Though they’re separate conditions, allergic rhinitis and asthma are both atopic diseases. Allergies can trigger asthma, and having asthma can increase your risk for allergic rhinitis.
Asthma and allergic rhinitis are related conditions. Along with eczema and food allergies, they are part of the family of atopic diseases. Some people are genetically prone to these conditions, which are more common in certain populations.
People with asthma are likely to also have allergic rhinitis, and allergies are a common cause of asthma flares.
However, allergic rhinitis and asthma are two distinct conditions. They affect different parts of your airway and can require different treatments.
Your immune system is designed to help your body fend off germs. But in allergic rhinitis, your immune system overreacts. It begins making antibodies to harmless inhaled substances such as pollen, dust, and animal dander.
When these allergens enter your nose, your antibodies trigger an inflammatory response, causing symptoms such as:
- itchy nose
- runny nose (or postnasal drip)
- nasal congestion
You may also notice:
- itchy, puffy, or watery eyes
- itchy or blocked ears
- itchy throat
- sinus pressure
Allergic rhinitis can be seasonal. For example, you might be sensitive to a tree pollen produced only in the spring. But you can also have allergy symptoms year-round, especially if you’re allergic to an indoor trigger such as pet dander or dust mites.
When triggered, inflamed airways can spasm, which blocks airflow. If you have asthma, you experience this as:
- chest tightness
- shortness of breath
Common asthma triggers include viral infections, exercise, weather changes, pollutants, and — very often — allergens!
Allergic rhinitis and asthma are both part of the spectrum of atopic diseases. Both are triggered when something in your environment mistakenly causes your immune system to become sensitized, inflaming your airway.
Although you can develop symptoms at any age, both allergic rhinitis and asthma usually begin in childhood. The term “allergic (or atopic) march” describes the fact that children with eczema or allergies often go on to develop asthma.
In fact, according to a large international 2004 study, about three-quarters of people with asthma also have allergic rhinitis.
Allergies are such a common trigger of asthma flares that experts
If allergies are the main trigger of your asthma symptoms, your doctor might even diagnose allergic asthma.
Allergic rhinitis causes mainly nasal symptoms, such as a congested, itchy, and runny nose. You might also have eye irritation, an itchy throat, or postnasal drip, which can cause a cough.
You might notice that your allergy symptoms start suddenly with exposure to an allergen (such as a friend’s cat or freshly cut grass) and then resolve quickly once you change environments or take an antihistamine. Allergens may be less obvious if you’ve had long-term exposure, but allergy testing can help clarify them.
Although asthma can occur with or without allergic rhinitis, allergies are a very common asthma trigger. Since many people have both allergies and asthma, it’s possible to have symptoms of both at the same time.
Talk with a doctor if you’re experiencing troublesome allergy or asthma symptoms or a chronic cough. They can often make a diagnosis in their office. If necessary, they may order allergy testing, spirometry, or other diagnostics.
Several medications are available to help treat your allergic rhinitis, including:
- over-the-counter antihistamines (oral or nasal)
- intranasal steroid sprays
- prescription leukotriene receptor antagonists (LTRAs)
- immunotherapy (allergy shots or tablets)
If allergies trigger your asthma, you’ll also need to treat them.
The following environmental and lifestyle strategies can help manage both allergies and asthma:
- avoiding smoke exposure
- closing windows on days with poor air quality or a high pollen count
- putting dust mite covers on pillows and mattresses
- using HEPA air filters
- using saline nasal rinses
- limiting exposure to pet or plant triggers
A doctor can help you decide which medications and environmental measures will work best for you.
What can be mistaken for allergic rhinitis?
Allergic rhinitis is the most common cause of chronic rhinitis, but there are also nonallergic causes:
- viral or bacterial infections
- medications, which can lead to rhinitis medicamentosa
- nasopharyngeal anatomy
Depending on your symptoms, test results, and response to treatment, your doctor can work with you to determine your diagnosis.
Can you have allergic rhinitis and asthma?
Yes. Allergies are common in people with asthma. They are a frequent trigger of asthma flares. The same allergens that inflame your nasal airway can irritate the airways in your lungs.
Is rhinitis a form of asthma?
No. Rhinitis is inflammation of your nasal passages, whereas asthma affects your lungs. But some common causes of rhinitis (such as allergies, cold viruses, and irritants) can trigger asthma flares.
Allergic rhinitis and asthma are different conditions, but they have some common features.
Both are atopic diseases, which means they result from autoimmune airway inflammation. In allergic rhinitis, the inflammation mainly affects your nose, while in asthma, it affects your lungs.
Once you’re sensitized, the same allergens that inflame your nasal airway can irritate your lungs. So, people with allergic rhinitis are more likely to develop asthma, and many people with asthma also have allergies.
Allergies are a very common cause of asthma flares, although asthma also has other triggers. People with asthma may need allergy testing and treatment to help manage their asthma symptoms.
Allergic rhinitis and asthma are chronic diseases, but treatment can help you effectively manage the symptoms of both.