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Allergic rhinitis, more commonly known has hay fever, is often treated as a minor annoyance rather than a more serious complaint. It is estimated, however, that as many as 40 to 50 million people suffer from nasal allergies and their related ailments. If you are susceptible to frequent colds, congestion, runny nose, sneezing, red and swollen eyes or postnasal drainage, you may be suffering from Allergic Rhinitis.

Allergies can result from a multitude of substances, including but not limited to:

Plants – trees, grasses and weeds.
Mildew.
Mold.
Dust.
Foods – Most commonly eggs, peanuts, shellfish, milk, gluten.
Insects.
Latex.
Nickel.

When the body is exposed to allergens, irritants that are responsible for allergic reactions, the immune system reacts to the unfamiliar substances in a variety of ways. This reaction often mimics the way the body reacts when it comes into contact with bacterial and viral irritants. In the case of an allergic reaction, however, the immune system is responding to a false alarm. Consequently, allergy symptoms are quite similar to bacterial and viral infections. The reaction is caused by a large quantity of antibody immunoglobulin E (IgE) which accumulates in the body. The IgE antibodies attach to cells in the body, both mast cells and basophils, triggering the release of histamines. Histamines cause inflammation of the various tissues in the body, resulting in the symptoms commonly attributed to allergies. As soon as the offending allergen is introduced to the body, the histamines respond with inflammation and swelling causing congestion, runny nose, sneezing, eye irritation among other things.

Pollen and other allergens affect people in a variety of ways. These include:

Itching and scratching in the throat.
Hoarseness or laryngitis.
Reactive Airway Disease, a chronic irritation of the respiratory system.
Wheezing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest.
A persistent, dry, irritating cough.
Asthma. (It is not uncommon to have a Reactive Airway Disease diagnosis before you are actually diagnosed asthma.)
Allergic conjunctivitis. Redness, tearing and itching of the eyes.
Urticaria.
Postnasal drainage.
Sore throat as a result of either postnasal drainage or irritation of the larynx.
Allergic shiners.
Headaches.
Fatigue.

Generally allergic reactions caused by food or insects are the most dangerous as swelling of the airways can prohibit breathing. It is imperative that food allergies, in particular, are diagnosed and treated to prevent anaphylactic shock and further exposure to the offending food.

Anaphylactic shock is a swift, severe reaction to contact with an allergen to which a sensitivity has been formed. Anaphylactic shock can be fatal in only a few minutes if left untreated. Generally those with food allergies or other severe allergies that may lead to anaphylactic shock carry an injectable Epinephrine with them for emergency treatment. Any severe allergic reaction should be treated emergently. Oxygen and rarely intubation are other treatments for anaphylaxis.

Asthma is shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing caused by narrowing of the airways, excessive mucous production and inflammation. Asthma can be treated by emergency methods with rescue inhalers and is also treated on a maintenance basis with long-term medications. A doctor will recommend the best treatment for individual cases, however generally a combined approach is the most effective. Asthma, left untreated, can be fatal.

Urticaria or hives, a red, raised, itching wheal on the skin, are a common reaction to some allergic contacts. These happen most often with contact allergens, but may also happen with medication allergies or other ingested allergens. Hives are not always related to allergies, and may be brought on by or worsened by stress or other factors. Hives can be treated topically with Hydrocortisone creams, available over the counter. Antihistamines are a common treatment and can also be purchased over the counter. Urticaria should be evaluated and treated by a qualified physician, however, if symptoms last more than a few days or progress at all.

Allergic conjunctivitis can be seasonal or perennial, with the main difference being only when the symptoms occur. Allergic conjunctivitis is redness, burning, itching, and tearing of the eyes due to allergic pathogens. Those with seasonal conjunctivitis generally have irritation Spring, summer and/or fall whereas those with perennial conjunctivitis may suffer year round with allergies not only to weeds, grasses etc. but to dust and pet dander as well. Artificial tears can be purchased over the counter and can provide a sort of barrier between the eye and the allergens. Topical antihistamines are also a beneficial treatment for symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis. As always, avoidance of the allergens is best when at all possible and preventative treatment may keep symptoms from becoming aggravated.

It can be very difficult to differentiate between allergy symptoms and symptoms due to colds or other viral infections. A good rule of thumb is that if your symptoms last more than seven to ten days, it is most likely an allergic reaction.

Testing can be done by a qualified allergist to determine what allergens are causing your symptoms. Skin testing is the most common method used to determine allergens. During allergy skin testing the skin is scratched or poked and a weakened sample of the allergen is introduced. If an reaction occurs, in the form of a reddened, raised area, the allergist interprets the results and looks for cross sensitivity. Cross sensitivity is an allergic reaction to different substances that have a similar protein make-up. They can generally give you a very good idea of which plants, foods or other allergens to avoid.

After your allergies have been identified, treatment will be prescribed. The first and most obvious thing is to avoid exposure to the allergen. This can be done by:

Washing bedding frequently.
Keeping windows closed.
Avoiding being outdoors during times, such as early morning and evening, when allergens are most prevalent.
Washing hands, face and hair frequently.
Keeping pets out of the bedroom, even if the allergy is not to the pet dander. Pets often play and roll around outdoors and then carry potential allergens inside on their fur.

With proper diagnosis and treatment, allergies do not need to be debilitating, nor do they need to adversely affect quality of life. Measures can be taken to help those who suffer from these allergies to live relatively free of symptoms.

Sources: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Environmental Protection Agency, American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, American Lung Association, Medlineplus.gov, Foodallergies .org, enotalone.com, intermountainallergy.com, allergyescape.com, acaai.org, medicinenet.com, ncs.gov.

Disclaimer: The allergy information on this website is strictly general information and should not be taken as official advice. Please schedule an appointment with an allergy doctor in order to get a proper and full allergy diagnosis.

This article was developed by Utah Allergy Associates of Utah and Adaptivity Pro SEO Services

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