A warmer-than-usual winter and premature spring-like weather may be to blame for early seasonal allergy symptoms millions of Americans are suffering from, including students here at Rider. Allergy symptoms may include sneezing, nasal irritation, runny nose, sore throat and itchy or watery eyes. Allergies can also trigger asthma symptoms for those afflicted. Although allergies can occur year-round, spring is typically the season when we see many people seeking medical attention for relief.
Hay fever, otherwise known as allergic rhinitis, is very common and can be bothersome in the spring months as flowering trees and shrubs start to bloom. An allergic response is actually the body’s immune system at work when exposed to normally harmless substances. When someone with allergies is exposed to an allergen he or she is sensitive to, such as pollen, the human body produces an antibody specific to that allergen called an IgE. After an initial exposure, the IgE attaches to a special blood cell called a mast cell, which is found in the airways and gastrointestinal tract. The mast cells are a type of white blood cell that destroys the allergen. When the individual has a subsequent exposure to the pollen, it then binds with the IgE on the mast cells, which triggers the mast cells to activate. The mast cells release chemicals when activated, one of which is Histamine. Histamine is responsible for the inflammatory response, which causes the itching, enlarged blood vessels in your nasal passages and airways and increased secretions. It can also cause bronchospasm, which is the wheezing, shortness of breath and cough, in asthmatics.
So what can you do to combat this cascade of allergy symptoms? There are three major categories of treatment: environmental control measures and allergy avoidance, pharmacological management and immunotherapy or allergy shots.
Environmental control can help because of the widespread presence of allergens in the outside air, so reducing outdoor exposure may be useful. Keeping the windows and doors of the house and car closed as much as possible can also be beneficial. Taking a shower after outdoor exposure can help remove allergens that are stuck to the skin and hair. Nasal saline irrigations are a useful adjunct to mechanically flush the allergens from the nasal cavity. If symptoms continue, pharmacological measures may be necessary.
Antihistamines, such as Claritin™ or Loratadine, Zyrtec™ or Cetirizine and Benadryl™ or diphenhydramine, are pharmacological measures that can offer temporary but immediate control of many of the most troubling symptoms discussed. Intranasal corticosteroids, either alone or in conjunction with antihistamines, have revolutionized the treatment of allergic rhinitis. Sprayed into each nostril on a consistent basis, intranasal corticosteroids help to reduce swelling in the nasal passages and help to prevent recurrent sinus infections. Their onset, however, may take two or more weeks. Additional prescription medications may be necessary if these basic pharmacological agents are ineffective.
In some cases, allergic rhinitis symptoms are inadequately relieved by medication and measures of avoidance. Referral to an allergist may be appropriate in such cases for consideration of immunotherapy or allergy shots. This requires identification of the offending allergens through skin testing or blood tests, progressive increasing doses of the allergens injected into the tissue and eventual maintenance dose administration over a period of three to five years.
Rider Student Health Services is available for consultation and treatment of allergic rhinitis. We will administer allergy injections at no cost to students when prescribed by an allergist. In addition, we have free samples of intranasal saline. Stop by between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on the Lawrenceville campus and during posted hours on the Westminster campus if you are interested in obtaining your free sample or discussing your symptoms and treatment options. The staff at health services wishes everyone a happy and healthy spring.
-Robin Mansfield, RN, MSN, FNPC
-Lynn Eiding, RN, MSN, FNPC