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Allergic Rhinitis

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Allergic Rhinitis

ENT- Otolaryngology | by Dr. Saibal Das | Published on 07/08/2020

Allergic rhinitis is also medically known as hay fever. This condition occurs when the human body sends a response to different allergens, found outdoors and indoors. Some common types of allergens include pollen, the salvia of cats, tiny skin particles of fur animals (including dogs and cats), dust mites, and others.


Allergic rhinitis makes the person very uncomfortable and leads to symptoms including a cold, running nose, itchy and red eyes, nasal congestion, frequent sneezing, and sinus pressure. But the problem is not caused because of a virus. It is the body’s allergic response to irritants and allergens. Hay fever or allergic rhinitis can affect people of all ages and make people, mostly children, feel uncomfortable, and ill and also impact the overall quality of life. It can even take a toll on the performance of people at work or school.


Hay fever or allergic rhinitis can be cured with adequate treatment, precautions, and by avoiding triggers such as staying away from allergens.


Symptoms of Allergic Rhinitis


Allergic rhinitis displays symptoms similar to a normal cold. Some of the common symptoms of hay fever include:


  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Red, watery or itchy eyes (generally because of the allergens)
  • Cough
  • Fatigue and nausea
  • Postnasal drip
  • Itching in the nose, in the roof of the mouth, or the throat
  • Swelling and discoloration of the skin under the eyes


The above symptoms and some others can appear or get worse at a specific time of the year. Some of those times in a year include:  


  • Early spring during the tree pollen time
  • Late spring or summer leads to grass pollen
  • The season of fall when there is the presence of ragweed pollen


That said, dust mites, fur animals, and cockroaches can cause allergic rhinitis throughout the year. But signs can worsen in case of dander during winters, more so when the houses are completely closed. Moreover, fungi spores can also activate this issue all year round.


Usually, hay fever or allergic rhinitis gets cured on its own as soon as the person reduces or removes his exposure to the allergen. But in cases, where the condition carries on even after not being exposed to the allergen or gets worse with new symptoms, the patient must see a doctor immediately.


Some conditions that signify a need for immediate medical attention include:


  • Persistent and worsening symptoms of hay fever even after no contact with the allergens.
  • Hay fever gets worsened with time and no medications have been able to provide any relief to the condition
  • Other health issues including sinus infections, chronic asthma, and others tend to worsen symptoms.


Difference between Allergic Rhinitis and the Common Cold


Hay fever or allergic rhinitis is often confused with as cold since its symptoms are similar to that of the latter. But both are very different from each other. Some of the significant differences between these two conditions include:


  • Allergic rhinitis causes a runny nose and leads to a water-like discharge but without any fever. However, in case of a common cold, a person usually experiences mild-fever and has runny nose coupled with a thick, yellowish discharge.
  • Allergic rhinitis usually happens immediately when a person is exposed to allergens. However, a common cold occurs after 2-3 days of exposure to the virus.
  • Allergic rhinitis continues till the time a person is exposed to allergens. It rarely continues after the exposure has ended. However, the common takes almost three to seven days to pass.


Causes of Allergic Rhinitis


Allergic rhinitis occurs when a person is exposed to allergens. These allergens, mostly non-harmful airborne substances, are treated by the body’s immune system as harmful. In response to this, the body starts to make antibodies to prevent the airborne element. Hence, every time a person comes in contact with the same allergen, the preventive antibodies send a signal to the immune system to release a chemical, called histamine, in the blood. This production of chemicals leads to a reaction in the body and produces symptoms of allergic rhinitis.


Risk Factors of Allergic Rhinitis


As mentioned, allergic rhinitis can happen to any person at any age. That said, some factors increase the risk of a person being affected by hay fever more than others:


  • People that have other allergies or health conditions such as asthma
  • People who have eczema
  • People whose parents and siblings, or other close family relative has a history of allergies
  • Children whose mothers smoked during the first year of their life
  • People who live, work, or are exposed to areas that have high allergens
  • A child whose mother smoked during the first year of his/her life


Complications of Allergic Rhinitis


Allergic rhinitis usually goes away on its own when contact with allergens is removed. However, if the condition does not improve, it can cause the below complications:


  • Allergic rhinitis can interfere with the quality of life and make the person less productive. It also restricts people from enjoying life to the fullest.
  • Allergic rhinitis can make a person feel ill and cause them to take more leaves from work and school.
  • People who experience allergic rhinitis often have a problem sleeping well or they might even stay awake for most of the night due to the discomfort. This can cause tiredness and cause many people to feel unwell.
  • Allergic rhinitis can worsen the impact of asthma on people
  • Allergic rhinitis can also lead to sinusitis, which is an infection or the swelling of the membrane that surrounds the sinus.
  • Allergic rhinitis can also lead to extreme pain in the ear or an infection.


Prevention of Allergic Rhinitis


There is no particular way to avoid allergic rhinitis. However, the best prevention is to stay away from allergens or minimize exposure. Moreover, specific medications can help prevent the triggers from worsening the impact.


Diagnosis of Allergic Rhinitis


To diagnose allergic rhinitis, the doctor will conduct a physical examination and try to understand the medical history of the patient. Based on the analysis, the healthcare professional can further recommend a few tests, such as below:


  • Skin prick test: In this particular test, trigger allergens are pricked into the skin of the patient and the doctor observes the patient for any reaction in the body. If the person is allergic, a particular hive develops in that area.
  • Allergy blood test: Also referred to as the radioallergosorbent test (RAST), this helps in estimating the body’s immune system's retort to certain allergens in the lab.


Treatment of Allergic Rhinitis


The most ideal way to treat allergic rhinitis is to stay away from triggers and allergens. But in case, the hay fever and symptoms are not severe, certain over-the-counter medications can provide effective relief. Moreover, in case, symptoms intensify, the patient would then need medications prescribed by the doctor. 


Among other treatment types, a patient can also be given allergy shots called immunotherapy. Also, under-the-tongue allergy tablets and often rinsing the sinuses are recommended for troubling allergic rhinitis symptoms.


That said, allergic rhinitis is not a very serious condition but can lead to some extremely discomforting symptoms including hampering the quality of life if it is not treated well.