Allergic rhinitis (commonly known as hay fever), affects around 18% of people in Australia and New Zealand and is common through both child and adulthood.
If you don’t experience hay fever yourself, chances are there are people in your life who do. Hay fever sufferers are the ones who may find it hard when Spring comes around every year and the flowers come into bloom, when they visit their cat-loving friends’ homes, when they’re exposed to dust or tree pollen or any one of a number of allergens.
Its symptoms can range from mild to severe, which can have a seriously detrimental impact on the life of the person experiencing them.
There are a range of triggers, some of which can be easily avoided and some of which are so present in our everyday lives, that avoiding them can be incredibly difficult.
Allergic rhinitis is triggered by the same things that cause allergic conjunctivitis (an irritation to the eye triggered by allergens), and people who experience one usually experience the other as well.
What is allergic conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis (whether caused by allergens or a bacterial infection) is an inflammation of the eye’s conjunctiva, a layer of tissue which lines the front, white part of the eyeball and the inside of the eyelid.
Allergic conjunctivitis is generally caused by the same allergens that trigger nasal allergies or allergic rhinitis.
Allergic Rhinitis Signs and Symptoms
Runny or itchy nose
Itchy, watery eyes
Allergic Conjunctivitis Signs and Symptoms
Redness in both eyes
Itching and burning of both the eye and surrounding tissues
Watery discharge, often accompanied by acute discomfort in bright sunlight light (photophobia)
A light purple or pink tinge to the whites of your eyes
What are the causes?
Allergic rhinitis symptoms can be triggered by the nose or eyes coming into contact with whatever allergens the person is sensitive to. Typically, these are:
Dust mites: These are microscopic insects (invisible to the eye), which live in most houses in carpets, bedding and furnishings. They feed on shed skin flakes and their faecal pellets dry out and are found in house dust. These can be inhaled, and are a major source of allergen. Even immaculately clean houses can contain dust mites.
Animal hair or dander (dead skin cells)
Tree and plant pollen: Pollen from flowers, weeds, grass and trees is a common cause of allergic rhinitis. People sensitive to this allergen will generally find they experience allergic rhinitis for a few months of the year.
Some people experience allergic rhinitis more in a particular season (usually because they’re allergic to grass, weeds or tree pollen). For others, it’s a year-round condition (this is usually true for people sensitive to dust mites, mould or animal hair). Allergic rhinitis is not caused by a food allergy.
What treatments are available?
Symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis are generally mild to moderate and respond to
Bathing eyes with cold water
Ice packs and cold water compresses
The treatments available are generally similar to those used for allergic rhinitis.
If you’re experiencing allergic rhinitis, the treatment path you choose to go down will likely depend on how serious and debilitating you find the symptoms of your condition to be.
If you can easily avoid the allergen that triggers your symptoms, you may choose to skip treatment altogether. This can generally be more easily achieved for allergies like animal dander, or pollen.
If you’re finding your allergic rhinitis to be more debilitating – or your allergens harder to avoid – you might look to use medication to reduce the symptoms. Medications don’t cure allergies, but they’re generally pretty good at treating the symptoms. While they generally have few side effects, it’s important to use them correctly.
The third option available is allergy immunotherapy. This technique involves slowly exposing you to increasing doses of your allergen to build up your resistance. You’ll start with a dose that’s too small for your body to register and gradually increase from there. Immunotherapy is a very intensive course, requiring regular treatments for years. It’s usually best suited for severe or life-threatening allergies. It’s also important that immunotherapy is administered by a clinical immunology/allergy specialist for the duration of your treatment.
What happens if I don't treat my rhinitis?
If untreated, allergic rhinitis can go on to cause other complications including: