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Is it the cold, or just allergies?

Lady suffering from allergy

Allergic rhinitis symptoms are often mistaken for COVID-19. Here’s how to tell, and how to manage your allergies better. 

Runny nose, itchy eyes, nasal congestion and sneezing on the regular - sounds like you? 

Allergic rhinitis is no walk in the park. If you struggle with it, you’ll know how much it interferes with your quality of life.  

It also does not help that we are in the middle of a pandemic and often mistake normal dust allergy and nasal allergy symptoms for COVID-19. It's a really stressful time!

If you have allergic rhinitis and can’t seem to get a handle on it, this article will help you identify how to recognise your triggers, what you can do at home and the treatments available in Singapore. 

First, what is allergic rhinitis?

Allergic Rhinitis (AR) is a condition that produces nasal symptoms when your immune system reacts to allergens in the air. It is an extremely common condition that affects millions across the globe; approximately 44% of school-age kids in Singapore have AR1.  

AR usually strikes early in your life, typically before 30

You may know Allergic Rhinitis by its more popular name, hay fever. Unfortunately, there is no cure for hay fever. It can however be managed with proper treatment; what you do on a daily basis affects how much your AR affects you. 

I’ll get into treatment options in a bit. 

How do I know if I have hay fever or allergic rhinitis?

Here is a list of the symptoms that you may experience:

  • Stuffy Nose
  • Sore throat
  • Itchy throat
  • Runny rose
  • Itchy nose
  • Frequent headaches
  • Eczema
  • Watery eyes
  • Incessant sneezing
  • Coughs
  • Fatigue
  • Itchy eyes
  • Dark circle under eyes
  • Hives

These are classic symptoms of a nasal allergy and a dust allergy.

The allergens associated with Allergic rhinitis are listed below:

  • Animal dander
  • Dust mites
  • Mould
  • Pollen

What are the different types of allergic rhinitis?

Allergic Rhinitis Perennial

  • Patients suffer from symptoms year-round.
  • Cockroaches, mould, dust mites, pet dander/hair are the allergens responsible for perennial AR.

Allergic Perennial Seasonal

  • The seasons, spring summer and early autumn specifically, trigger seasonal allergic rhinitis.
  • Associated allergens are pollen from weeds, grass and trees and mould spores.

How does an attack start?

Firstly, you should know that once you come into contact with allergens, your body reacts almost right away.

When you encounter an allergen, your immune system prompts your body to produce histamines.

Histamines are a defence mechanism; it’s your body’s way to try to get rid of the offending allergen. They cause the sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes — the whole works. Basically, allergic rhinitis is your body overreacting to an otherwise harmless allergen.

What are some of the allergens that I may encounter in Singapore?

The number 1 allergen in Singapore is the house dust mite. They are easily inhaled. 

The other common allergens are pollen, moulds, cats, dogs and cockroaches.

What can I do to prevent an Allergic Rhinitis episode?

Apart from avoiding your trigger allergens as much as you can, you may try the following: 


A dehumidifier is extremely useful since it regulates moisture levels. As such dust mite and mould growth are greatly reduced if not totally eliminated - great news since dust mites multiply rapidly at high humidity levels (about 70-80%)2.

Air purifiers

As its name suggests, an air purifier cleans the air in your home removing allergens. Here’s my recommendation on which air purifier to get

Picture of an air purifier

Dust-mite casings

These are covers with zippers that you can put over your mattress, blankets and pillows. They are made of materials that keep dust mite allergens out. They are known to significantly reduce symptoms. 

Anti-dust mite sprays

You can use these sprays on carpets, fabrics, curtains, textiles and stuffed toys. Anti-dust mite sprays are quite safe and can reduce dust mites by more than 90%.

What are the available treatment options for Allergic Rhinitis in Singapore?

So, to be clear the medications that we are going to explore only help with symptoms

There are quite a few options to choose from; you may have to try a few before you find the one(s) that works best for you.


Antihistamines work by suppressing the histamine that your body produces. They are pretty accessible and can be purchased over the counter at your nearest pharmacy. 

Eye drops

These help with the eye irritations that often come with an Allergic Rhinitis reaction.

Regular Nasal Sprays

These can help with nasal congestions and nasal itchiness.

Steroidal Nasal Sprays

Steroidal nasal sprays work by reducing inflammation and suppressing your immune system. Hence, they are usually a long-term measure. 

What about Sublingual Immunotherapy?

Sublingual immunotherapy is known to be a potential cure for allergic rhinitis. According to the data, this treatment has the potential to eliminate your symptoms for up to 10 years3

After allergy testing is done to pinpoint your allergen, SLIT treatments are prepared which are administered under your tongue. 

Sublingual immunotherapy builds your immunity to your allergen and this way you don't experience symptoms. It is a remarkable concept and there has been success. It is definitely worth asking your doctor about!

The best way to get ahead of your Allergic rhinitis is to manage and treat at the same time. This way you can seek long-lasting relief.

Have any questions for me? Feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy to help! 


  1. J Biol Regul Homeost Agents. 2018 Jan-Feb;32(1 Suppl. 1):61-66. PMID: 29552875
  2. Hoyte FCL, Nelson HS. F1000Res. 2018 Aug 23;7:F1000 Faculty Rev-1333. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.15367.1. eCollection 2018. PMID: 30210782
  3. Incorvaia C, Mauro M, Ridolo E. Immunotherapy. 2015;7(10):1105-10. doi: 10.2217/imt.15.72. Epub 2015 Oct 28. PMID: 26507464

This article was written and medically reviewed by Dr Ben, M.D on 24/11/21

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