A multi-centre study conducted by the Asthma Epidemiology Study Group of the Indian Council of Medical Research found that allergic rhinitis is prevalent among 3.5% of the population in India. In another study, 21.27% of school girls between the ages of 4-17 years were seen to be suffering from allergic rhinitis. So what exactly is allergic rhinitis? Allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever, is a hypersensitivity disorder of the immune system of the human body. In layman’s terms, it is caused due to how your body responds to specific allergens. An allergen is a normally harmless substance that tends to cause an allergic reaction in your body. The most common allergen is pollen.
Symptoms of Allergic Rhinitis
Symptoms of allergic rhinitis include sneezing, coughing, frequent headaches, excessive fatigue, itchy and watery eyes, a runny, stuffy and itchy nose, dark circles under the eyes and extremely dry, itchy skin that often causes blisters. You may see one or more of these symptoms after your body comes into contact with an allergen. Severe headaches and fatigue are extreme symptoms which may occur only if your body is exposed to allergens for a long time.
Causes of Allergic Rhinitis
Many times, it may not be easy to decipher the cause of your allergic rhinitis. Essentially, it is caused due to the release of histamine in your body, which occurs when your body comes in contact with an allergen. Histamine is a natural chemical which defends your body from the allergen. Along with pollen, few other things that can cause allergic rhinitis are grass, dust, pet hair, animal dander, dust mites, and cat saliva. Perfumes, smoke from cigarettes and diesel exhaust can also tend to trigger hay fever in the human body. Although tobacco is not directly related to allergic rhinitis, a study on MedIND showed that 55% of people suffering from allergic rhinitis were tobacco users. In some cases, allergic rhinitis occurs due to a family history of allergies. Cold temperatures, humidity, the wind, air pollution, hairspray, and fumes may also trigger or worsen the situation of allergic rhinitis.
Types of Allergic Rhinitis
Allergic rhinitis can be categorized into two different types – seasonal and perennial. Pollen-based allergies are usually seasonal and occur around the summer season. This kind of allergic sensitivity may even be caused by allergens from grass, trees, and weeds. Perennial allergic rhinitis, on the other hand, shows symptoms all your year round. It is caused due to substances you may come in contact with on a daily basis such as dust mites, pet hair, or cockroaches. At times, hidden food allergies may also result in perennial nasal symptoms.
Diagnosis of Allergic Rhinitis
If you experience any of the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, you can visit your doctor for further diagnosis. The doctor can check the inside of your nose to spot nasal polyps. These are fleshy swellings that grow from the lining of the sinuses, the small cavities inside your nose. Another common method of diagnosis is the skin prick test in which the doctor places the allergen on your arm and pricks the surface of your skin to let it enter it into your immune system. This is done to check how your body reacts to it. If you are allergic to it, a small itchy spot will appear. Another way to go about the diagnosis is through a blood test. This helps in checking the immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody in your blood. This antibody is produced in your immune system in your response to a suspected allergen.
Treatment of Allergic Rhinitis
Mild allergic rhinitis can be treated by the intake of antihistamines. Regularly cleaning your nasal passages with a salt water solution, also called as nasal douching or irrigation, can also help. You can consider using eye drops or nasal sprays as they help in relieving the itchiness and other symptoms for a short time.
For severe allergies, a lot of doctors recommend immunotherapy or allergy shots. This begins with taking the shot one to three times per week for three to six months. This is called the build up phase. This is followed by the maintenance phase where you visit your doctor once in a month for a course of three to five years. Once your body starts getting used to shots, the allergy symptoms will start fading slowly and eventually disappear altogether. Another popular method of treatment is sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). This involves placing a tablet on your tongue, which contains a mixture of several allergens. This method may have some side effects such as itching in the mouth or irritation in the throat.
The best way to keep your allergies under control is to keep yourself and your environment as clean as possible. Identify the things or situations which cause you allergies and try to stay away from those. Don’t let the symptoms hamper the quality of your life – Remember, prevention is always better than cure.