Allergic rhinitis and asthma – how can you help yourself?

28. July 2015

Allergic rhinitis, or the inflammation of the nasal mucous membrane caused by an allergy, is a common health problem. “In general, the disorder develops in people with a genetic predisposition. Symptoms occur upon exposure to allergens or various non-specific irritants,” says Krista Ress, an allergist-immunologist at East-Tallinn Central Hospital.

Allergic rhinitis that persists year-round is most commonly triggered by dust, animal hair and mould spores. Typically, seasonal allergic rhinitis occurs in the spring and summer season when plants and trees are in bloom.

How is allergic rhinitis diagnosed?

The main symptoms for allergic rhinitis are watery nasal discharge, itchy nose, burning sensation in the nose, blocked nose, and diminished sense of taste and smell. Rhinitis may be accompanied by itching, redness, and swelling of the eyes, and tear flow. Other common symptoms include itching of the throat, tongue and ears as well as a dull headache. Complaints may be very exhausting as allergic rhinitis may also cause sleep disorders and depression, and have a negative effect on concentration and learning ability.

In pollen allergy, symptoms may be caused by eating certain foods and this is due to the similarity of allergens: allergic rhinitis may worsen and the same applies to itching of the mouth or throat, swelling of the lips, and rash around the mouth, while stomach ache and breathing difficulties are somewhat less common. For example, those who are suffering from birch pollen allergy may get symptoms from raw apples, pears and carrots as well as from peeling raw potatoes.

When diagnosing allergic rhinitis, it is vital to establish whether a patient has suffered from other allergic conditions at the same time or earlier, and whether someone among his/her family members has allergies. Also, it is useful to take note of where, when and upon coming contact with what symptoms occur. Another option is to take a skin test or a blood test to detect the presence of antibodies in the blood.

Ordinary nasal drops provide no relief

Ordinary nose drops bring no relief for allergic rhinitis. On the contrary, their prolonged use damages nasal mucous membrane. It helps to avoid coming into contact with allergens triggering the condition and with irritants. However, it is not always possible to eliminate an allergen completely or tests might not be able to establish the disease-causing allergen.

Allergic rhinitis should be treated regularly and even when primary symptoms have abated. The most popular remedies include oral medication that relieve allergy and locally administered anti-allergy medication for the nose and/or eyes. In some cases, it is possible to use allergen-specific immunotherapy that increases the body’s tolerance to certain allergens. In this treatment method, extremely small amounts of an allergen are repeatedly introduced into the body whether in the form of injections or oral drops. This treatment takes on the average 3–5 years.

Threefold risk for developing asthma

Because allergic rhinitis is often the precursor of a more severe allergic condition (asthma), early, regular treatment of allergic rhinitis may inhibit asthma’s progression or even prevent its onset. A person suffering from allergic rhinitis has a threefold risk of developing asthma compared to a healthy individual.

Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory disease of the respiratory system, resulting in the narrowing of the respiratory passages and airflow obstruction. Airflow into and out of the lungs is obstructed by narrowed bronchi, or lung tubes, inflammation-induced swelling and large amounts of mucus caused by inflammation. The airways become highly sensitive and contact with allergens and/or various non-specific irritants may easily trigger a flare-up of the condition, or an asthma attack that is accompanied by dry cough and lack of air, or even a feeling of suffocation.

Asthma treatment depends on the nature and severity of the condition. Currently, inhaled medication is used to treated asthma. This way, medication is delivered straight to airways and the desired effect is achieved with very small doses. Such treatment is effective if doctors' recommendations are followed and medication is administered regularly.

How can you help yourself?

House dust mites

  • Use dust mite proof covers to protect your bedding.
  • Wash bedding once a week at 60°C minimum.
  • Air and clean rooms regularly (use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter and wet cleaning).
  • Keep air moisture levels in residential rooms below 50%.
  • Keep temperature in living space around 20–22°C.
  • In living quarters, avoid the use of objects and furniture that collect dust. In bedrooms, prefer washable floor mats.

Pollen

  • Mow the lawn frequently, that is, before grasses and weeds start blooming.
  • Allergy sufferers should avoid mowing the lawn.
  • In the pollen season, avoid drying laundry outdoors and keeping outdoor clothing and footwear in the living space.
  • When coming from outdoors, rinse your hair to remove pollen (especially before going to bed).
  • When coming from outdoors, clean pets with a damp cloth.
  • Do not bring catkins or cut flowers indoors.
  • Install a protective screen/pollen filter on windows.
  • Use special filters and/or cleaning systems to clean indoor air.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.
  • Keep car windows closed when driving.
  • When outdoors, wear glasses or sunglasses to protect your eyes.
  • Avoid foods that cause cross-allergy.

Pets and domestic animals

  • Keep pets out of the bedroom and domestic animals outdoors.
  • If possible, find a new home for your pets.
  • Do not get new pets.
  • Clean regularly (carpets, mattresses, upholstered furniture).
  • Wash your hands and change clothes after coming into contact with animals.

Mould

  • Maintain adequate ventilation and sufficient heating in living quarters.
  • Indoors, keep relative air moisture levels below 50%.
  • To remove mould from bathrooms and other contaminated spaces, use a 5% ammonia solution.
  • Prefer hard flooring materials to carpets and paint to wallpaper.
  • Fix all leaking pipes.
  • Avoid mowing the lawn in late summer because decaying plant matter contains mould spores as well.

 

Source: Elutark

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