Know Your Allergic Rhinitis Basics
Down to Basics
When your health care professional says you have an allergy, that means your body reacts to something called an allergen. Many different allergens can cause the body to react. For example, you may have an allergy to pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds. You also can be allergic to things in the home. Mold, dust mites, animal dander, and even cockroaches can cause reactions.
When your body detects an allergen, such as pollen, your immune system identifies it as something that does not belong in your body. As a result, your body reacts to this allergen, and allergy symptoms can develop. Common symptoms may include:
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Itchy skin and eyes
Why Do I Have an Allergy?
The causes of allergies are not well understood, but it is known that allergies can run in families. You may be at increased risk of allergies if your parents have them.
Seasonal and Year-Round Allergies
Seasonal allergic rhinitis, often called hay fever, occurs during certain times of the year when airborne allergens, such as pollens, are more prevalent.
Pollen can come from:
Perennial allergic rhinitis also occurs when you breathe in an allergen but it is year-round. It is more often caused by indoor allergens such as mold, dust mites, and animal dander. Dust mites live in pillows, mattresses, curtains, couches, carpet, and bedding. Mold can be found in damp areas of homes.
Is It a Cold or an Allergy?
An allergy often can be mistaken for a cold. Although some of the symptoms may be the same, they are not the same thing. Knowing the differences is important.
||Runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, wheezing, and watery and itchy eyes
||Fever, aches and pains, runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, and watery eyes
|When symptoms begin
||Usually shortly after your body detects an allergen
||Usually develop over several days
|How long they last
||Last as long as you are exposed to the allergen and beyond; if the allergen is present year-round, symptoms may be chronic
||Symptoms should clear up within several days to a week
||Pollen, mold, animal dander, and other substances
Certain substances, or triggers, can set off allergic reactions. These substances can include dust mites, molds, animal dander, and pollens. Here is some information about these triggers, and how to reduce exposure to them.
You cannot see these tiny organisms; however, they can cause allergic reactions just like pollen or other allergens. Dust mites are very common. To reduce your exposure to dust mites in the home, here are some suggestions:
- Use airtight plastic or hypoallergenic covers over pillows, mattresses, and box springs.
- Remove carpeting, or vacuum often using a high-efficiency filter.
- Control humidity in your home by using a dehumidifier or air conditioner.
- Use washable throw rugs and wash curtains often to remove dust.
- Wash bedding at least once a week in hot water (130°F) and dry in a hot dryer.
Molds can be found outside or in damp areas of the home such as the basement or bathroom. To help reduce exposure to molds, try the following:
- Get rid of sources of dampness in basements, such as pipe leaks.
- Use a dehumidifier in any area of your home that smells musty or damp.
- Do not go outdoors at certain times, such as right after a rainstorm, in foggy or damp weather, or when the mold count is high.
- Change filters on your furnace and air conditioners regularly.
These are small scales of skin shed by some animals. Health care professionals may suggest medicines or even immunotherapy (allergy shots) for people who have severe symptoms. There are some other things that may help:
- Keep pets out of the bedroom.
- Remove pets from the home if possible.
- Bathe pets weekly to help reduce allergens.
- Replace carpeting that has animal dander with tile, wood, linoleum, or vinyl flooring.
Weather conditions can affect the amount of pollen in the air. People who have seasonal allergies may notice symptoms occurring anytime from February or March through October. In some parts of the country, trees pollinate in the spring, and grasses can start in the late spring and continue until summer. Here are some tips that may help:
- Keep your windows closed.
- Use air-conditioning to help clean and dehumidify the air in the home.
- Stay indoors when pollen counts are the highest.
- Keep car windows closed when traveling.
Understanding the Words Your Health Care Professional May Use
You may hear some of these words:
Allergen: Substance that may cause an allergic reaction in the body.
Allergic rhinitis: Nasal symptoms caused by allergic reactions.
Allergy: A sensitive response by the immune system to an allergen.
Animal dander: Small scales of skin shed by some animals.
Dust mites: Tiny organisms that cannot be seen by the human eye and that live in mattresses and upholstered furniture.
Hay fever: Another term for seasonal allergic rhinitis.
Immune response: The reaction of your body’s system to an allergen that can result in symptoms such as itchy eyes, sneezing, or a runny nose.
Immunotherapy: A series of shots meant to help the immune system tolerate the allergen.
Indoor allergens: Allergens that usually are found indoors, such as mold, pet dander, dust mites, and cockroaches.
Mold: A type of microscopic fungus that can be an allergen.
Outdoor allergens: Allergens that usually are found outdoors, such as airborne pollens and mold spores.
Perennial allergic rhinitis: A year-round allergy caused by allergens such as mold and dust mites.
Pollen: Tiny particles produced by certain plants.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis: An allergy occurring during a specific season that causes symptoms such as a stuffy, itchy, or runny nose. Another term for hay fever.