Allergies may be felt in different ways: a reaction affecting the eyes, nose, lungs or skin. When the nose is affected, it is called rhinitis; conjunctivitis affects the eyes and asthma the lungs.
Allergic rhinitis, such as “hay fever”, often involves symptoms such as sneezing and a blocked or itchy nose. The symptoms of conjunctivitis involve a red eye, which may be watery or itchy. An asthmatic may just have a cough but may also have more severe symptoms such as significant difficulty in breathing.
Allergies are a hypersensitive reaction to molecules which are called allergens. There are two types of allergen: those that cause seasonal reactions and those that create a reaction all year long.
Seasonal allergies are caused by tree, grass and herbaceous pollen, while annual allergies are caused by dust mites, mould and animal hair.
Seasonal rhinitis and conjunctivitis and those linked to occasional exposure to an animal have more sudden symptoms, such as sneezing and a runny nose, whereas annual allergies usually involve a blocked nose.
The most effective treatment is, of course, to avoid the relevant allergen, if possible. If you are allergic to an animal, try to avoid contact with that animal. If you are allergic to dust mites, restrict contact with dust. You can find detailed advice on the Swiss Allergy Centre website www.aha.ch.
As regards medicinal treatment, three different types of medicine can be used to relieve rhino-conjunctivitis. You can use eye drops or a nasal spray. An oral antihistamine may also be necessary. These treatments can be taken individually or, if the allergic reaction is severe, simultaneously.
In some cases, the doctor may suggest desensitisation. This is a treatment, which aims to cure the person’s allergy. This treatment takes several years and can be used for allergies to pollen, dust mites and insect venom (bees, wasps).
You need to be particularly careful if the allergic reaction is severe, especially if it leads to respiratory symptoms. Asthma may just involve a cough to start or being slightly out of breath, but it may become worse and lead to difficulty in breathing.