Allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, induces symptoms common to colds like sneezing, congestion, runny nose, and sinus pressure. Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen or allergens in the air. Allergies are caused by allergens. An allergen is anything that is harmless or neutral that triggers an immune response when ingested by some people. Common allergens include pollen and dust.
The allergens meet the mast cells attached to IgE antibodies. The allergen will bind to the IgE antibodies, thereby activating an alert mast cell. In a normal person, the reaction is minimal. For those suffering from allergic rhinitis, this cell overreacts. It signals to the surrounding cells by releasing histamine. Histamine causes inflammation and swelling of the nasal mucosa, which will then cause excessive mucous production. This results in a runny nose.
This excessive amount of mucous will block the nasolacrimal duct. This duct drains tears from the eyes into the nasal cavity. When it is blocked, this leads to watery eyes. The eustachian tube drains fluid from the middle ear, which gets blocked by excessive mucous production and a stuffed ear sensation. The nerves in the nasal cavity get irritated and lead to sneezing. All of this would lead to difficulty in breathing for the person suffering from allergic rhinitis.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis is the fifth most common condition in the US. Hay fever is common in spring, summer, and early fall. Symptoms are commonly caused because of allergic reactions to pollens, grasses, weeds, or airborne mold spores.
Symptoms of Hay Fever
- Swelling and congestion of nasal mucosa
- Watery eyes
- Stuffed ears
- Runny nose due to excessive mucous production
- Difficulty in breathing
Diagnosis of Hay Fever
Patient History: Usually, the person will feel all the symptoms mentioned above annually. If the timing of these symptoms is specific and seasonal, the doctor diagnoses that the patient is suffering from hay fever or allergic rhinitis.
Skin Prick Testing: In this test, the allergen is introduced in the body using a skin prick. The reaction of the body is used to confirm an allergy to a particular allergen. If you are allergic to an allergen, a small itchy spot will appear.
Blood Test: This test will check for the IgE immunoglobulin antibodies in the blood.
In some cases, hospital tests may be needed to check for nasal polyps or sinusitis. One may need procedures like a nasal endoscopy, nasal respiratory flow test, or CT scan.
Treatment for Hay Fever
Treatment for allergic rhinitis depends on the severity of the symptoms and how much it is affecting your daily activities. Mostly, treatment is given to relieve symptoms like sneezing and a blocked nose. If one has a mild allergic reaction, then it can be treated at home.
- Mild allergic rhinitis can be treated with medications like antihistamines (which are available as over-the-counter medications). Loratadine, Cetirizine, Levocetirizine, and Fexofenadine are some examples.
- Decongestants relieve congestion in the nose and sinuses. They can be taken as a pill, in liquid form, or as a nasal spray.
- Regularly cleaning the nasal passages with salt water can help in keeping the nose free from irritants.
- In the case of frequent or persistent symptoms, like nasal blockages or nasal polyps, the doctor may recommend a nasal spray containing corticosteroids. They reduce inflammation and swelling while also having long-lasting effects. The doctor may also prescribe combination medications.
- For those with severe symptoms, immunotherapy is recommended. Immunotherapy must be carried out under the supervision of a specially trained doctor, as there is a risk of serious allergic reactions.
Prevention of Hay Fever
- Keep away from irritants as much as possible
- Refrain from touching the face, nose, and eyes
- Keep windows in the home and car closed when the pollen counts are high during the spring, summer, or early fall
- Keep pillows, mattresses, and box springs in dust mite covers
- Wash hands often, especially if you have pets at home, to avoid any allergens
- Who gets rhinitis/hay fever? Hay fever affects 20% of the population. It can occur at any age, although most people experience it during childhood. People who have asthma or eczema have a higher risk of contracting hay fever too.
- What happens if one does not pursue any treatment options while suffering from hay fever? If proper precautions are not taken when a person is suffering from hay fever, then the ear, nose, and chest can develop other, and possibly worse, medical issues. Furthermore, complications can lead to chronic conditions like asthma or sinusitis.
Healthier Me Today is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment, always consult with your healthcare professional. Stay healthy!