You wheeze. You sneeze. It’s that wheezin’, sneezin’ allergy season. Millions of Americans are affected by nasal allergies. In fact, 20% of the population suffers from some type of environmental allergy. So what exactly causes nasal allergies, also known as allergic rhinitis? Let’s take a look at some common triggers.
Pollen allergy, also known as hay fever, is one of the most common types of nasal allergy. A pollen allergy is caused by grains of pollen released by various plants and trees during the spring, summer, and fall. These grains are airborne and easily enter the body through the nasal passages, triggering symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, and red, watery eyes.
Dust is another very common substance that can trigger nasal allergies. But the dust itself isn’t the cause–it’s the microscopic mites that live in pillows, carpets, and bedding. And even if you think your house is spotless, dust mites can still be present.
Dust allergy causes symptoms similar to those of a pollen allergy. But while a pollen allergy usually disappears in the winter, an allergy to dust is year-round.
Pets can also cause an allergic reaction. Cats and dogs shed dead skin called dander, which contains proteins that, upon entering the body, can lead to sneezing, congestion, runny nose, cough, and even facial pressure or pain. Symptoms of a pet allergy can range from mild to severe. Some people with a severe pet allergy must take medications to control their symptoms.
Treating nasal allergies
If symptoms worsen to a point where they interfere with your day-to-day activities, you should consider treatment.
First, you can clean out your nasal passages with a salt water solution on a regular basis. You can use a neti pot or a saline rinse bottle that is often included with your purchase of the solution. This can help remove allergens and irritants that are present in the nose. This solution can be purchased at most pharmacies.
It can’t hurt to pick up some antihistamines while you’re there. These medications are effective at treating symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Non-drowsy antihistamines that last from 12-24 hours are now available over the counter in most places. These include loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec) and fexofenadine (Allegra) in the United States. These should not be taken more than recommended as it can cause side effects including drowsiness.
Corticosteroids nasal sprays are another treatment option which can help control inflammation in the sinuses. Some are available over the counter and others are prescription. Most will take up to two weeks to start working so reach out to your doctor if symptoms continue after that point. Lastly, if all other treatments fail, immunotherapy (allergy shots) can be considered. In immunotherapy, increasing doses of the substance you’re allergic to are injected into your body to build up a tolerance. Sometimes, immunotherapy is given via tablets or drops containing the allergen.
If you’re still unsure what the cause of your nasal allergies may be, make an appointment with your doctor. A Board Certified Allergist and Immunologist can help perform allergy tests and start the appropriate treatment you might need.
Written by Natan Rosenfeld