If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you don’t need the weather report to tell you that pollen and mold-spore counts in Delaware are high. Your sneezing nose, watery eyes and other unpleasant symptoms make that abundantly clear.
It may be tempting to dismiss allergic rhinitis as a mere annoyance. But the potential complications associated with seasonal allergies can go way beyond bouts of sneezing and nasal stuffiness, says Dr. Catherine Wright, an otolaryngologist at Bayhealth ENT in Dover and Milford.
Seasonal allergies are usually brief and harmless, but they can negatively influence your quality of life. A blocked or runny nose can result in difficulty sleeping, daytime drowsiness, irritability and problems with concentrating. Seasonal allergies can even deprive sufferers the simplest of pleasures, like morning and evening strolls or work in the garden.
Allergies and asthma often coexist, and uncontrolled chronic allergic rhinitis can exacerbate symptoms of asthma.
The inflammation that accompanies allergies can also lead to conditions such as nasal polyps, sinusitis, middle ear infections and chronic swelling in the nasal passages.
Nasal polyps—small teardrop-shaped swellings that grow inside the linings of the nose or sinuses—can sometimes develop from the inflammation caused by allergies. If these swellings grow large enough or in clusters, they can make breathing difficult, reduce your sense of smell and block your sinuses.
Sinusitis is a common complication of allergic rhinitis. It occurs when inflammation prevents mucus produced in the sinuses from draining through the nose. Symptoms include headache, facial pain, fatigue, stuffy nose, dizziness and post-nasal drip.
Seasonal allergies can also bring on middle ear infections. If rhinitis interferes with the functioning of the Eustachian tube (which connects the back of the nose to the middle ear), fluid can build up in the middle ear and become infected.
Chronic rhinitis can also cause swelling in the turbinates, structures on the inside of the nose that warm and moisturize air as it passes through the nose. If this condition develops, it can cause persistent nasal congestion as well as pressure pain in the middle of the face and forehead.
If you have mild allergic rhinitis, you can often treat the symptoms yourself. Most long-acting, non-sedating antihistamines and corticosteroid sprays are available without a prescription. Dr. Wright recommends using the steroid sprays to treat nasal congestion and antihistamines to provide relief for more widespread symptoms like itchy nose, mouth and eyes.
Dr. Wright also recommends routine irrigation of nasal passages with a saline solution to keep your nose free of irritants. The first line of defense, however, is avoidance, she says.
Here are some tips you can use on a daily basis to get you through the sneezin’ season:
- Keep doors and windows closed to avoid contact with pollen.
- Don’t dry clothes outdoors, as pollen may settle on them.
- After outdoor activities, shower to rid your skin and hair of pollen. Change your clothes. This is also a good time to irrigate your nasal passages.
- Wear sunglasses when outdoors to protect eyes from pollen and mold spores.
- Avoid spending time outdoors on dry, windy days, when there is more pollen in the air. Additionally, plan outdoor activities for times when pollen counts are low.
- Be proactive. Don’t wait for symptoms to become acute before you take your medication(s).
- Consult a physician if: you get no relief from over-the-counter medications, your allergies aggravate a pre-existing condition such as asthma, you experience side effects from a non-prescription medication or you develop a sinus or ear infection.