Allergic Rhinitis (or Hay Fever)

What is Allergic Rhinitis?

Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, occurs when irritants or allergens such as pollen, dust and fur, come into contact with the eyes and nose, causing inflammation and irritation.

What are the causes of Allergic Rhinitis?

Children who suffer from Allergic Rhinitis have an oversensitive immune system, which perceives allergens as a threat to the body. Allergies often runs in families; if one or both parents suffer from allergic rhinitis, it is likely that their child will too. There is a strong association with asthma with around 80% of asthma sufferers having rhinitis and 50% of rhinitis sufferers having asthma.  Common allergens include:

  • Pollen
  • Dust
  • Animal hair
  • Various chemicals (at home or in the workplace)

Seasonal changes are another factor in the occurrence of allergic rhinitis. The amount of pollen in the air will affect how frequently the allergic reaction is triggered. In spring children who are sensitive to allergens and irritants are more like to suffer from the condition.

Allergic Rhinitis Symptoms

The symptoms of allergic rhinitis develop soon after allergens or irritants have been breathed in and commonly include:

  • Blocked or runny nose
  • Itchy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy and/or watery eyes

Sometimes there are other symptoms, which develop later, such as:

  • Snoring
  • Blocked ears
  • Sore throat
  • Puffiness under the eyes (allergic shiners)
  • Headache
  • Irritability

Children with allergic rhinitis may have difficulty sleeping, due to breathing difficulties. The condition can also aggravate and trigger asthma episodes or attacks, making asthmatic symptoms worse.

Allergic Rhinitis Diagnosis

There are several simple tests which are used to diagnose allergic rhinitis. First the doctor will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your child’s medical history and symptoms. They may also check the nasal passage for polyps  (swelling in the nose)

If the doctor suspects the patient is suffering from allergic rhinitis they refer them to an allergy clinic for test. Common tests are the:

  • Skin prick test, which involves introducing various allergens to the immune system via a small needle and observing whether there is an allergic reaction.
  • Blood (IgE RAST)  test, which measures the amount immunoglobulin E, antibody produced to fight allergens.

Allergic Rhinitis Treatments

Allergic Rhinitis Treatments /service-summary

There are several recommended treatments

  • Over the counter medications (antihistamines), which block histamine, another chemical produced to fight allergens
  • Steroid nasal spray or drops
  • Cleaning the nasal passages with salt water
  • Allergy avoidance
  • Immunotherapy

If a patient's symptoms are severe the GP or allergy specialist may recommend immunotherapy (or desensitisation) as a treatment. Over a period of several years allergens are introduced into the patient's immune system, via tablet or needle, in incrementally increasing doses. When the an effective dose is found, treatment continues for up to three years.

There is a danger or severe allergic reaction when administering this test, so it must only be carried out under the supervision of certified doctor or specialist.