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Nasal Allergies - Allergic Rhinitis & Allergic Asthma

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Updated: April 17, 2008

Nasal Allergies

Nasal Allergies

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Introduction:

Nasal allergies is a medical condition known as allergic rhinitis. Nasal allergies can be seasonal, known as hayfever, or year-round. They are closely related to allergic asthma. In fact, many people who have the allergic type of asthma also have nasal allergies, and vice versa. Allergies affect 40 to 50 million people in the United States alone, which is about 20% of the population. Allergic rhinitis accounts for 14.1 million visits a year to the doctor and is one of the most common chronic diseases.

What They Are:

Nasal allergies, like allergic asthma, are an overreaction by your body to breathing in something called an allergen. When you are exposed to an allergen, such as pollen or dander from a cat, your body's immune system incorrectly "reads" it as a threat to your health. In response, the immune system releases certain cells and chemicals that are designed to protect you from the allergen. The thing is, they actually end up making you feel bad. The nasal passages become inflamed, or swollen, irritated, and "weepy." This results in allergy symptoms, such as a stuffy nose and sneezing.

What Causes Them:

The causes, risks, and triggers for nasal allergies are pretty much the same as for allergic asthma. Common causes include:
  • Family history of asthma and / or allergies
  • Living in urban areas
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke

Triggers can include all of the following, depending on each person's individual sensitivities:

As a rule of thumb, if your allergy symptoms flare up in the spring, you are probably allergic to tree pollens. If summer is your worst time, then grass and /or weed pollens might be the culprits. Nasal allergy symptoms in the late summer and early fall suggest ragweed as a trigger. If your symptoms last year-round, then indoor allergens are probably at work.

How They Are Diagnosed:

Allergies, whether nasal or other varieties such as skin allergies (eczema / dermatitis), eye allergies or food allergies, can be diagnosed using the same techniques used to diagnose allergic asthma:
  • Personal and family medical history
  • Physical exam by a doctor
  • Allergy testing

How They Are Treated:

Luckily, nasal allergies are fairly easily treated. The most common treatment is oral antihistamines, which are a kind of medicine that counteracts the symptoms of nasal allergies as well as other types of allergies. Examples are Claritin, Allegra, and Zyrtec. Newer medicines include nasal sprays such as Veramyst. These can be effective for most people, but may have unpleasant side effects at times.

For some people, allergy shots (immunotherapy) may be a better option. Reasons why your doctor might suggest allergy shots include:

  • Allergies and allergy symptoms are severe
  • Allergy symptoms cannot be controlled adequately with medicine
  • Allergies occur year-round
  • Allergy triggers are difficult or impossible to avoid

If you think allergy shots might be right for you, talk with your doctor. Another option may be allergy drops, which are also known as sublingual immunotherapy, or SLIT for short. SLIT is used widely in Europe, with good results, but it is not yet officially approved for use in the United States.

Allergies' Impact on Asthma:

If you are already suffering from allergic asthma and you also have nasal allergies, asthma control is going to be more difficult. It will also affect your quality of life. It's hard enough to have to worry about your breathing and your lower airways without also having your nose and head feel irritated and stuffy. So, it's important to get the treatment you need for both your asthma and your nasal allergies. If you're not seeing an allergist, consider getting a consultation, as this is a kind of doctor who specializes in the treatment of allergic diseases. An allergist is the best healthcare professional to help you decide which course of treatment will be right for you.

Find an Allergist Near You

Sources:

American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. "Allergic Rhinitis." . AAAAI. 13 Apr 2008

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