What Is Nasal Allergy?
Nasal allergy, also known as rhinitis, is an inflammation of the nose usually caused by an allergic reaction or a viral infection. Its occurrence may be seasonal (during specific times of the year only) or perennial (all year long). Nasal allergy is commonly characterized by a stuffy nose and uncontrollable sneezing, and accompanied by asthma and other forms of allergy.
Nasal allergy is a very common problem worldwide, significantly reducing the quality of life of those afflicted by it. In Singapore, 24% of the entire population is affected by this condition. It is also found to be more prevalent in children aged 4 to 17 years old. Fortunately, medical and surgical treatments are available to help manage rhinitis and alleviate its symptoms.
Causes & Symptoms
The primary cause of nasal allergies is the exposure to or inhalation of irritants (allergens) that prompt the body’s immune system to release inflammatory chemicals (histamines), which trigger an allergic reaction that affects the nasal airways. Common allergens include airborne pollutants, pollen, dust mites, animal dander and mold.
Viral infections, hormonal changes and constant exposure to environmental conditions such as smoke and hazardous chemicals may also trigger nasal allergy.
The most common symptoms of nasal allergies include:
- runny nose
- stuffy nose (nasal congestion & blockage)
- uncontrollable sneezing
- postnasal drip
- red, itchy and watery eyes
- persistent throat phlegm
- sinus pressure
- sore throat caused by throat-clearing and cough
In children, nasal allergy may lead to more serious (albeit less common) sleep disorders such as snoring, sleep apnea, sleepwalking, bedwetting and open-mouth breathing.
Diagnosis & Treatment
In order to screen out other conditions, including sinusitis and the common cold, which have similar symptoms as nasal allergies, diagnostic exams are administered. These are:
- Skin prick test – This is done to determine and confirm the exact allergen responsible for the reaction. During this exam, up to 40 kinds of substances are placed on the skin (usually on the forearm for adults). A lancet is then used to prick the substance into the skin’s surface. An allergic reaction is characterized by the appearance of a wheal, a red itchy bump similar to a mosquito bite.
- Radioallergosorbent test (RAST) – This measures and evaluates the amount of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies in the blood when exposed to certain allergens.
Along with a physical examination, these skin and blood tests can help the doctor create the best prevention and treatment plan for the patient to manage nasal allergy.
Treating nasal allergy is as easy and simple as avoiding the allergens that trigger the reaction. For instance, those who have a dust mite allergy can either avoid fabric furniture altogether or use mite covers, install dehumidifiers and wash beddings regularly in hot water. Other treatments are:
- Antihistamines – Over-the-counter and prescribed antihistamines can be taken to stop the body from producing histamines. Histamines are responsible for triggering the symptoms of an allergy.
- Decongestants – Eye drops, nasal sprays and other decongestants may be taken to alleviate symptoms such as a stuffy nose, itchy eyes and sinus pressure. However, these should only be taken short-term or as advised by the doctor.
- Allergen Avoidance – Patients with a dust mite allergy should avoiding having fabric sofas and carpets at home. Beddings should be washed regularly and mite covers could be considered.
- Immunotherapy – immunotherapy works by increasing your body’s tolerance to house dust mite allergen (desensitization). Small amounts to dust mite allergen extract are administered (orally) over a period of several years to build up tolerance. It will reduce or stop your symptoms even after your stop treatment.
My ENT Specialist is a sinus clinic in Singapore that specializes in the management of ENT conditions such as nasal allergies, sinusitis, ear infections and other issues concerning the head, neck, ears, throat and voice. To schedule an appointment with ENT surgeon Dr. Paul Mok, call 6397-5280.