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Rhinitis: Non Allergic and Allergic Rhinitis

What is rhinitis?

Often referred to as nasal allergies, rhinitis occurs when a person inhales allergens. This may lead to nasal itching, sneezing, discharge and stuffiness as well as itching roof of mouth or ears. There are two types of rhinitis: allergic and nonallergic.

One-third of individuals with rhinitis do not suffer from allergies. Nonallergic rhinitis is typically seen in adults and symptoms last year-round. If your doctor concludes that your symptoms are not the result of allergies or another sinus problem, you may have nonallergic rhinitis.

Known to most people as hay fever, allergic rhinitis is a very common medical problem affecting more than 15 percent of the population, both adults and children.

What is allergic rhinitis?

Allergic rhinitis takes two different forms: Seasonal and perennial. Symptoms of seasonal allergic rhinitis occur in spring, summer and/or early fall and are usually caused by allergic sensitivity to pollens from trees, grasses or weeds, or to airborne mold spores. 

Allergic rhinitis is often worse during spring and fall, when pollen levels are high. The immune system responds to allergens by releasing chemical mediators and histamine. This leads to symptoms such as sneezing, stuffy nose and itchy eyes. 

Other people experience symptoms year-round, a condition called “perennial allergic rhinitis.” It’s generally caused by sensitivity to house dust, house dust mites, animal danders and/or mold spores. Underlying or hidden food allergies are considered a possible cause of perennial nasal symptoms.

Some people may experience both types of rhinitis, with perennial symptoms worsening during specific pollen seasons. As will be discussed later, there are also other causes for rhinitis.

What causes rhinitis?

Allergic rhinitis is triggered by allergens. Allergens include, but are not limited to, pollen, mold, dust and animal dander. When a person with allergic rhinitis breathes in an allergen, their body reacts by releasing chemicals that lead to allergy symptoms. Allergic rhinitis may vary based on the time of year, since weather impacts the amount of pollen in the air. For example, on hot, dry days there will be more pollen and allergens in the air. On cool, damp days allergens and pollen are washed to the ground.

When blood vessels in an individual’s nose expand, the nasal lining fills with blood and fluid, leading to nonallergic rhinitis. Things that may trigger non allergic include weather changes, infection, certain foods/drinks and hormone changes.

What are the symptoms of rhinitis?

Symptoms of allergic rhinitis vary from person-to-person, which is why it is important to make an appointment at a board-certified allergist to come up with the best treatment plan. Symptoms rhinitis include:

  • Sneezing
  • Post Nasal drop
  • Watery, itchy eyes
  • Headache
  • Fatigue

How is rhinitis diagnosed?

When you make an appointment with your doctor or allergist, he or she will conduct a physical exam and ask questions about your symptoms. An allergy skin or blood test may be performed if symptoms are severe.

How is rhinitis treated?

Your doctor may prescribe antihistamines to help reduce symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Allergy medications are typically most effective if begun before pollen is in the air and symptoms develop. Immunotherapy (allergy shots) may help provide long-term relief for individuals who suffer from allergic rhinitis. It’s important to speak with your doctor about the best treatment option for you.