Seasonal allergies are the bane of many people’s summer plans. Your eyes are red and itchy, your nose doesn’t stop running, and you are afraid you will sneeze yourself unconscious. Seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, affect around 10% to 30% of the world’s population. Seasonal allergies occur when your body mistakenly identifies a normally harmless substance as something harmful and mounts an immune response to it. These substances can include tree pollen, cottonwood, ragweed pollen, dust, and spores from fungi or mold. In response to these allergens, your immune systems triggers the release of histamine, which allows white blood cells to enter the fight against the allergen. Histamine ends up causing most of the symptoms you suffer from as a by product of your body trying to fight the harmless invader. To combat this, most people take anti-histamines to try and stop the effects of histamine in its tracks. The problem is, sometimes these drugs don’t work well enough because your body has too much histamine pumping through it or you have built up a tolerance to the drug. Ideally, you would take the anti-histamine long before your body is exposed to the allergen and begins to freak out. The other option, which has shown some promise, is the use of allergy shots (immunotherapy) to teach your immune system to tolerate the allergen. The difficulty is these treatments involve injections weekly over the course of months. Most people would likely not sign up for this willingly. What other options are there for someone with allergic rhinitis? Well, a new device developed in Denmark is showing great promise in alleviating and preventing seasonal allergies.
The device is a set of small filters that fit into the nose. The filters are no bigger than a contact lens and act to filter out the pollen and other allergens, preventing them from entering the upper airways where they cause problems (see below).
The research group involved in the development of these filters just released the results of an initial trial of the device and the results are very promising. They recruited 65 people who had documented instances of grass pollen allergies and were not receiving any medical treatment for their allergies at the time. These people were split into two groups and given either the nasal filter or a placebo device that didn’t actually filter any of the pollen out. The patients exposure to the allergen was monitored over two days. The results? They found that the nasal filter more than halved the number of people who experienced sneezing, runny nose or watery eyes if the filter was put in when symptoms had already started in the subjects. When the filter was placed before the onset of any symptoms it was shown that the incidence of sneezing and watery eyes was reduced by 100% while the incidence of runny nose was reduced by 84%. Moreover, the subjects reported that even though the pollen levels on day 2 were much worse than day one, they didn’t feel any worse on day 2 suggesting that the device may be even more effective at high levels of airborne pollen.
So the device is effective, but what about comfort? Most people don’t usually like things shoved up their nose. Well the results of a large usability study, due to be released soon, showed that the participants found the filter to be comfortable enough to be worn on a day to day basis during the hay fever season. What about people starting to breathe through their mouth instead of their nose because of the filter? If people were preferentially breathing through their mouth instead of their nose, it was expected that there would be more complaints of sore throats because of the allergen irritating the lining of the throat. The researchers saw that there was no restriction to breathing through the nose with the filter attached and the people didn’t complain of any more throat irritation then in the placebo group.
This device, called Rhinix™, will still likely go through more rounds of controlled trials to prove its worth in limiting the pain of seasonal allergies but it is now currently available for purchase. We may have found a drug free, shot free option for the treatment and prevention of seasonal allergies. Spring and summer lovers rejoice!
Header photo credit: Flickr Jacek NL.