Those sniffling noses and itchy eyes aren’t just annoyances. An estimated 50 million Americans grapple with allergies each year, making it the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. Don’t let allergies get the best of you. Relief starts with a better understanding of this common condition and how to treat it.
Allergic rhinitis, also called hay fever, causes a variety of irritating symptoms: watery eyes, sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, and itchy nose, eyes and even roof of the mouth. People often think allergies are something you’re born with. Technically, you aren’t born with allergies but rather a trait called atopy, which is a genetic tendency to develop allergies. You can even develop an allergy later in life. It’s a trend on the rise as the population gets older worldwide.
Different substances can trigger allergies and there are two general categories: seasonal and perennial. Seasonal allergies happen during certain times of year when outdoor pollens are high. Culprits are trees, grasses or weeds, and mold spores. Perennial allergies occur year-round and are triggered by sensitivity to things like pet dander, dust mites, mold spores and cockroaches.
Treatment for seasonal and perennial allergic rhinitis includes the following options:
- Eliminating or reducing exposure to the irritant that triggers symptoms
- Over-the-counter medications (oral antihistamines and decongestants, nasal sprays)
- Immunotherapy (allergy shots)
If outdoor allergens trigger symptoms, try staying indoors when pollen is high. If you’ve been outside, shower and change clothes to remove pollens, especially from your hair. You can also wear a pollen mask when doing chores outdoors.
For indoor allergens, keep air clean by using air conditioning with high-efficiency filters - and be sure to change filters on schedule. Try using a dehumidifier to keep air dry. To keep floors clean, invest in a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA (high-efficiency particular air) filter.
A variety of over-the-counter oral antihistamines and decongestants and can ease allergy symptoms and some combine both antihistamines and decongestants. Some people get relief by rinsing mucus and allergens out of their nasal passages using a neti pot or squeeze bottle. These are available over the counter at most pharmacies. Be sure to follow the directions, using only distilled, sterile or previously boiled and cooled water.
If you’re still suffering, see your physician or health care provider. Blood and skin tests can determine exactly what’s triggering symptoms and the best treatment options. Allergy shots can desensitize your system to a particular allergen, which reduces symptoms. Regardless of the type of allergy or its severity, there are options for improving symptoms, so work with your care provider to find a solution that works for you.