An allergy is a disorder in which the body becomes overly sensitive to a particular substance, known as an allergen. A specific reaction is then provoked whenever the allergen is inhaled, ingested or otherwise comes into contact with the person affected.
Allergic rhinitis is a condition caused by an immediate hypersensitivity reaction in the nose. Although the symptoms resemble those of the common cold, unlike colds, they are not caused by a viral infection. It is characterised by episodes of nasal congestion, sneezing and watery nasal discharge. Other symptoms may include red, itchy, watery eyes, a sore throat, dry cough, headaches and facial pain, fatigue and dark circles under the eyes. Allergic rhinitis may be seasonal or perennial (year round). The condition affects around 1 in 5 people in Australia and can have an impact on quality of life, including fatigue, learning ability and work performance.
Seasonal (Intermittent) Allergic Rhinitis
Seasonal allergic rhinitis, or hayfever, is caused by an allergy to pollens from grasses, flowers, weeds or trees. This form of rhinitis causes sudden, frequent attacks of sneezing, nasal discharge and congestion. These episodes may also be accompanied by eye symptoms, such as stinging, watering eyes and conjunctivitis. The timing of hayfever attacks differ from person to person, depending on the plant involved and its pollination time.
Perennial (Persistent) Allergic Rhinitis
Perennial allergic rhinitis is a hypersensitivity reaction to allergens in house dust, animal dander or fungal spores. Nasal congestion and mucous production (postnasal drip) symptoms predominate in most patients, and sneezing, itching, and watery rhinorrhea may be minimal.
Urticaria; also known as hives, is an itchy rash caused by the release of the chemical histamine during an allergic reaction. The rash may consist of individual swellings called welts or wheals, which may appear on the face, trunk, arms or legs. When the wheals involve the tongue or throat, it is essential that you seek medical advice, as swelling may become severe and constitute a medical emergency due to breathing difficulties.
The management of allergy symptoms usually involves 3 steps:
- It is vital that the specific cause, or allergen, is identified.
- Minimise exposure to the allergen.
- Allergies may be treated with medication.
Identifying the cause of allergy symptoms
Depending on the allergy, it may be quite easy for a person to identify the responsible allergen, based on the timing of their symptoms. For others, it might be more difficult to identify the cause, especially when symptoms are subtle or occur on a continuous basis. In these cases, a doctor may recommend either a skin prick test or blood test to determine the specific allergy.
Avoiding exposure to the allergen
Once an allergen has been identified, it may be possible to avoid exposure through lifestyle modifications. If allergy symptoms persist despite efforts to avoid the allergen, or if allergen avoidance is not possible, there are several treatment options available.
Treatment for Hayfever Allergies
Hayfever is an allergic condition triggered by the inhalation of airborne pollen particles. The allergic reaction causes the release of histamine in the body, which is responsible for the inflammation associated with hayfever, particularly in the nose. Treatment with a non-sedating antihistamine medication such as Telfast®, can help to control symptoms such as sneezing and itchy eyes. In the case of ongoing hayfever symptoms, a corticosteroid nasal spray may be used in conjunction with an oral antihistamine. Steroid nasal sprays act directly on the nasal mucosa to alleviate symptoms of seasonal or perennial allergic rhinitis including sneezing, discharge and itching.
Treatment for itchy throat
The part of the body an allergen touches will affect which allergy symptoms a person is likely to develop. In the case of pollen particles, which are breathed in, a person is likely to experience respiratory symptoms. These include a stuffy, itchy nose, mucous production, cough and throat symptoms. An itchy throat is a common symptom associated with allergies and histamine release. An oral antihistamine medication, such as Telfast®, can help to alleviate hayfever-related itching or discomfort in the throat.
Treatment for runny nose
A runny nose associated with allergies may be treated with corticosteroid nasal sprays. The use of intranasal corticosteroids is recommended only for short term relief of nasal allergy symptoms (up to 3-6 months). The therapeutic effect of this form of treatment is usually not immediate, but becomes apparent within a few days of starting treatment. Decongestant nasal sprays may also be helpful for quick relief of allergy symptoms. However, it is not recommended that these be used for longer than a few days, as long-term use may damage the lining of the nose.
Treatment for watery eyes
Allergens that touch the eyes may cause watery, itchy, red and swollen eyes. Touching or rubbing your eyes may increase the amount of pollen they are exposed to. Wearing sunglasses, showering when you arrive home and frequently bathing your eyes with a wet washcloth are all steps that will help to minimise exposure of your eyes to pollen. Medicated eye drops may also help to relieve these symptoms. Your pharmacist will be able to give you advice on the correct eye drops to use.
For more information, ASCIA website.