What Could Be Trigggering Your Allergy Symptoms?
Allergic rhinitis and conjunctivitis are conditions caused by exposure to environmental allergens. It is common, affecting up to 30% of adults and 40% of children. People often describe red, itchy, watery eyes, itchy runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion and in some people, itching ears, mouth and throat. Symptoms that occur year-round may be caused by dust mites, cockroach, molds or animal danders (skin flakes).
Seasonal allergic rhinitis from tree, grass or weed pollens can make it difficult to enjoy the outdoors.
How Do Allergies Affect You?
While allergy symptoms may be viewed as an incidental disease, symptoms of allergic rhinitis may have a significant affect on a person's quality of life which is nothing sneeze at. Symptoms can be associated with fatigue, headache, cognitive impairment and sleep disturbance. Allergy medications such as anti-histamines may add to these symptoms.
As with other illnesses such as "the flu", the body releases inflammatory chemicals or cytokines which make it hard to be at your best. Allergy symptoms disturb work and school productivity, and are a major cause of "presenteeism" or working while sick.
Appropriate management of allergic rhinitis is an important part of managing related conditions such as asthma, sinusitis and sleep apnea. Allergic rhinitis may have a role in frequent colds and recurrent ear infections. The financial burden may be directly from additional medical costs or indirectly from loss of productivity.
Testing For Allergies
A thorough medical history and physical exam is the first step. You must stop antihistamines before skin testing but should continue asthma medicines, steroid nasal sprays and Singulair. Skin testing can be as prick tests on your back or as intradermal tests on your arm. If you are sensitive to an allergen that spot may become red (flare) a little swollen (weal) and itchy. Just don’t scratch while the test is being done.
How Are Allergies Treated
When possible try to limit exposure to what you are most sensitive to. To limit dust mite exposure, wash and thoroughly dry bedding at least once a week. Dust mite barriers for the pillow and mattress may help. Pets should be kept off the bed and out of the bedroom as much as practical. Pollen settles to the ground when the air is still so keep windows closed at night. An allergen filter on the air conditioning unit may help. If you are going to be exposed to a lot of allergens, such as when cutting the lawn or raking leaves, wear a dust mask. Showering away outside allergens before bed may help.
A nasal rinse, such as NeilMed, can help reduce the need for medicines. Steroid nasal sprays, such as Nasacort, can be used once or twice a day. Be sure to point the tip of the bottle away from the midline of your nose. Antihistamines, such as Zyrtec (cetirizine) or Allegra (fexofenadine), help with itching. Eye drops such as Opcon or Zaditor can be used as needed. Singulair, although not an antihistamine, is sometimes prescribed since it helps both allergic rhinitis and asthma
There are more options if you cannot avoid allergens and medicines do not help enough. The best long term treatment comes from allergy immunotherapy either as allergy shots or under-the-tongue allergy drops. Both are effective when you take them as directed. Allergy shots must be given in a doctor’s office, allergy drops are safe enough to take at home but may not be covered by insurance.
To start allergy shots you must have controlled asthma, cannot be taking a beta blocker blood pressure medicine such as atenolol and you cannot start if you are pregnant, although it is acceptable to continue at the same level.
For More Information
Everyone’s allergies are different. Please ask Dr. Thompson for more information about the best treatment for you.