Patients often have difficulty distinguishing allergies from upper respiratory tract infections. The reason people can be confused about having an allergy attack or an upper respiratory infection is that while allergies are a chronic condition they can have severe exacerbating episodes, similar to those of upper respiratory infections. Sometimes allergies hit so fast and ferocious that it appears like an upper respiratory infection. Other times, the allergies attack a particular site, such as the throat making it feel as if they have strep throat, or the allergies affect the eye making them wonder about conjunctivitis. Asthma frequently has an allergic component, while worsening asthma symptoms can be an allergic reaction.
Allergic rhinitis is also commonly called seasonal allergies, but people with allergic rhinitis can have symptoms year round. Some may be only symptomatic certain parts of the year, others all year round. Allergic rhinitis is the inflammation of the nasal membranes that cause the runny nose, itchy nose and throat, as well as nasal congestion. It can also affect the eyes and ears. There are many causes of allergic rhinitis. Depending on the cause, the person will be symptomatic: year round, certain parts of the year, only in certain weather, or certain locations, or certain rooms of a house. It all depends on what a person is allergic to.
Causes of Allergic Rhinitis
Based on the time of year and location, the cause of allergic rhinitis can be narrowed down. Seasonal allergies are commonly due to pollens and outdoor molds and effect people mostly in the spring and summer. People with perennial (year-round) allergies can have seasonal exacerbations. Food allergies don’t usually cause allergic rhinitis without causing gastrointestinal, asthma and skin symptoms.
Weed pollens are a common cause of allergic rhinitis and are mostly prominent in the late summer and fall, but weed pollens can be present year-round. Outdoor molds and indoor allergens can be present year round. House dust mites feed on organic material in households, particularly the skin that is shed from humans and pets. They can be found in carpets, upholstered furniture, pillows, mattresses, comforters, and stuffed toys. Cockroaches can cause allergies and particularly they are a cause of asthma. Allergies can also be caused by sporadic exposure and by occupational exposure.
Complications of Allergic Rhinitis
Complications of chronic allergic rhinitis can include the following: acute or chronic sinusitis; ear infections; in children it can cause Eustachian tube dysfunction; sleep disturbance; dental problems caused by mouth breathing. Allergic rhinitis is not life threating by itself. Although, if a person has severe asthma or anaphylaxis it could be; allergic rhinitis worseness the inflammation associated with asthma. Many times people with allergic rhinitis have other coexisting disorders such as asthma. Chronic allergic rhinitis makes people susceptible to sinusitis, ear infections, nasal polyps, conjunctivitis and eczema. It causes: difficulty sleeping, fatigue; heavy headedness which makes it difficult to concentrate. The itchy throat and ears it produces can be particularly disturbing. In general, allergic rhinitis makes people feel miserable.
Allergic rhinitis most commonly starts in childhood. Some studies say that up to 40% of children have allergic rhinitis. 80% of the people who do have allergies have them by age 20. While allergies can start at any age, the incidence of allergies decreases with age.
While allergies to specific foods can cause rhinitis, an individual affected by food allergies also usually has some combination of gastrointestinal, skin, or lung involvement. If food allergies are the culprit, careful questioning usually reveals the causative food. Occasionally, a food allergy will cause runny nose and/or watery eyes but this is usually due to the nervous system, and not a histamine response.
The main treatment for allergic rhinitis are oral antihistamines, decongestants, and the daily uses of intranasal steroid spray. Antihistamines come in two general categories: nonsedating and sedating. The sedating antihistamines tend to be stronger, but are difficult to tolerate during the day due to the fatigue they cause. There currently is a oral prescription antihistamine offered. Eye drop antihistamines can be very effective at treating allergies beyond the eye symptoms. Histamine in the eyes drip into the nose causing symptoms. By stopping the histamine in the eye you can prevent other symptoms. If the symptoms are severe or if there is associative asthma, a short course of oral corticosteroids may be indicated.
Written by: Jacob Gerlitz