Do you or your children suffer from frequent allergies? The sneezing, stuffy, runny nose, and itchy eyes that are associated with conditions such as allergic rhinitis, can really make you feel miserable. But did you know that controlling your allergies has more importance than just making you feel better? Besides the long term effects of chronic inflammation in your nasal passages, allergies are also often the trigger of asthma. And while allergic rhinitis affects up to 30% of Americans and causes 2 million lost school days and 6 million lost work days annually, asthma is an extremely dangerous illness that when poorly controlled, contributes to the number 3 cause of death in the US – uncontrolled respiratory disease. So, enjoying an improved quality of life, as well as a living a longer life, should be at the top of the your list of reasons to not ignore your allergies while you are young.
What is Allergic Rhinitis?
Allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, refers to inflammation of the passages in the nose that are caused by exposure to an allergen (airborne particles that cause an allergic reaction). When you are exposed to something you are allergic to, specialized cells in your blood stream react to “defend” you from the allergen, setting off a chemical chain reaction that causes itching and swelling inside your nose, as well as increased secretions and congestion. If this continues over several hours or days, even more inflammatory cells will get involved, causing more persistent symptoms.
Some people have seasonal allergies, which occur when they are allergic to certain pollens from plants, trees, and grasses. If you have seasonal allergies, you will be able to tell when the culprits causing your symptoms are blooming. Perennial allergic rhinitis, however, occurs year-round and is the result of reactions to dust mites, cockroaches, animal dander, fungi, and mold. You can help your doctor identify your allergies by paying attention to your environment and noting when your symptoms occur. However, if doing this does not reveal a pattern, there are skin and blood tests that can be done to determine which allergens are causing your problems.
How are Allergies Related to Asthma?
Asthma is an illness that is characterized by episodes of inflammation and narrowing of the breathing airways, resulting in wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. Asthma attacks are caused by the same inflammatory cells and chemical reactions as allergies, and are often the results of the same allergens. In fact, people with asthma often also suffer from allergies and eczema (allergic skin reactions).
Treatment of asthma includes identifying the triggers that cause an acute reaction and trying to control exposure, by controlling the environment. For instance, if you are allergic to dog dander, when you are exposed you will often experience itchy eyes, sneezing, and a runny nose, as well as wheezing and coughing. In other words, you are having an allergic reaction and an asthma attack. One of the first recommendations your doctor will give you is to avoid contact with dogs. In addition, he or she may order medications that will control your allergic response to the dog dander, thus treating your allergic rhinitis and your asthma with the same recommendations.
What are the Consequences of Untreated Allergies?
The consequences of untreated allergies are related to the burden it places on your everyday life as well as the chronic or longstanding inflammation your tissues experience when exposed to allergens. People who have frequent allergy attacks often miss work or school, spend a great deal of time dealing with sneezing, nasal obstruction, congestion, itching throats, and itchy tearing eyes, and spend a great deal of money on over-the-counter medications. Lost sleep from symptoms can result in fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and even psychological problems. At worse, work or school performance deteriorates and enjoyment in leisure, social, and athletic activities is diminished.
The long-term effects of inflammation on your nasal passageways can cause thickening of tissue, making even less significant allergic reactions completely occlude the opening. It may even cause the development of polyps, setting you up for frequent nasal obstruction, a decreased sense of smell, and sinus infections. If you also have asthma and your allergies go untreated, you will most likely have a more severe form of asthma, causing more frequent doctor and emergency room visits, and the need for more medications.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has identified that poorly controlled respiratory disease, including asthma, as the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States. What this means is that untreated allergies, which can lead to more frequent and severe asthma attacks, contribute to not only emergency room visits and sudden death, but also to chronic illness that is a frequent cause of death in the US.
What You Should Do Now
If you are experiencing frequent allergic symptoms like a runny, stuffy nose and itchy eyes, or if you ever experience wheezing, you should see a doctor. It might be time to identify what is causing the problem. Be sure to pay attention to your symptoms, trying to note when they occur, what they are, how long they last, and if you notice that there is something in particular that sets you off.
Give that information to your doctor so that they may begin to investigate the causes of your allergies. Your doctor may also order blood tests, skin tests, or send you to a specialist. The most important thing to do is find out what is causing your reactions, so that you can start working on avoiding those allergens.
Some of the more common environmental allergens are dust mites, animal dander, cockroaches and other insects, and indoor mold. There are also a number of pollens from trees, plants, and grasses that are frequent offenders. Once identified, you can start to make changes in your environment that will help.
· Covering your bedding with specialized barriers, decreasing fabrics and draperies in your home, and decreasing the humidity in your living space can all help control dust mites. Pest control may need to be called in to deal with dust mites, cockroaches, and other insects.
· Pets are a difficult topic because of the bond most people have with their animals. The best defense is removing the animal from your home, but other measures may include aggressive cleaning, air filters, frequent bathing, and limiting your handling of the pet.
· Removal of any obvious mold and controlling humidity and standing water will help control indoor mold.
· If you suffer from allergies to pollens, you should try to stay indoors, keep your windows closed, and your living space air-conditioned. Shower before bed to remove pollens from your skin, especially days with a high pollen count.
Another option that may be available to you is allergy shots. Immunotherapy for allergies involves serial administration of allergens to “desensitize” you to the specific cause of your reactions. This treatment has benefits for people that have allergic rhinitis and/or asthma. If you have tried medications and altering your environment to control your exposure to allergens, and you are still having frequent symptoms, you doctor may recommend that you see a specialist to discuss this treatment option.
If you have more questions about allergies, asthma, or the treatment options for either, the caring and knowledgeable staff at Lung and Sleep Specialists of North Texas are here to help. Please call us at (817) 549-9993 today. You can also request an appointment online.