The annual cost of allergy in the United States reaches billions of dollars. The total includes direct costs for medication and health care visits as well as indirect ones, such as lost workdays and diminished productivity for people suffering allergy symptoms. But that's just the financial toll. Calculating allergy's emotional impact is more difficult.
No monetary figure can be placed on the sadness of a 4-year-old girl whose dust mite allergy prevents her from having stuffed animals; or the inconvenience to the 55-year-old architect who can't make site visits when the trees are pollinating in spring; or the distress of the 32-year-old waitress who is so allergic to cats that her husband-to-be must give away the pet he's had for 10 years.
The Allergy Profile
People who don't have nasal symptoms of allergy may not understand their full impact. After all, everyone has colds and they're not so bad. For a few days, you sneeze, take care of your runny nose and feel a bit clogged, but that's usually the extent of discomfort. Allergy symptoms, however, can last much longer. Fifty percent of people who have allergic rhinitis experience symptoms at least four months every year, and 20 percent feel symptoms longer than nine months.
Unlike other conditions that cause discomfort but do so discreetly, allergic rhinitis announces itself visibly and, often, loudly. A raw-looking nose and red-rimmed eyes, often underscored by dark circles, tell the world an allergic reaction is in progress. If it's better to look good than to feel good, as the comedy show line suggests, that's not even an option. Allergic reactions can exact a toll when it comes to self-esteem; it's difficult to feel great about yourself when you know you don't look your best.
Long or Short, It's Uncomfortable
Seasonal allergic reactions are difficult, but, as their name implies, they're limited in duration. Once the allergenic pollen is no longer in the air, the reaction subsides. Perennial allergic rhinitis, on the other hand, knows no boundaries; for people whose nasal symptoms are triggered by dust mites, for example, the misery can be year-round. And sometimes seasonal allergy sufferers become perennial allergy sufferers, as is the case with about 25 percent of children.
Even if allergic reactions are confined to a particular time of year, their "fallout" may linger. A range of related secondary health problems and conditions may follow including sinusitis, asthma, ear infections and nasal polyps.
The Big Picture
Without doubt, allergic reactions have an impact on your quality of life. When your head feels as though it's stuffed with cotton wool and your eyes are so itchy that even watching television is more than you can handle, the situation is not good. One of the chief complaints patients report is fatigue: It's tiring to sneeze 20 times in a row and to cough repeatedly. Besides, although you think you can't hold your head up another minute, sleep is often impossible for you because your throat still tickles and your stuffy nose makes breathing difficult.
Nor is it surprising that your performance the next day at work, in school or at home is less than stellar. Sleep deprivation does that. Feeling tense and nervous is another side effect of sleep loss, but it's also a consequence of constantly having to blow your nose and otherwise attend to your symptoms. Drowsiness or a jittery feeling may overtake you if you have reacted unfavorably to some of the over-the- counter allergy medications you're taking. Both sensations hinder your ability to do even the simplest tasks.
- From AllerDays Newsletter, Vol. 3, No. 3.
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