Known to most people as hay fever, allergic rhinitis is a very common medical problem affecting more than 15 percent of adults and children.
Allergic rhinitis takes two different forms:
Some people may experience both types of rhinitis, with perennial symptoms getting worse during specific pollen seasons. There are also non-allergic causes for rhinitis.
When a sensitive person inhales an allergen (allergy-causing substance) like ragweed pollen, the body's immune system reacts abnormally. The allergen binds to allergic antibodies (immunoglobulin E, or IgE) that are attached to cells that produce histamine and other chemicals. The pollen "triggers" these cells in the nasal membranes, causing them to release histamine and the other chemicals. Histamine dilates the small blood vessels of the nose making fluids leak out into other tissues. This causes runny noses, watery eyes, itching, swelling and other allergy symptoms.
Antibodies circulate in the blood stream, and collect in the tissues of the nose and in the skin. This makes it possible to show the presence of these antibodies by skin testing, or less commonly, by a special IgE allergy blood test. A positive skin test mirrors the type of reaction going on in the nose.
A common question from allergic rhinitis sufferers is: Can I move someplace where my allergies will go away? Some allergens are tough to escape. Ragweed, which affects 75 percent of allergic rhinitis sufferers, blankets most of the United States. Less ragweed is found in a band along the West Coast, the southern-most tip of Florida and northern Maine, but it is still present. Even parts of Alaska and Hawaii have a little ragweed.
Allergists seldom recommend moving to another locale as a cure for allergies. A person may escape one allergy to ragweed, for example, only to develop sensitivity to grasses or other allergens in the new location. Since moving can have a disrupting effect on a family financially and emotionally, relocation should be considered only in an extreme situation and only after consultation with an allergist.