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Allergic Rhinitis - Q&A

Allergic Rhinitis: Top Five Questions Answered

Spring is buzzing, and with that comes beautiful weather along with itchy eyes and runny noses.  Seasonal and “year around” (perennial) allergies affect about 20 million Americans annually.  The severity of your allergies can be based on a number of factors such as your environment, climate of where you live, and your own immune system.  Having perennial allergies in addition to seasonal allergies can affect how you feel on a daily basis, and on your exacerbated days, you likely find yourself missing school, work, or any fun activities planned.  Here are some facts that can help treat and prevent those symptoms from creeping up.

Question 1:  What are the signs/symptoms of environmental allergies?

The most common symptoms of allergic rhinitis include sneezing, post nasal drip, itchy eyes, and a runny nose.  In addition, because of these symptoms, patients will experience increased sinus pressure, headaches, and are at risk for sinus infections. If you have other conditions such as asthma, allergies also commonly affect your breathing. These symptoms can also mimic other respiratory illnesses or other types of rhinitis, so it is important to talk to your healthcare provider to evaluate for a diagnosis.

Question 2: What causes environmental allergies?

The immune system is a complex pathway of many different ways to protect our bodies.  Part of our immune system produces an antibody called IgE, which can help fight off allergic responses. Your body can be “overreactive”,  where IgE causes  an overproduction of histamine.  The histamine production is a result of being exposed to allergens such as pollen, dust, cats, dogs, molds.  When this happens, it can cause you to have the common symptoms above.

Question 3: What are the first steps to treating environmental allergies?

Talking to your healthcare provider about being referred to an allergist for allergy testing is helpful to be able to identify exactly what you are allergic to.  At the allergy practice office, you likely will be “tapped” with a toothpick containing various allergens in your environment. Based on these findings, a few needle pricks may be performed in addition to correlating when your symptoms are the worst.  Based on these findings, measures to avoid the allergen are the first step.

Question 4: What are the treatment options for allergic rhinitis?

There are several medication classes that can help treat the symptoms of allergic rhinitis.  Primarily, anthistamines which block the histamine production are an initial treatment option.  Steroid nasal sprays which calm the inflammation are also commonly used.  Other options include leukotriene modifiers and antihistamine nasal sprays.

Question 5: What about allergy shots?

For long term treatment of environmental allergies, allergy immunotherapy is an excellent option.  Many times avoiding what you are allergic to is not possible.  With allergy immunotherapy, you are essentially injected with a tiny amount of the allergies you are allergic to, and over a period months, your body adjusts to the allergen.  The process is called desensitization. When you are desensitized to the allergen, you experience less symptoms of coughing, sneezing, runny nose.  Allergy shots usually can give a 70% improvement in your symptoms, and many times require less medications for treatment. Based on your allergy testing, your allergist can make a serum designed to treat your allergies most people continue allergy shots for about 3-5 years. Because you are being injected with an allergen, there is a small percentage that you can experience coughing, wheezing, hives, difficulty breathing after your injection.  Due to this side effect, you are asked to be monitored in the office for 30 minutes to ensure you have safely tolerated your allergy shot.

You can make an appointment with Allergy and Asthma Center to talk about options for the treatment of allergic rhinitis which is best for you.  Ultimately, the goal is to give you the best quality of life which entails keeping your seasonal and perennial allergies under control.

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