About Rhinitis: Treatment and Prevention

Treating and preventing hay fever are often the same thing - the best way to cure the symptoms is to avoid the allergen. This may mean changing your habits, or even giving away a pet or moving to another house if the symptoms are unbearable and don't respond to drugs. If the allergen is something you can't completely avoid, like dust mites, here are some steps you can take to make your home a haven:

  • Remove furniture that collects dust, for example carpets, draperies, and stuffed chairs.
  • Put plastic covers on mattresses.
  • Wash floors frequently with a wet mop.
  • Reduce air humidity with a dehumidifier.
  • Install a high-efficiency air filter, called a HEPA filter.

If these measures prove insufficient, most people fortunately do respond to drugs. The therapy of choice is antihistamines taken orally or as a spray. If your antihistamine makes you drowsy, there's usually another one that won't. For really bad seasonal allergy attacks, you may be given a corticosteroid spray if antihistamines aren't working. Corticosteroids sprays are preferred if rhinitis symptoms are chronic.

If antihistamines aren't helping, and you can't avoid the allergen, you're left with the option of desensitization, sometimes called hyposensitization or allergen immunotherapy. Small amounts of the allergen are injected regularly, slowly increasing the dosage with the hope of getting the body "used to it." The immune reaction eventually gets weaker and weaker, even disappearing in some people. The injections are needed every 4-6 weeks, and the treatment works best if used year-round.

Desensitization isn't risk-free, however. Very occasionally, the patient has a system-wide immune reaction called anaphylactic shock, which can kill. You'll usually have to wait around for half an hour after each shot to make sure you don't have this reaction. Since people with pollen allergies are most vulnerable to large doses, it's often best to reduce the dose during pollen season. For these people, the best time to start desensitization is at the end of their annual allergic period.

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