Allergic rhinitis (hay fever, rose fever) is an inflammatory condition involving the mucous membranes of the eyes, ears, nose, throat and sinuses. It is triggered by inhaling airborne allergens. It is the most common allergic disorder affecting over 60 million people in the United States alone. Examples of allergens include mold spores, house dust mites, tree, grass and ragweed pollens and proteins from the skin and saliva of animals such as cats and dogs. For allergic rhinitis to occur, a person must first be sensitized to a particular allergen, a process, which may take months, or years. Sensitization results in the production of the allergic antibody, IgE, which is made specifically in response to each allergen.
Allergic symptoms may include a runny nose, sneezing and itching of the eyes, ears, nose or throat. Other associated symptoms may include tearing of the eyes, nasal swelling which may cause blockage of the sinus openings into the nose resulting in sinus headaches and bacterial sinus infection.
Allergic rhinitis symptoms are “seasonal” if associated with specific time periods related to pollination during the spring, summer or fall and are perennial if they occur on a year round basis. In Ohio, tree pollens are encountered in early March through May, grass pollens from mid-May through July and ragweed pollens from early August through the first frost. Some allergens responsible for perennial (year round) rhinitis include dust mites, molds and animal proteins.
The evaluation and diagnosis of allergic rhinitis begins with a careful history and physical examination by your doctor. The history is directed toward the nature of the symptoms, what time of year they are worse and what triggers the symptoms. Skin testing with allergen solutions is often required to confirm the suspected allergic factors. These tests will be explained and administered by a trained allergy nurse. Local swelling and itching at the skin test site usually indicates that an allergic antibody is present to the substances being tested.