What causes nasal allergies?

Mar 13, 2010 at 4:11 p.m. ET

More Americans than ever before are suffering from nasal allergies - the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America estimates there are approximately 40 million allergy sufferers in the US alone and recent studies indicate as many as one out of every four people have seasonal and year-round nasal allergies. Experts say nasal allergies are easily the most common chronic respiratory illness. What causes this irritating, even debilitating, condition? Read on to learn about the most common indoor and outdoor allergens and the steps you can take to do away with your nasal allergies.

Sneezing WomanSymptoms of nasal allergies – aka allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis is a condition characterized by your body's immune system mistaking substances in the air - that you breathe - as intruders and then attacking them. Your immune system's reaction releases substances, such as histamines and leukotrienes that cause inflammation in the nasal lining and the following symptoms:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Stuffy nose or congestion
  • Itching in the nose, mouth, throat and ears

Seasonal allergic rhinitis – or seasonal allergies – are caused by common outdoor allergens and is often referred to as hay fever, while indoor allergic rhinitis – or perennial allergies – is often triggered by allergens such as animal dander, dust mites or cockroaches. Think about it: The average American spends more than 20 hours indoors every day, which can result in nonstop year-round allergies. Sound like you?

Allergies are different than colds

According to Dr Michael Blaiss, clinical professor of pediatrics and medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center in Memphis, Tennessee, and voted "Best Doctor in America" for 10 years, allergic rhinitis is one of the country's most common, yet overlooked, conditions, with many people mistaking their allergies for the common cold.

The leading pediatric and adult allergist says, "As many as 40 million people in the United States are affected by nasal allergies, and often people are not properly managing their symptoms. With spring allergy season approaching, people with outdoor allergies should take steps to prepare in advance of their first seasonal outbreak."

He warns, "Don't assume it's a cold" and suggests getting in to see your physician if you are dealing with chronic cold-like symptoms that don't accompany fever, sore throat, colored nasal discharge, and/or aches and pains.

Impact of nasal allergies

Though nasal allergies are not considered life threatening, they can severely impact the quality of your life. In a survey in 2007 that polled over 680 allergy sufferers, 74 percent of those diagnosed with allergic rhinitis don't feel like themselves when they are suffering from allergy symptoms, and 53 percent indicated that they avoid various activities like being outside, traveling and being social because of their allergies. Nasal allergies can severely limit your life, if not treated properly.

Nasal allergies also take a toll on work productivity. An Ohio State University study conducted in 2007 suggests that allergy sufferers can miss up to 32 hours of work in a week when allergens are at their peak. That's bad news for you if you suffer from allergies as well as if your workers are calling in sick with allergic rhinitis.

Additionally, a new study from Ohio State, indicates that psychological stress and anxiety can worsen seasonal nasal allergy attacks and also prolong their occurrence.

Allergies are expensive, too. Researchers estimate that Americans spend $1.1 billion for doctor visits to treat allergy attacks plus $2.3 for nasal allergy medications.

Luckily, you don't have to let your seasonal or year-round nasal allergies detract from your enjoyment of life. Learning as much as you can about the allergens that trigger your allergy symptoms, taking steps to limit your exposure your allergens and managing your symptoms can greatly improve the quality of your every day.

Next page...causes of seasonal allergies and tips to manage them

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