What is rhinitis?
Rhinitis is inflammation of your nasal cavity lining. It can
be allergic or nonallergic. It also may be infectious.
Allergic rhinitis can occur when you breathe in something
that you’re allergic to, known as an allergen. This condition affects 40 to 60
million Americans, reports the American College of
Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. It can be seasonal, which means it affects
you at certain times of year. Alternately, it can be perennial, which means it
affects you throughout the year.
Nonallergic rhinitis isn’t triggered by a specific allergen.
It can affect you for short or long periods of time.
are the symptoms of rhinitis?
Symptoms of rhinitis range from mild to severe. They
generally affect your nasal cavity, throat, and eyes. They can include:
- stuffy nose
- runny nose
- itchy nose
- post-nasal drip
- sore throat
- itchy eyes
- watery eyes
- facial pain
- slight loss of smell, taste, or hearing
What causes rhinitis?
Allergic rhinitis occurs when your immune system detects an
allergen, or substance that triggers an allergic reaction. These substances are
usually harmless to most people. But if you’re allergic to them, your body
responds as if they were harmful. Your immune system reacts to the allergen by
releasing a chemical known as histamine. This causes the symptoms of rhinitis.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis is commonly called hay fever. It
typically occurs in the spring, summer, or early fall. Depending on your
allergens, you may also experience it multiple times of year. It’s triggered by
mold (fungus) spores in the air or pollen from specific plants, such as:
Perennial allergic rhinitis can be triggered by a variety of
- pet dander and saliva
- cockroach droppings
- dust mites
Nonallergic rhinitis is more challenging to diagnose. It
isn’t triggered by an allergen and doesn’t involve the immune system response
that occurs in allergic rhinitis. Potential triggers include:
- foreign material in your nose
- infections, such as cold viruses
- certain medications, such as NSAIDs and blood
- certain foods and odors
- smoke and other air pollution
- weather changes
- hormonal changes
Nonallergic rhinitis is sometimes caused by structural
problems in your nasal cavity, such as a tumor or narrow passages.
is at risk of rhinitis?
If you have a personal or family history of eczema or asthma,
you’re more likely to experience allergic rhinitis. If you’re regularly exposed
to environmental irritants, such as secondhand smoke, you’re also more likely
to experience rhinitis.
How is rhinitis diagnosed?
To diagnose allergic rhinitis, your doctor will perform a
physical exam. They may also refer you to an allergist for allergy testing,
using a blood test or skin test. This can help your doctor learn if your rhinitis
is allergic or nonallergic.
is rhinitis treated?
The best way to treat allergic rhinitis is to avoid your allergen.
If you’re allergic to pet dander, mold, or other household allergens, take
steps to remove those substances from your home. If you’re allergic to pollen, limit
your time outdoors when the plants that triggers your symptoms are blooming.
You should also take steps to keep pollen out of your home and car. Try closing
your windows and installing a HEPA filter on your air conditioner.
If you can’t avoid your allergen, medications can help
relieve your symptoms. For example, your doctor may encourage you to use
over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines, decongestants, or other medications.
In some cases, they may recommend immunotherapy, such as allergy shots or under-the-tongue
tab formulations, to lower your sensitivity to your allergen.
If you have non-allergic rhinitis, your doctor may recommend
over-the-counter or prescription medications to treat it, such as nasal corticosteroids,
nasal saline spray, nasal antihistamine spray, or decongestants. If a defect in
your nasal cavity is responsible for your symptoms, your doctor may recommend corrective
What is the outlook for rhinitis?
Rhinitis is inconvenient and uncomfortable, but generally poses
little health risk. Allergic rhinitis usually clears when your exposure to your
allergen has passed. Nonallergic rhinitis may last for longer periods of time,
but it can be managed with treatment.
Ask your doctor for more information about your specific
diagnosis, treatment options, and long-term outlook.