controlling your environment. While our Learning Library has many more specific articles on each of the following allergens and corresponding avoidance tips, here are a few key ways to AVOID some comon triggers of perennial allergy symptoms.
Control Dust Mites
- Use mite-proof protective covers on all bedding including mattresses, pillows, and box springs.
- Minimize carpeting or treat existing rugs and carpeting with a dust mite spray or powder.
- Wash clothing and bedding regularly with an anti-allergen detergent or laundry additive like De-Mite.
- Use an electric dehumidifier to keep relative humidity low in your home - it should measure between 40-50%. Plus, dust mites will not thrive in low humidity environments (except in bedding where your body supplies all the moisture they need).
- Fix leaks or other areas where moisture may gather in order to discourage mold growth.
- Treat mold-prone surfaces with a mold-inhibiting spray.
Control Pet Dander
- Be aware of your sensitivities before getting a pet.
- A high-efficiency room air cleaner should trap over 99% of offending airborne allergens, including pet dander.
- Wash clothing and bedding regularly with an anti-allergen detergent or laundry additive like De-Mite.
"Three basic therapeutic techniques should be considered in treating either seasonal or perennial allergic rhinitis: avoidance of the offending allergens; use of appropriate drugs; and, immunotherapy (injection treatments to effect hyposensitization or desensitization). When feasible, avoidance is the preferred form of treatment, since it both relieves symptoms and eradicates the cause of the difficulty."
JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION Nov. 27 1987-Vol. 258, No. 20, Pp. 2854, 2855; M. Kaliner, MD, P. Eggleston, MD and K. Mathews, MD
I've used each of the above therapies and found that allergen avoidance enabled me to jettison prescription drugs and immunotherapy from my allergy control regimen. Many of our readers can probably tell the same story. Of course I still sniffle when spring and fall pollen is at its worst or when I'm around cats. But even then, I can find some natural relief with nasal irrigation which flushes away allergens and bacteria in the nasal cavities before they have a chance to irritate me too much. If your doctor has diagnosed you with either seasonal or perennial allergies, all hope is not lost. Utilize some of these avoidance measures and natural relief techniques and you may just find you can live comfortably with your allergies!