Nasal Allergies – Allergic Rhinitis

Inflammation of the nasal mucous membrane is called rhinitis. There are two types of rhinitis: allergic rhinitis and non-allergic rhinitis.

Allergic Rhinitis

Allergic Rhinitis, commonly referred to as allergies, occurs when the immune system over-responds to specific particles with a protein structure. During an allergic reaction, antibodies, specifically Immunoglobin E (IgE), attach to the mast cells in the skin, the lungs, and mucous membranes causing the release of histamine. Histamine opens the blood vessels and causes swollen membranes. Sneezing and congestion are often the result when this happens in the nose. These reactions are an unnecessary response as these particles are not infectious agents such as viruses or bacteria.

Symptoms of Allergic Rhinitis

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy / watery eyes
  • Nasal Congestion

Causes of Allergic Rhinitis

There are a number of different allergens that can cause allergic rhinitis:

  • Pollen
  • Mold
  • Plants
  • Animal hair or dander
  • Dust mites
  • Chemicals (such as tobacco smoke)
  • Insect venom
  • Medicines
  • Foods

Seasonal and Perennial Allergic Rhinitis

Individuals with seasonal allergic rhinitis experience symptoms during certain times of the year. For the majority of people with seasonal allergic rhinitis or hay fever, symptoms occur in late spring or summer due to ragweed sensitivity. Those with a sensitivity to pollen may have more symptoms in April and May, and those allergic to mold spores will often experience symptoms in October and November.

Perennial Allergic Rhinitis occurs year-round rather than during a specific season. Exposure to things found in the home such as pet hair or dander, mold, and dust mites are commonly the cause of perennial allergic rhinitis.

Non-Allergic Rhinitis

Non-allergic rhinitis is not the result of an allergic reaction. Triggers such as pollutants, cold weather or strong odors can bring on symptoms in addition to nasal blockages, infections and prolonged use of decongestants.

Treatment for Allergic Rhinitis

The symptoms of allergic rhinitis can affect sleep, school and work performance, recreational activities and overall quality of life.  Fortunately, there are a number of treatments and medications that can help. Treatment is determined by the cause, severity and frequency of symptoms.

  • Antihistamines: These medications are available over-the-counter and by prescription. Antihistamines work by blocking the histamines that are released during an allergic reaction.
  • Nasal steroid sprays: These are prescribed because they reduce swelling and inflammation in the nasal passages.
  • Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy includes allergy shots or allergy drops. This treatment gradually reduces the immune system’s response to a specific allergen resulting in fewer or less severe symptoms.

The Relationship Between Sinusitis and Rhinitis

Studies have shown a correlation between sinusitis, also known as rhinosinusitis, and rhinitis. Often, sinusitis is preceded by rhinitis, and symptoms such as nasal discharge, nasal obstruction, congestion and loss of smell are commonly present in both conditions. The allergic reactions that cause rhinitis also cause damage to the mucosal surface of the nose. This leads to further problems such as chronic sinusitis. It also makes one more susceptible to viral infections such as the common cold leading to acute sinusitis. Patients that have an incomplete response to allergy treatments often develop either acute or chronic sinusitis. These patients need to see a sinus specialist for further workup and treatment. 

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