Allergy season is here again! Having been sneezing and constantly blowing your nose, you thought you might have caught a cold. The persistence of your symptoms and hindsight, though, both clued you to the inevitability that bed rest and fluids just aren’t going to do the trick. The problem only seems exacerbated when you’re propped up in bed under plushy pillows with your cats or dogs innocently snuggled up with you. You realize there’s a bigger issue at work here and that Mother Nature and the comforts of home might be rubbing you the wrong way.
Allergic rhinitis is characterized by symptoms like sneezing, excess mucous production, runny nose, watery eyes, and itchy eyes, nose and throat. Caused by airborne allergens such as pollen, dust mites, pet dander, and mold spores, these upper respiratory symptoms affect approximately 35 million Americans. Such allergens will provoke symptoms of asthma for another 11 million Americans: coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath due to narrowed and inflamed airways.
Allergic rhinitis may be seasonal or perennial. With seasonal rhinitis, the allergy affects you when the particular allergen at issue is “in season,” or blooming. You know you have perennial rhinitis, on the other hand, when your symptoms occur year round and are due to pet dander and saliva, dust, and mold.
If you’ve suddenly developed allergies for the first time, it can be challenging to distinguish whether your symptoms are due to allergies or the common cold. As a general rule of thumb, allergy symptoms persist longer, for more than a week, at least. You might develop allergies because one or both of your parents did, although allergies to particular types of pollen, for example, do not “run in the family.” You may have been exposed to certain allergens when your immune system was weakened, possibly during a virus or pregnancy.
What are Allergies?
Allergies are symptoms of your immune system overreacting to a substance or substances that do not normally pose a threat to the body. Your body mistakes these substances, called “allergens,” for something more alarming, like invading germs, harmful bacteria or viruses. In the case of allergic rhinitis, when you breathe in an airborne allergen, your immune system responds by producing large amounts of antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE). Your body will generate a type of IgE that is specific to the particular allergen affecting you.
When an allergen you breathe in reaches the lining of your nose, it encounters the IgE specific to it. IgE then signals your body to release histamine, which initiates an inflammatory response in respiratory tissues. Histamine can cause the irritation, itching, sneezing, and excess mucous production that characterize allergic “flare-up.” Cells in the nose may then contract, causing congestion and swelling of nasal passages. As you continually breathe in the allergen which continues to bloom around you or simply circulates in the air of your home, your immune system continues to attack it, causing chronic allergy symptoms.
Reducing Severity of Allergic Reactions
So, aside from stocking up on tissue, how do you deal with allergies, especially when there are no known “cures”? Knowing which allergens affect you and how to avoid unnecessary exposure to them can make life a lot more bearable when “the season hits,” or when perennial allergies plague you at home. Various treatments may also help lessen symptoms or allergic reactions.