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Some Facts

Pollens and mold can trigger seasonal allergic rhinitis, commonly called hay fever. More than 36 million people in the United States alone suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis, which causes more than eight million physician visits yearly for various troublesome symptoms. An allergy is an abnormal reaction to an ordinarily harmless substance, such as pollen or mold. Simply, it is an overreaction to something the body views as an "invader."

Which areas of the body may be affected?

Depending on the allergen and where it enters your body, you may experience different symptoms. For example, pollen, when breathed in through the nose, usually causes symptoms in the nose, eyes, sinuses and throat (commonly known as 'hayfever'). Allergy to foods usually causes stomach or bowel problems, and may cause hives. Allergic reactions can involve several parts of the body at the same time.

The nose, eyes, sinuses and throat:

When allergens are breathed in, the release of histamine causes the lining of your nose to produce lots of mucus and to become swollen and inflamed. It causes your nose to run and itch and violent sneezing may occur. Your eyes may also start to water and you may get a sore throat.

The lungs and chest:

Asthma (difficulty in breathing) can sometimes be triggered during an allergic reaction. \When an allergen is breathed in, the lining of the passages in the lungs swells and makes breathing difficult. Not all asthma is caused by allergy, but in many cases allergy plays a part.

The stomach and bowel:

Most stomach upsets are caused by richness or spiciness in the food itself, rather than an actual allergy. However, foods which are most commonly associated with allergy include peanuts, seafood, dairy products and eggs. Cow milk allergy in infants may occur and can cause eczema, asthma, colic and stomach upset. It may also lead to failure to thrive. Some people cannot digest lactose (milk sugar). This also causes stomach upsets, but must not be confused with allergy.

The skin:

Skin problems such as eczema (dry, red, itchy skin) and urticaria (also known as hives) often occur. Hives are white itchy bumps which look and feel like insect bites. Food may be a factor in some cases of hives and eczema.

Life threatening allergic reactions

Most allergic reactions are mild and do not cause major problems, even though for many people they may be a source of extreme irritation and discomfort.

However, a small number of people may experience a severe allergic reaction called anaphylactic shock. It is a serious condition which requires immediate life-saving medication. Some of the more frequent allergens which may cause this are shellfish, peanuts and insect stings. If you know that you have a very severe allergy, you should always carry information on your person to alert others should you become ill. A convenient way of doing this is to a wear a Medic Alert bracelet.

The first step should be to try to identify the cause of your allergy and then take steps to reduce your exposure to the allergen. For instance, many people are allergic to dust mites, therefore reducing dust in the house is essential.

Antihistamines have been the first line of treatment for many years. These medications block histamine release from mast cells, thereby reducing many irritating and uncomfortable symptoms. Older types of antihistamines often cause drowsiness and can increase the effect of alcohol and some other medications. Therefore, driving, operating heavy machinery and drinking alcohol are to be avoided. New antihistamines, which do not cause drowsiness, are available from your local pharmacy or on prescription. These tablets can be taken if driving, operating heavy machinery or whenever it is important to maintain concentration. They are called non-sedating antihistamines.

Another treatment option is desensitization (a more modern term is allergen immunotherapy). This involves a series of injections of tiny doses of allergen which gradually reduces the body's response to it. Medical opinion is divided on the effectiveness of this treatment. However, many studies have shown it to be effective, particularly for pollen and dust mite allergy.

You do not have to put up with the suffering and inconvenience of hay fever and allergy. If you think you may have an allergy your local pharmacist can advise you on what to do, you may need to consult your family doctor.


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Date of Last Update: 07/27/12