What Is Allergic Rhinitis?
If you've noticed you often have a stuffy or runny nose, you're not alone. Approximately 40 million people in the United States suffer from the same thing. It's called allergic rhinitis, and it can be an irritating condition to live with.
While it may seem like the fault of ragweed pollen or mold spores, an allergic reaction is actually your immune system over-reacting. Your immune system usually knows how to tell the difference between a serious threat (like a virus) or a minor irritant (like pollen) and acts accordingly. But for some people, harmless things like mold and dust can cause the immune system to react violently, often causing extreme discomfort throughout the spring, summer, and fall.
Rhinitis vs. Allergic Rhinitis
Rhinitis is a medical term meaning inflammation and irritation of the nasal mucous membranes, which line the nasal passages. Allergic rhinitis is, therefore, inflammation of these membranes due to exposure to an allergen. You may also have heard the term "hay fever", which is the common name for allergic rhinitis.
Why Doesn't This Happen to Everyone?
Allergies derive from two things: genetics and environmental factors. If either of your parents have allergies, there's a fair chance that you may have inherited them. But environmental factors, like pollution, may also have something to do with allergy development. It's interesting to note that there is a much lower incidence of allergies in Third World countries, where things like automobiles and factories are scarce or nonexistent.
Allergies can be prevented by avoiding those things that trigger an allergic reaction. That may be easy for someone who is allergic to peanuts, but for someone with allergic rhinitis, avoiding allergens isn't quite so easy. Pollen and spores are released during all times of the year except winter. If a person is allergic to several different pollens, each with a different season, they may experience allergic rhinitis from early spring to late fall.
One way to avoid excess pollen is to pay attention to daily pollen counts and forecasts and plan activities accordingly. A pollen count is a 24-hour measurement of the number of pollen grains in a cubic meter of air. Conditions like temperature, humidity, precipitation, and wind can cause pollen counts to fluctuate over the course of the day.
Mold and fungus spores are also airborne during these seasons, and can also cause allergic rhinitis. Particularly irksome is the fact that mold and fungus can grow indoors (in air vents, cupboards, etc), allowing rhinitis symptoms to continue throughout the winter. You can control mold and fungus growth by keeping moisture levels at a minimum with the help of a dehumidifier. Humidity levels should be kept below 50 percent. The use of a HEPA filter Central Air system can also trap a large portion of spores.
How Can I Treat Allergic Rhinitis?
Many over-the-counter pills and sprays help control allergic rhinitis, such as anti-histamines, decongestants, and leukotriene blockers. Many alternative treatments have also been said to treat the effects of allergic rhinitis, like acupuncture or consuming unfiltered honey. While it's nearly impossible to completely avoid the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, there are many methods of prevention and treatment that can make life a little less miserable during the long hay fever season.
Photo Credit: Mustapha Mrabte