~ by Carol Vartuli
If that sounds like you, your eyes are itchy and your nose is runny, you may among more than 50 million Americans with allergic rhinitis.
May is Allergy and Asthma Awareness month, a fitting time to focus on the facts about allergies.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis is caused by pollen released from plants and trees. In the Northeast, pollination occurs in spring/summer and/or fall, but in more temperate climates various plant species may pollinate through much of the year.
Allergic rhinitis is also caused by sensitivity to dust mites, animal dander or mold spores in the home, making it a perennial problem for people in any geographic location.
According to the CDC, allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S.
Allergic rhinitis is also one of the triggers for asthma, a chronic condition that causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways in the lungs. Asthma sufferers experience wheezing, chest tightness and difficulty breathing; episodes can be frightening and even life threatening.
What Causes Allergic Reactions?
Allergy symptoms occur when your immune system overreacts to a something that is harmless to most people, but triggers a reaction in anyone sensitive to it. This substance is known as an allergen.
The immune system mobilizes itself to remove offensive allergens by releasing the chemical 'histamine' into affected tissues. This prompts the production of additional mucus and causes, sneezing, tearing and coughing. (The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology)
Treating Allergic Reactions
The best 'treatment' is avoiding or limiting exposure to allergens.
Keep windows closed during high-pollen and mold seasons
- Use the air conditioners in your car and house
- Vacuum with asthma/allergy friendly filters
- Wash sheets and pillowcases in hot water
- Cover mattresses, comforters and pillows with dust-mite proof cases
- Keep pets out of bedrooms to reduce exposure to pet dander
- Follow pollen count and air-quality reports for your location, and limit outside activities on the most troublesome days.
If avoidance isn't possible, you can reduce allergic symptoms by dial-down your body's immune reaction. Anti-histamine medications, like Claritin and Zyrtec, are available over the counter, and can give many people temporary symptom relief. These may be sufficient to get you through high-pollen count days.
If not, your physician has an arsenal of prescription medications, including nasal corticosteroid sprays, antihistamine pills, nasal antihistamine sprays or decongestant pills. Allergists and Immunologists specialize in treating all types of allergies.
For those with severe sensitivity to seasonal pollens, or perennial allergens, Immunotherapy can permanently reduce that sensitivity by gradually increasing doses of them into the body.
Commonly known as 'allergy shots,' immunotherapy reduces symptoms in about 85% of people with allergic rhinitis. However, it's not a 'quick fix' and requires a commitment to receiving injections one or two times a week during a buildup phase, which takes several months, and then a maintenance phase of less frequent injections for as long as 12 months.
Allergy injections should be given by a specialized physician in an office that is prepared to treat any adverse reactions that could occur. The benefits of immunotherapy can be significant for those with asthma, or those whose allergy symptoms are not relieved with medications.
Another form of allergy immunotherapy is called Sublingual Immunotherapy, in which allergy tablets administer allergens under the tongue, usually on a daily basis.
Some people have allergies to insect bites or certain foods.
For a deeper understanding about allergies and asthma, visit the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America, where Awareness Month has already kicked off.
The information in the above article is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.