Do you frequently experience symptoms such as a runny or stuffed up nose, a scratchy throat and itching watering eyes? You may have allergic rhinitis. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology estimates that up to 30 percent of adults and 40 percent of children in the United States have symptoms caused by the body’s overreaction to airborne substances, such as plant pollen, pet dander, mold and dust. While they are not life threatening, nasal allergies are uncomfortable and can negatively affect your quality of life. There is no cure, but the right treatment plan can alleviate most unpleasant effects, helping you to feel good and function at your highest level year-round.
Why the Sneezing Starts
Allergies occur when your body’s immune system mistakes things that are normally harmless, such as grass pollen or animal residue, as dangerous invaders. “The body thinks it is under attack, when it isn’t,” says Clifford W. Bassett, M.D., director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York, NY.
The immune system responds by releasing a series of chemicals, including histamines, into the blood to help fight off the intrusive particles. Histamines then act on cells in the nasal passages, increasing mucus production and causing the inflammation of the airways and itchiness in people with allergic rhinitis.
Who Is at Risk?
Allergies can affect anyone at any age, though they may be more common in children and young adults. While a number of influences determine who becomes allergic, genetics might be the most important predisposing factor. People with a family history of allergies, recurrent sinus infections, asthma or atopic dermatitis (a form of the skin condition eczema) are at a higher risk, says Janna Tuck, M.D., director Allergy Partners of Cape Girardeau, MO. When one parent is allergic, each child has about a 30 percent chance of having an allergy. If both parents have allergies, the likelihood rises to about 70 percent, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
Indoor vs. Outdoor Triggers
If you have allergic rhinitis, your triggers may lie indoors or outside, or both. Pollens from grasses, trees or weeds cause outdoor allergies, often referred to as “seasonal allergic rhinitis” or “hay fever.” Molds, which grow on rotting logs, fallen leaves, compost piles and grasses, can set off allergy symptoms too.Damp indoor areas (bathrooms and basements) can also be sources of mold spores.
Indoor allergies tend to occur throughout the year. Dust mite and cockroach feces are major sources of indoor allergens, in addition to animal dander. Ten million people are allergic to cats alone – twice as many as are allergic to dogs – making cat allergies the most common among pets.
SUSSING OUT SYMPTOMS
There are no hard and fast rules for determining whether your allergy symptoms will be mild, moderate or severe during a given episode, notes Dr. Tuck. “Severity may wax and wane over time.” When symptoms are mild, they tend to be isolated to the nose and throat. More severe allergies may elicit a full body response. “You may feel tired and achy, like you have cold or the flu,” says Dr. Tuck. People with allergic rhinitis may also feel more slow, drowsy or irritable than usual when their allergies are acting up. It may also be hard to concentrate.
If an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine does not easily control your symptoms or if they persist for more than a few weeks, it may be time to see an allergist. People with untreated allergic rhinitis may be more prone toother respiratory illnesses, such as colds and sinus Infections – which in turn may be harder to shake. “For most people a cold doesn’t last more than about a week, but in someone with untreated nasal allergies, it can linger for two or even three weeks,” says Dr. Tuck.
Allergies may also interfere with your ability to get a good night’s sleep. People with chronic nasal congestion may wake up frequently throughout the night. Allergic rhinitis is also a risk factor for both snoring and obstructive sleep apnea – a disorder in which breathing may stop for short but frequent periods while you are asleep. – From Allergies: A Remedy Health Guide