Allergies are extremely common in the general population, with approximately 50 million Americans being affected. This number appears to be growing as over 17 million new Americans were diagnosed with hay fever in the past year. Allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, is a term used to describe allergy symptoms occurring in the nose. Allergic rhinitis has its highest incidence between 17 - 22 years of age, but symptoms can present later in adulthood as well. Allergic rhinitis can cause a variety of symptoms including:
Allergic rhinitis occurs when a substance enters the nose and is recognized by the body as 'foreign.' This can trigger an overreaction of the immune system leading to the symptoms listed above. Substances that can cause this immune system reaction are called allergens. Allergens may be any substance in the environment, whether it is pollen, dust or pet dander.
Allergies can be seasonal or year-round (perennial) depending on when the allergen is present. Seasonal allergies include allergies to trees, grasses and weeds. Year-round allergies can include allergies to molds, dust mites or pet dander.
You may already have an idea of what you may be allergic to depending on your symptoms. For example you may sneeze frequently in the springtime when trees are in bloom or you may get itchy, watery eyes when you visit a home with cats.
There are a variety of tests available to find out what specific substances you are allergic to. Your doctor will suggest one or multiple tests based on your symptoms and suspected allergies. A simple blood test, known as RAST testing, can identify allergies you may have by checking for antibodies to various common allergens. Another test, known as skin prick testing, involves placement of allergens under the skin. After about 15 minutes, the skin is checked to see if there is a reaction such as a red, raised bump or wheal to a tested allergen. This is considered a positive skin test and this substance may be contributing to your allergy symptoms.
If an allergen is identified with skin prick testing, the first step in treatment is to avoid exposure to that allergen if possible. For example, if you test positive to cat dander you should avoid being around cats. If avoidance is not possible, then medical therapy may be considered. There are several classes of medications that are commonly used.
Another option is to rinse your nose regularly with saline water to wash away allergens. Saline rinses performed using a neti pot can be a simple, holistic solution to bothersome symptoms like rhinitis and congestion. Watch our video below to learn more.
More permanent, long-term treatment of allergies may be considered if medical intervention and saline rinses fail to improve symptoms. Depending on severity of symptoms we may suggest allergy shots, or immunotherapy, with an allergist.
In certain candidates, turbinate reduction may be an option. Turbinates are structures in the nose that filter the air we breathe. Depending on our environment, turbinates will naturally expand and shrink. However in patients with chronic allergies, turbinates can expand in size permanently, obstructing airflow in the nose.
Our office offers an in-office procedure that shrinks the turbinates in your nose, opening your nasal passages and relieving chronic congestion. Many patients have found turbinate reduction to be a lasting solution to their persistent congestion.
You may be surprised to find that your symptoms are caused by allergies. Many patients are unaware that allergies are the cause of their congestion and runny nose. Many patients with allergies also have chronic sinus issues as well.
Schedule an ENT evaluation today to find out if your nasal issues may be due to allergies and what options are right for you!