Allergic rhinitis is sometimes called ‘hay fever’, especially when the symptoms are seasonal and are worse in the spring and summer months. It is a disorder of the nose. It happens when the mucous membrane lining the nose and throat becomes inflamed and swollen and produces large quantities of mucous.

The symptoms, although not life threatening, may be severe enough to impact on sufferers’ quality of life, affecting sleep, social life, productivity and ability to concentrate at school or at work.

Symptoms

Typical nasal symptoms include runny nose, blocked nose, sneezing, itchy nose, and post nasal drip. Non-nasal symptoms include itchy, tearing red eyes, itchy ears and palate, sore throat, cough, loss of smell, lack of sleep and irritability. These symptoms occur when the membrane that lines the nose and the back of the throat becomes swollen and inflamed and produces mucous because a person breathes in a trigger (or allergen) like house dust or pollen to which they have been previously exposed and sensitised.

When the allergen comes into contact with the membrane, it attaches to the allergy antibodies (called immunoglobulin E) on mast cells within the membrane, which starts the process of causing the area to become inflamed. It is the membrane inflammation that causes the typical symptoms. Common triggers include: pollen, cat dander, dog dander, house dust mites, cockroach and moulds. Allergic rhinitis tends to run in families.

The symptoms may be mild or severe, and some people suffer from allergic rhinitis all year round, especially if they are allergic to a persistent allergen like house dust mite. Seasonal allergic rhinitis typically occurs in people who are allergic to certain pollens.

Testing can be done for the trigger allergens. Skin Prick Tests and Specific IgE blood tests are typically used for testing.

Treatment

Triggers or allergens should be avoided as much as possible. Doctors usually prescribe a corticosteroid nasal spray and antihistamines for the treatment of allergic rhinitis. Mechanical nasal washout can provide some relief, and allergen immunotherapy has been shown to benefit carefully selected patients.

Nasal decongestants are not recommended for long-term treatment but they are sometimes used for controlling severe symptoms. They should not be used for more than 5 days at a time.

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