Allergic rhinitis, often called allergies or hay fever, occurs when your immune system overreacts to particles in the air that you breathe. The particles are called allergens, which simply means they can cause an allergic reaction. Your immune system attacks the particles in your body, causing symptoms such as sneezing and a runny nose.
People with allergies usually have symptoms for many years. You may have symptoms often during the year, or just at certain times. You also may get other problems such as sinusitis and ear infections as a result of your allergies. Over time, allergens may begin to affect you less, and your symptoms may not be as severe as they had been.
In most cases, when you have allergic rhinitis:
- You sneeze again and again, especially after you wake up in the morning.
- You have a runny nose and post-nasal drip. The drainage from a runny nose caused by allergies is usually clear and thin. But it may become thicker and cloudy or yellowish if you get a nasal or sinus infection.
- Your eyes are watery and itchy.
- Your ears, nose, and throat are itchy.
People can be allergic to:
- Pollens from trees, grasses, and weeds
- Dust mites
- Animal dander
- Cereal grain
- Wood dust
If you are allergic to pollens, you may have symptoms only at certain times of the year. If you are allergic to dust mites and indoor allergens, you may have symptoms all the time.
If you have severe symptoms, you may need to have allergy tests to find out what you are allergic to.
- Your doctor may do a skin test. In this test your doctor puts a small amount of an allergen into your skin to see if it causes an allergic reaction.
- Your doctor may order lab tests. These tests can find substances in your blood or other fluids that may mean you have allergic rhinitis.
There is no cure for allergic rhinitis. One of the best things you can do is to avoid the things that cause your allergies. You may need to clean your house often to get rid of dust, animal dander, or moulds. Or you may need to stay indoors when pollen counts are high.
Unless you have another health problem, such as asthma, you may take over-the-counter medicines to treat your symptoms at home. Before starting self-treatment, older adults, children, and women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should first speak to their doctor.
If your allergies bother you a lot and you cannot avoid the things you are allergic to, you and your doctor can decide if you should get allergy shots (immunotherapy) to help control your symptoms.
Finding the treatment that works best for you may take time.