Healthy Aging

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‘Tis the Season: Allergic Rhinitis

Very few things improve with age. Allergic rhinitis, however, affects people less as they get older. Nevertheless, this seasonal problem, which is often inaccurately referred to as hay fever, can be a serious issue for approximately 20 percent of adults, resulting in sleeplessness, fatigue, irritability and general discomfort.

During the spring, pollinating trees precipitate allergic rhinitis. During the summer, grasses and weeds produce the problematic pollen. Weeds are mostly to blame during the fall, with ragweed being the main culprit. Allergic rhinitis can also be caused by mold from late March until November, when it releases its reproductive cells called spores; it typically peaks in late summer and early fall.

Symptoms

The symptoms of allergic rhinitis resemble those of a cold. They include sneezing, itchy nose and eyes, runny nose, cough, watery eyes, and generalized malaise. These symptoms are the body’s attempt to destroy the offending materials that cause the allergies.

The best way to tell the difference between a cold and allergic rhinitis is to identify the cause. Exposure to a virus causes a cold, and exposure to allergens causes allergic rhinitis.

The duration of a cold is usually several days, whereas allergic rhinitis lasts as long as a person is exposed to the allergen. With allergic rhinitis, mucous is much less thick than with a cold. In addition, people who know they are affected by allergic rhinitis often can predict the onset of symptoms based on the season and exposure to offending allergens.

Causes

As the names suggest, allergic rhinitis is caused by the body’s allergy or allergic reaction to allergens. Allergens are proteins that the body recognizes as foreign. The body mounts a response against the exposure.

Common seasonal allergic rhinitis is a reaction of the body to protein in pollen from trees, flowers and grasses. The body is also subject to allergens from mold, mites, animal dander and pests, such as roaches. These offending foreign proteins reside in the air we breathe and lodge in the nose. The symptoms mentioned above are the body’s reaction to these foreign proteins.

Of all allergy sufferers in the United States, 75 percent are allergic to ragweed, 50 percent are allergic to grasses, and 10 percent are allergic to trees.

If you want to know the pollen count in your area, this information may be found in your newspaper’s weather section. The National Allergy Bureau's pollen count information can be found at their Web site at http://www.aaaai.org/nab/index.cfm.

Most everyone is exposed to these proteins, but only 20 percent of adults have a severe allergic rhinitis response that is often genetically determined. The most important risk factor is a family history. Other risk factors include being male, young, born during pollen season and a first-born child. Exposure to quantities of antigen also is a risk factor.

A number of factors can worsen symptoms, including wind. Other factors include exposure to tobacco smoke and wood smoke. High outdoor humidity and warm weather are protective.

Treatment

Prevention is the best therapy, but it easy to say and difficult to do. It is often difficult to know when and where you have come into contact with it the offending agent that triggers your allergic response.

Nevertheless, a few preventive strategies can be incorporated into your daily routine. During the season when you suffer from allergic rhinitis, you should shower or bathe every day, preferably before bed. Avoid the outdoors as much as possible when the wind is blowing and pollen is in the air, especially in the morning. Be sure your home is free of mold. Keep your house ventilated, and use a dehumidifier in your home if the humidity is high in certain areas.

Pet dander is best controlled by bathing your pet weekly or keeping the pet out of the rooms you use most frequently, especially the bedroom.

Since it is impossible to completely avoid exposure, the following treatments may help you control the symptoms of allergic rhinitis. These treatments include taking antihistamines purchased “over the counter” without a prescription. Benadryl is one such medicine. If this medication does not work, a visit to your physician may be indicated.  Decongestants and nasal sprays with pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine may be tried in people without high blood pressure for brief periods. If over the counter sprays do not work, consult your physician about prescription strength medications for nasal congestion.

If the above therapy is ineffective and allergic rhinitis is a major problem for you, a physician who specializes in allergies can perform allergy desensitization or immunotherapy. This therapy can be effective for as many as 80 percent of people.

The winter is the least common time for allergic rhinitis. Spring is coming soon, so be prepared.

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The Link Between Allergic Rhinitis and Asthma

Controlling asthma may mean controlling allergic rhinitis in some patients, according to allergy and asthma experts. Allergic rhinitis is a common problem that may be associated with asthma.

Guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) recognize the link between allergic rhinitis and asthma. Although the link is not fully understood, one theory asserts that rhinitis makes it difficult to breathe through the nose, which hampers the normal function of the nose. Breathing through the mouth does not warm the air, or filter or humidify it before it enters the lungs, which can make asthma worse.

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