By Dr Kizito Lubano
What is allergic rhinitis?
Allergic rhinitis, often-called allergies or hay fever, occurs when your immune system overreacts to particles in the air that you breathe.
Your immune system attacks the particles in your body, causing symptoms such as sneezing and a runny nose. The particles are called allergens, which cause an allergic reaction.
People with allergies usually have symptoms for many years. You may also get other problems such as sinusitis and ear infections because of allergies.
What are the symptoms?
Often, when you have allergic rhinitis you sneeze repeatedly and especially after waking up in the morning.
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Symptoms include nasal congestion, clear runny nose, sneezing, nose, ear, throat and eye itching and excess tears production in the eyes. Post-nasal dripping of clear mucus frequently causes a cough.
Loss of the sense of smell and taste is common. Nose bleeding may occur if the condition is severe.
These allergic symptoms often interfere with one’s quality of life and overall health. Allergic rhinitis can lead to other diseases like sinusitis and asthma.
Many people with allergies have difficulty with social and physical activities as it interferes with concentration.
Which allergens commonly cause allergic rhinitis?
You probably know that pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds cause allergic rhinitis. Many people have allergies to dust mites, animal dander, cockroaches and mold as well. Things in the workplace, such as cereal grain, wood dust, chemicals, or lab animals can also cause allergic rhinitis.
If you are allergic to pollen, you may have symptoms only at certain times of the year. If you are allergic to dust mites and indoor allergens, you may have symptoms all the time.
How is it diagnosed?
To find out if you have allergies, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and examine you. Knowing what symptoms you have, when you get them, and what makes them worse or better can help your doctor know whether you have allergies or another problem.
If you have severe symptoms, you may need to have allergy tests to find out what you are allergic to. Your doctor may do a skin test. In this test your doctor puts a small amount of an allergen into your skin to see if it causes an allergic reaction.
Your doctor may order lab tests. These tests can find substances in your blood or other fluids that may mean you have allergic rhinitis.
How is it treated?
There is no cure for allergic rhinitis. But you can avoid the things that cause your allergies. You may need to clean your house often to get rid of dust, animal dander or molds.
You may need to stay indoors when pollen counts are high, unless you have another health problem, such as asthma, where you may take over-the-counter medicines to treat your symptoms at home.
If you do have another problem, talk to your doctor first.
Others who should also talk to their doctors before starting self-treatment include older adults, children and women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
If your allergies bother you a lot and you cannot avoid the things you are allergic to, you and your doctor can decide if you should get allergy shots (immuno-therapy) to help control your symptoms.
For allergy shots to work, you need to know what you are allergic to.
Finding the treatment that works best for you may take a while.