By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE
Allergic Rhinitis destroys emotional well-being, quality of life
My allergies are affecting my quality of life. I have problems sleeping, feel tired, irritable and depressed. I can’t concentrate at work. My eyes are puffy and I am constantly blowing my nose. I have a whole pharmacy of over the counter cold and sinus medicines that don’t work. Can you offer any suggestions?
In studies, people who have chronic allergic rhinitis report that their emotional well-being, social functioning and quality of life are lowered by their allergies. Some people are severely bothered by symptoms of allergies, while others are only moderately uncomfortable. The progression of symptoms varies from person to person.
Allergic Rhinitis, which many people call “Hay Fever,” is an inflammation of the nasal passages caused by an allergic reaction that occurs when your immune system overreacts to a substance called an allergen. Allergic rhinitis is caused by breathing air containing an allergen. The most common immediate symptoms of allergic rhinitis include: sneezing over and over, especially after waking in the morning, a runny nose and postnasal drip, the drainage from a runny nose caused by allergies is usually clear and thin, but may become thicker and cloudy or yellowish if a nasal or sinus infection develops, watery, itchy eyes, itchy ears, nose and throat. Other symptoms may include, irritability, loss of energy, poor sleep, chronic cough, pressure in an ear, dark circles under eyes, frequently rubbing the nose, which may cause a crease on the bridge of the nose.
If you have a pollen allergy, symptoms may vary according to the climate and the types of plants that grow in you area. Tree pollens are present in the spring. Grass pollens are present in late spring to midsummer. Ragweed pollens are present in late summer to early fall (or until the first frost).
If you are allergic to house dust mites, animal dander or indoor mold, your symptoms may be more severe in winter when more time is spent indoors.
Most people develop symptoms within minutes after being exposed to an allergen. Some people may have another outbreak of symptoms four to eight hours after exposure. Symptoms often last longer than 10 days. Allergic rhinitis can affect a person’s health significantly if not successfully treated. A number of complications may develop when a person has chronic allergic rhinitis.
The tendency to develop allergic rhinitis may be an inherited problem. Certain factors may increase a person’s risk of developing allergies- a sensitivity to allergens such as secondhand smoke, air pollution or infections.
There is also some evidence that receiving food other than breast milk during the first two months of life increases a person’s chance of developing allergies.
Once a person has developed allergic rhinitis, the most important step you can take to avoid symptoms is to avoid being exposed to the allergens to which you are sensitive.
Other steps to minimize symptoms of allergies:
- Avoid things that other family members are known to be allergic to.
If you have a allergy and you know when exposure to the allergen is likely to occur, some medications (cromolyn sodium and nasal corticosteroids) may help reduce your symptoms if taken before exposure.
- Special shots (immunotherapy) may reduce or eliminate your sensitivity to the allergen that causes the allergic reaction.
If avoiding allergens does not relieve your symptoms or is not possible, treatment with medications is the next step. Antihistamines are very effective at relieving sneezing, runny nose and itching and watery eyes, however, they are not very effective at relieving nasal congestion. Decongestants help clear the nose but do not help much with sneezing and itching and are contraindicated in people with high blood pressure. Corticosteroids treat many kinds of symptoms. It may take a combination of medications to relieve all of your symptoms.
The following medications may be used to treat allergic rhinitis: antihistamines, decongestants, corticosteroids, cromolyn sodium, ipratropium bromide and eyedrops.
Leukotriene modifiers are class of drugs that may help improve lung function in people with asthma by relaxing the smooth muscle around the airways in the lungs (bronchi) and by reducing inflammation in the lungs. At present they are approved to treat asthma, but are currently being studies as a possible treatment for allergic rhinitis.
Medical researchers are also investigating the use of anti-immunoglobulin E antibodies and interleukin modifiers for the treatment of allergic rhinitis. These medications block the release and the action of certain substances released by the body during an allergic reaction and can reduce the severity of some allergy symptoms.
There are many different types of medications available to treat allergic rhinitis. Talk to your health care provider and decide what the next step should be for you.