Living Well

Understanding Nasal Allergies

Charles Ballay II, MD.
Understanding Nasal Allergies

The days are longer, the air is warmer and the flowers are blooming. For many people spring is their favorite season, but for those with nasal allergies, it's just the start of itchy, dry eyes, and a runny nose. 

Nasal allergies (also called allergic rhinitis, which means “inflammation of the nose”) are a common health problem. They may be seasonal which means they cause symptoms only at certain times of the year. Or they may be perennial, which means they cause symptoms all year long. Other health problems, such as asthma, often occur along with allergies as well.

The nose produces a fluid called mucus which is normally thin and clear. It helps to keep dust, debris and allergens out of the lungs. Mucus usually drains down the back of your throat, but you aren’t aware of this most of the time because it is a small amount. When the nose becomes too irritated, it may produce mucus that becomes thick and pale yellow. This mucus may begin to flow from the front of the nose as well as the back, sometimes causing postnasal drip.

What is an allergic reaction?

An allergy is a reaction to a substance called an allergen. The cells of your body react to these allergens by releasing a chemical called histamine. Common allergens include:

  • Wind-borne pollen
  • Mold
  • Dust mites
  • Furry and feathered animals
  • Cockroaches

Is it allergies or a cold?

Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between allergies and a common cold. There are more than a hundred kinds of cold viruses and each tends to become widespread at certain times of the year, which is why you may mistake a cold for a seasonal allergy. Allergies occur at the same time of year and last as long as the allergen is in the air (about 2-3 weeks). Allergies cause itching of the nose and eyes along with other nasal symptoms, while colds last about one week and have less itching of the eyes and nose.

Related: How much do you know about allergies? Take this quiz to find out.

Common nasal allergy symptoms

Allergies can cause nasal tissue to swell which makes the air passages smaller. The nose may feel stuffed up, sometimes making it difficult to breathe. The nose may also make extra mucus, which can plug the nasal passages or drip out of the nose. Mucus can drip down the back of the throat (postnasal drip) as well. Sinus tissue can also swell, causing pain and headache. Common allergy symptoms include:

  • Runny nose with clear, watery discharge
  • Stuffy nose (nasal congestion)
  • Drainage down your throat (postnasal drip)
  • Sneezing
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Itchy nose, eyes, ears, and throat
  • Plugged-up ears (ear congestion)
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Sinus pain and swelling
  • Headache

Silver-haired man sitting at work desk blowing his noseIt may not be allergies. Other health problems can cause symptoms like those of nasal allergies. These include:

  • Nonallergic rhinitis and viruses such as colds
  • Irritants and pollutants, such as strong odors or smoke
  • Certain medicines
  • Changes in the weather

How can I prevent allergies?

  • Don’t touch or rub your nose.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.
  • Wash your bed linens and pillowcases in hot water and detergent to reduce allergens.
  • Use dust-mite proof covers for all pillows, comforters, duvets, mattresses, and box springs.
  • Keep pets out of the bedroom to reduce ped dander allergens in your bedding.
  • Wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to reduce pollen getting in your eyes.
  • Keep windows closed during high pollen and mold seasons. Use the air conditioner in your car and home.

Treatment

The best option is avoiding contact with substances that trigger your allergies. Your healthcare provider will evaluate you to find the cause of your symptoms then recommend treatment. If your symptoms are due to nasal allergies, your healthcare provider may prescribe nasal steroid sprays or oral antihistamines to help reduce symptoms.

About Dr. Ballay

Headshot of Dr. Charles BallayDr. Charles Ballay II, MD. attended medical school at the Louisiana Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, LA. He then went on to train at Baylor College of Medicine in the renowned Houston Medical Center, completing a surgical internship in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery then Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery residency in The Bobby R. Alford Department of Otolaryngology. After this time, he studied middle ear surgery in Palo Alto, CA at the California Ear Institute.

After training, he began solo practice in Kerrville, TX, practicing all facets of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery. After 8 years of busy practice, longing to get back home, he moved his solo practice back to New Orleans.

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