Spring is notorious among allergy sufferers for bouts of allergy symptoms like sneezing or itchiness. A study showed recently that nationwide pollen amounts increased by around 21%. This means that understanding allergic rhinitis and how to minimize symptoms is more important than ever.
Allergic Rhinitis Explained
Phrases like environmental allergies, spring allergies, and hay fever are often used to describe the condition known as allergic rhinitis (rahy-nahy-tis). Allergic Rhinitis is an IgE mediated immune response caused by the body overreacting to environmental irritants like pollens, dust, danders, or mold. The body can produce immunoglobulin antibodies (IgE) which recognize these otherwise harmless substances as threats and react. Those who are prone to allergic diseases may be more likely to have allergic rhinitis. While most allergic rhinitis reactions are typically not deadly by themselves, they can cause some uncomfortable symptoms such as:
- Congestion and stuffiness of nose
- Runny nose (rhinorrhea)
- Loss of smell
- Sinus pain
- Extra mucus in nose and throat
- Itchy eyes, nose, ears, and/or mouth
- Postnasal drip and sore throat
- Red and/or watery eyes
- Puffy eyes
- Dark circles under eyes
- Asthma, for those with allergic asthma
Spring and Allergic Rhinitis
People can either experience symptoms of allergic rhinitis throughout the year, or just at certain seasons of the year depending on their specific allergens. During the Spring, tree and grass pollens are particularly high. Tree pollens can actually be high as early as January, and stay problematic through May. Grass season typically starts around April and continues through July. However, with climate change altering weather around the globe, allergy seasons are getting longer. See if your city made it on the allergy capital list here.
Common types of tree pollen allergies, according to Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) are:
- Box elder
According to Allergy and Asthma Network, common types of grasses to cause allergies are:
- Kentucky Blue
- St. Augustine
Pollen Food Allergy Syndrome/ Oral Allergy Syndrome
Allergies to pollen can sometimes cause people to react to associated fruits and vegetables. This condition is called Pollen Food Allergy Syndrome (PFAS) or Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS). This type of cross reactivity reaction occurs when the body mistakes a protein it recognizes as allergenic for another of very similar structure, and a reaction occurs. Just because the potential for cross reactivity is there, does not mean every individual will experience PFAS or OAS symptoms.
For example, those who have a Birch tree allergy, may experience symptoms with:
Those who have a ragweed allergy may experience symptoms with:
- White potato
About 81 million people in the United States were diagnosed with seasonal allergic Rhinitis in 2021. Getting diagnosed with allergic rhinitis, like many allergic conditions, often requires a look at the patient history combined with allergy testing.
Patients can expect to take an immunoglobulin E (IgE) blood test so that IgE levels for each allergen can be measured. In some cases, a prick test may also be used to evaluate the possible allergy. Allergic rhinitis triggers can range from pollen, to dust mites, to animal dander, so a discussion of history may help an allergist determine what possible triggers to focus on. The same type of tests and procedures are often used to determine food allergies as well.
Management with Medication
Strict avoidance of allergic triggers can be almost impossible when it comes to allergic rhinitis due to the triggers being all around our environment. Pollen in particular can be hard to avoid because it can simply travel in the air and land anywhere. That’s why medication can be helpful, especially during peak allergy seasons.
There are a couple different types of medications that are available for allergy management. The most commonly prescribed medications for allergic rhinitis are antihistamines, such as Zytrec and Xyzal.
Other Routines to Minimize Symptoms
There are a few things that can be done to help keep pollen in check during peak seasons in addition to taking medication. Monitoring the pollen counts and avoiding going outside on particularly high pollen count days is always best if possible. But if not, changing clothing when returning home is a good idea.
Wearing a new outfit that has not been outside minimizes the potential pollen that may have gotten on your clothing while outside. Additionally, showering before bed or at least washing your face can cleanse the body of pollen as well.
Inside the home, getting a humidifier can aid breathing and keep mucus thinned. Maintaining cleaning practices, such as dusting and vacuuming regularly, can limit allergens in the home.
Allergic Rhinitis Treatment Options
One of the best treatment options for allergic rhinitis is immunotherapy. The Food Allergy Institute offers Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) to its patients.
SLIT works by gradually desensitizing a patient’s immune system to specific environmental allergens, which treats the cause of allergic reactions. FAI’s SLIT patients gain relief from pollen allergies and see improvement in symptoms manifested in nasal, eye, and lung systems.
FAI has a unique SLIT formula that was carefully researched and created by its founder Dr. Randhawa, just for Tolerance Induction Program (TIP) patients. Treating environmental allergies is an important part of food allergy treatment. This is because some environmental allergens share biosimilar proteins with food allergens.
For those who do need to enroll in SLIT as part of their treatment at FAI, SLIT treatment must start prior to or during TIP. Usually the duration of SLIT is about two to three years, but it is patient specific and will vary by case.