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Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, is a common condition causing cold-like symptoms, such as sinus pressure, congestion, runny nose and sneezing.  However, unlike a cold, rhinitis is not caused by a virus.

Symptoms occur in response to outdoor or indoor allergens, such as pollen, molds, cockroaches, pet dander or dust mites.  Research suggests that more than 1 in 5 people suffer from hay fever.  Some people experience symptoms year round, while others only get worse during specific times of the year, typically in the spring, summer or fall.

Although hay fever is not a life-threatening illness, it can affect your quality of life.  Hay fever can make you miserable and impact your performance at school or work, and hinder you from participating in leisure activities.

In general, symptoms present immediately after you're exposed to an allergen.  Symptoms include:

  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy feeling in the nose, throat or roof of mouth
  • Sinus pressure
  • Reduced sense of taste or smell

Even though hay fever can develop at any age, it most likely develops during childhood or early adulthood.  The majority of people experience fewer symptoms over the years.

Many people get use to hay fever symptoms.  However, receiving the proper medical care can help reduce symptoms.  And in some instances, treatment can help prevent more serious allergic illnesses, like eczema and asthma.

The best treatment method is to avoid being exposed to allergens.  However, this is not always possible.  If your condition is not severe, over-the-counter medicines may be enough to relieve your symptoms.  But if your symptoms are really bothersome, your physician can prescribe nasal sprays, antihistamines, decongestants or other medicines to bring you relief.

And if medication doesn't work, your physician may recommend you receive immunotherapy (allergy shots) for a period of time.  These shots contain a tiny amount of the substances you are allergic to.  The goal for this treatment is to help your body get accustomed to your allergens, thus reducing your need for medications.

While you can't completely avoid all your allergens, you can decrease symptoms by limiting your exposure to them.

If you're allergic to pollen or molds, be sure to close your windows and doors during pollen season, and avoid participating in outdoor activities during morning hours when pollen counts are higher.  Stay indoors on dry, windy days, and use the air conditioner in your house or car.

You can limit your exposure to dust mites by using allergy proof covers on your pillows, box springs and mattresses.  Wash your sheets and blankets in warm water.  And if you're highly sensitive to dust mites, think about removing carpet, particularly in your bedroom.

Once cockroaches enter the home, they can be a nuisance.  If you see one in the kitchen or basement, it's safe to assume that hundreds more are hidden in the closets or under the kitchen sink; which is not great news for allergy sufferers.  The first step is to contact a professional pest exterminator to rid your home of cockroaches.  Furthermore, you can prevent exposure by blocking any cracks or crevices where they can easily enter your home, and repairing leaky faucets and pipes.  Be sure to wash dishes daily and never leave food and garbage uncovered.

While pets can be wonderful companions, their dander can be bothersome for allergy sufferers.  If you are allergic to pet dander, it is best to remove pets from your home.  If you decide not to, be sure to bathe them every week and keep them out of your bedroom.

Prevention is the best method.  If you know you're going to be exposed to an allergen(s), start taking your medication(s) before symptoms start.

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