Allergic rhinitis, known to most people as hay fever, affects millions of people in the United States and can lessen a
person’s quality of life. Rhinitis is a medical term that describes symptoms produced by nasal inflammation or irritation. These symptoms include stuffy nose, runny nose, itching, sneezing, and postnasal drip and are often associated with itching, redness, puffiness, and watering of the eyes or a chronic cough due to postnasal drip.
Allergic rhinitis can be seasonal, perennial (year-round), or both. Seasonal allergies occur in the spring, summer, and/or fall. They are usually caused by pollens from trees, grasses, or weeds, or by outdoor molds. People with perennial allergies have symptoms year-round. These are usually caused by allergy to dust mites, animal dander, cockroaches or indoor molds.
Complications can occur as a result of allergic rhinitis. These include sinus infections, ear infections, chronic cough, headache, poor sleep, fatigue, reduced school performance or work productivity. Allergies can also flare asthma and eczema.
An allergist has specialized training in diagnosing and managing allergies. Skin prick testing is typically the most
sensitive and least expensive method to diagnose allergic causes of rhinitis. Additionally, results can be obtained within 15-20 minutes. In some cases, it may be necessary to do a blood test for specific allergens.
Most allergens are tough to escape no matter where an individual lives. Some measures a seasonal allergy sufferer can try include keeping windows closed and using air-conditioning during summer months. Don’t hang laundry outdoor to dry, limit outdoor activity when pollen counts are high (especially early mornings), and wear masks when doing yard work. When avoidance measures aren’t enough to control symptoms, medications may be necessary. These are available in forms including both prescription and over the counter tablets, nasal sprays, eye drops, and liquids.
Subcutaneous immunotherapy, or allergy shots, is a more definitive option to treat allergies. It involves giving an
allergic individual a shot, with increasing doses over time, of the allergen or mixture of allergens (i.e., pollens, dust mites, animal dander, or molds) to which the person is allergic. This causes the immune system to become less sensitive to the allergen, which eliminates or reduces symptoms when a person is exposed to it.
Immunotherapy is also indicated to treat allergic asthma and eczema. Sublingual immunotherapy, also known as allergy drops or tablets, is an alternative to treating allergies without shots. A person is given small doses of allergen under the tongue to induce tolerance to the allergen over time in a similar way to how allergy shots work. As of the writing of this article, the FDA does not yet approve sublingual immunotherapy and therefore its usage is off-label. However, an FDA advisory committee has voted to approve two sublingual immunotherapy tablets for treatment of grass allergy and these are expected to be available in the near future.
Overall, the goal of an allergist is to help a person with seasonal and/or perennial allergies be as symptom-free as possible and improve quality of life. If you suffer from allergies, please feel free to contact our office to
discuss your options.
Article provided by Anette Erika Morris, M.D. Allergy & Asthma Center, P.C. She can be reached at 615-895-6500 or