Allergies (Seasonal and Perennial Allergic Rhinitis)
An allergy is an exaggerated reaction by the immune system to a usually harmless substance. Substances that trigger allergies are called allergens. When allergens enter the body of a person predisposed to allergies, the body "remembers" the reaction and the next time the person is exposed to the allergen, the immune system defends itself by releasing various substances including histamine. This in turn triggers a wide range of symptoms.
Allergies vary in intensity and can take many forms including atopic dermatitis (eczema), asthma and, most commonly, allergic rhinitis.
Genetics seem to play a role in a person's predisposition to developing allergies. In fact, if one or both parents suffer from allergies, their children are more likely to develop allergies. The allergy however, will not necessarily manifest itself the same way.
There are two types of allergic rhinitis:
- Seasonal (acute): occurs only at particular times of the year - hay fever for example. Seasonal allergies are a reaction to wind-borne allergens such as ragweed, tree and grass pollen.
- Perennial (chronic): occurs year-round regardless of the season. Perennial allergies are a reaction to indoor allergens that are always present in the air such as dust mites, pet dander (feathers, hair, skin flakes) and mould caused by humidity or water infiltration problems.
Allergy symptoms can cause many different symptoms and vary in intensity. Individuals with allergies may suffer from one or several of the following symptoms:
When diagnosing an allergy, it is important to be able to provide the physician with some basic information regarding symptoms. Information such as time of day or season, intensity, symptoms and substances believed to be responsible for the allergy will help the physician make the diagnosis. The physician can also order painless skin tests to determine which allergens are causing the allergies.
There is a vast array of treatments available. They can be taken alone or in combination and chosen according to the symptoms present. Some, such as eye drops, have a local effect while others, such as oral antihistamines, are systemic in that they work throughout the entire body. Generally speaking, starting treatment before exposure to the allergen is more effective than starting when symptoms are already present.
Many allergy remedies are sold over-the-counter. It is recommended however, that you speak to your pharmacist in order to choose the product that best suits your needs.
Using a saline solution to irrigate the nasal passages may help improve symptoms associated with rhinitis. It can also enhance one's quality of life by eliminating mucus and irritants (e.g., pollen).
Another option is allergy desensitization. This treatment involves the administration of small quantities of the substances that trigger allergies. This enables the body to build resistance, reducing the intensity of symptoms the next time it is exposed to allergens. Some of these treatments do not require injections.
The best prevention is to avoid any and all contact with allergens. Since this is not always possible, it is a good idea to limit exposure. Here are a few tips to help you reduce your allergy symptoms:
For allergies caused by dust and dust mites:
During pollen season (when pollen is carried by the wind):
For more information:
Allergy / Asthma Information Association
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The patient information leaflets are provided by Vigilance Santé Inc. This content is for information purposes only and does not in any manner whatsoever replace the opinion or advice of your health care professional. Always consult a health care professional before making a decision about your medication or treatment.