Stella Lee, MD
Do you experience runny nose, sneezing and nasal congestion in the same season year after year? Do you seem to get "colds" often? If so, you may be suffering from a common condition known as hay fever, or allergic rhinitis. An understanding of the causes, symptoms and treatments can help make your symptoms more bearable.
Allergic rhinitis is a condition in which the body reacts to the environment in a hyperactive way. Even normal substances in the environment can become symptom-producing allergens in certain individuals. Although hay and weeds are common culprits, pollens from grasses and trees, mold, dust mite, and animal danders can also cause symptoms. The various pollens produce seasonal symptoms, whereas mold, dust mite and animal dander may result in perennial, or year-round symptoms. Since pollen and mold counts can vary widely, a variety of resources are available to determine which allergens are found in your region, and when they tend to be highest in quantity (www.aaoaf.org, www.pollen.com). Regardless of the allergen, the result of exposure is the same. Histamine and other inflammatory chemicals are released in the body, and the symptoms of allergies ensue.
Nasal symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, and congestion are the most common complaints. Many other areas of the body can also be affected by allergies. Itching of the eyes with redness and watering, headache, intermittent ear plugging, chronic cough, wheezing, intermittent hoarseness, sore throat, and fatigue can also be experienced. Chronic sinus and ear infections, and even asthma may result from allergic rhinitis.
Your doctor may recommend further evaluation to determine if you have sensitivity to particular environmental allergens. Two types of tests are commonly performed: skin testing or a blood test called a (radioallergosorbent) RAST test. During skin testing a small amount of allergen is pricked or injected into the skin and then checked for a reaction after waiting several minutes. You may develop a bump at the site of testing if you are allergic. In RAST testing a sample of your blood is drawn and sent to the lab. In this test levels of an antibody to specific allergens are measured and may be elevated in allergic rhinitis.
There are several ways to manage the symptoms of allergic rhinitis: