Are you suffering with an itchy runny nose and watery eyes? At this time of year, these symptoms can be caused by allergic rhinitis brought on by exposure to allergens. Ameeth Sanu, an ENT consultant surgeon at Sancta Maria Hospital in Swansea explains why you may suffer from an allergy, how to be sure about what you’re allergic to and why you shouldn’t ignore the symptoms of an allergy.
In the UK, more than 20% of the population is affected by an allergic condition. The number of sufferers is on the rise as shown by recent studies. Almost half of allergy sufferers have more than one allergy.
One of the most common forms of allergy, and one of my specialist areas, is nasal allergy. People can develop nasal allergy at any stage of their lives. Depending on the type of allergy and the allergen, the symptoms can be seasonal or occur throughout the year. It is known as allergic rhinitis.
In the UK, from March – September, the most common seasonal allergen is pollen. More pollen is present in the atmosphere during this time from grass, weeds and trees which can lead to allergic rhinitis or hay fever. However, other allergens can cause the same reaction including dust mites, mould and pet hair and skin cells, particularly from cats, dogs and rabbits.
The symptoms of allergic rhinitis typically include itching of the nose, excessive sneezing bouts, runny nose, nasal congestion leading to an inability to breathe through the nose and watery eyes. Allergic rhinitis often causes loss of sleep leading to fatigue, irritability during the day and a dry mouth during sleep due to the inability to breathe through the nose. These symptoms can lead to loss of sense of smell and taste which has a negative impact on your quality of life.
So what can you do tackle allergic rhinitis? Many people try different over the counter medications such as antihistamine tablets or decongestant sprays. Although these medications may reduce the symptoms of allergic rhinitis by preventing the release of chemicals that cause the symptoms of runny nose and nasal congestion, they are often not enough on their own to control the progression of allergic rhinitis. Also, prolonged use of nasal sprays can cause harm to the nasal lining.
If you are struggling with the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, it is recommended that you seek medical advice. This can include seeing your own GP or seeing an ENT specialist. The treatment will then be tailored to your needs. The best way to stop allergic rhinitis is to avoid exposure to the allergen. It’s really important to narrow down which allergen is causing the problem and this can be done with a skin prick test carried out by a specialist in a clinic.
The skin prick test involves placing a drop of different test solutions on a patient’s skin. Once the solution has been placed on the skin, a small puncture wound is created using a very fine lancet. If the patient is allergic to a specific allergen, the part of the skin on which this solution is placed will develop an allergic reaction. This allergic reaction is measured against a control and test sample to establish if it’s a true allergy or a false result. The test usually takes about 20-30 minutes and will test multiple allergens at the same time. The specialist would then be able to advise on avoidance strategies. In severe cases surgical treatment may be required.
It’s best not to ignore the signs of allergic rhinitis. As well as impacting on your quality of life, if left untreated, it can lead to sinusitis, headaches, a blocked feeling in the ears and the development of nasal polyps. These can develop in the sinuses and can protrude into the nose causing nasal obstruction, sinusitis, as well as eye and ear infections. Although allergic type nasal polyps are not cancerous, if left untreated they can lead to significant complications. Don’t spend your spring and summer suffering in silence. Seek medical treatment and take back control of your allergies.
Ameeth Sanu is an ENT specialist with a special interest in nasal conditions and nasal allergy. He conducted research at the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University and was awarded an MPhil for his work in the field of nasal physiology, post-nasal drip/catarrh, nasal airflow, the effects of nasal airflow in nasal congestion and measures to relieve nasal congestion. He is president of the Welsh Endoscopic Otology Society which takes him around the world learning new techniques of major middle ear and inner ear surgery. He performs clinics at Sancta Maria Hospital on Wednesday mornings.