I recently heard from a mother, “She won’t tell you, Doctor, but the biggest problem she has with her allergies is that she’s embarrassed. She can’t be with her friends without wiping her nose a thousand times.” And from another, “He can’t be on the field for 15 minutes until he has to sit out because he’s miserable.” And from a third, “It can’t be good for him to snore and toss and turn all night — neither one of us gets any sleep!” We’re used to the bothersome symptoms of hay fever, sometimes called allergic rhinitis, but many sufferers live with more severe side effects. How big of a problem are seasonal allergies, and what should patients be able to expect from good allergy care? Recent studies have helped answer these questions.
Up to 30 percent of adults and 40 percent of children have allergic rhinitis with one or more of the following symptoms: sneezing, nasal itching, runny nose, and nasal congestion. Eye allergies are often just as bad with itching, tearing, redness, and swelling in addition to ear and throat irritation. Allergic rhinitis also contributes to sleep disorders, breathing irregularities due to obstruction, fatigue, headaches and sinus pain/pressure, impairment at work and in school performance, limitation of pleasurable activities, and disruption to social functioning. Not uncommon, family members and physicians often don’t recognize associated symptoms and consequently undertreat patients. One study found that severe allergies were undiagnosed in about one-third of patients, and as many as 30 percent of physicians underestimated the severity of the allergies and their impact on patients’ work or school activities. Another study concluded that a whopping 99 percent of physicians did not issue adequate allergy treatment.
Uncontrolled allergic rhinitis can also lead to structural complications such as a high-arched palate, misaligned teeth, and a tendency for chronic sinus infections that may go unrecognized for months. In children and adolescents, poorly controlled allergies and their complications can lead to these outcomes:
- poor sleep (50-80%)
- emotional symptoms, including irritability, restlessness, and embarrassment (65-85%)
- school absenteeism (37%)
- difficulty learning (70-80%)
- social challenges (20-45%)
- reduced athletic performance (61-82%)
- possible psychological consequences of low selfesteem, shyness, depression, anxiety, and fearfulness (25-60%)
Treatment for allergic rhinitis has been shown to be cost-effective and to have a significant positive impact for all age groups. In adolescents, an overall quality of life and ability to solve practical problems improved 25 to 30 percent with treatment, and activity limitation improved 25 percent over a four-week period with the use of simple medications and avoidance of the allergen. Allergy immunotherapy has shown a 70 to 80 percent improvement in quality of life in the majority of patients.
Truly, allergic rhinitis is “nothing to sneeze at.” Do yourself and your family a favor and talk to your doctor this spring. To make an appointment with an allergist near you, IntermountainMedicalGroup.org