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The arrival of warm weather brings spring allergy misery for many. We ask Dr James Chisnall about the best way to identify and treat seasonal allergic rhinitis.

Spring is a good time to review your allergy symptoms and management. Did you get it right last year? Do you know what triggers your symptoms and were you able to control them? If the answer is no to any of these questions, it may be time for a visit to your doctor to discuss the diagnosis and possible further tests and treatment options.

Many people don't realise that allergic rhinitis (hay fever) can be a serious condition. Studies show people with severe hay fever have a reduction in their quality of life that is similar to people with angina. Poorly controlled hay fever can also lead to poorly controlled asthma. Pollen can also cause serious asthma attacks.

"People should not feel it is a trivial disease. If it's affecting your quality of life, you shouldn't feel you have to put up with it, there is something that can be done about it," says Dr James Chisnall, of Allergy Solutions in Nelson.

"Up to 40 percent of Kiwis have allergic rhinitis. In the majority of them it's mild and they generally manage it by taking antihistamines, nasal sprays and eye drops as required. The middle group are ok in some years but in others they suffer. The final group has it really bad and it doesn't matter what medication they take – it doesn't help. They have a miserable life for three to four months of the year – they can't sleep, it affects their work. These people should be thinking about desensitisation. On average subcutaneous immunotherapy treatment reduces symptoms by 50 percent, and sublingual immunotherapy (allergen tablets) can reduce symptoms by 35 percent. This effect can be lifelong."

Detecting triggers

Typical hay fever symptoms include an itchy and/or runny or congested nose, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes and tickly throat. People can also experience poor sleep, facial pain, poor taste/ smell and tiredness. The most common culprits are house dust mites, grass pollen, tree pollen (especially birch), pet dander and moulds.

If you are not sure what is causing your symptoms, it helps to keep a note of when and where you are when your allergy/asthma symptoms become worse.

Start by looking for patterns – do you get your symptoms year round or seasonally? Is it worst early in the day or at night, inside or outside the home? Write it down so you can discuss it with your doctor.

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Issue: Spring 2014