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Home > Services > Allergy > Allergies We Treat > Allergic Rhinitis

Allergic Rhinitis

Allergic Rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis is the set of symptoms that occur when you breathe in substances you're allergic to, called allergens.

  • Seasonal (intermittent) allergic rhinitis is sometimes called hay fever or rose fever. This occurs during times of the year when allergens are in the air, like spring, summer and fall. The most common allergens are tree, grass or weed pollens.
  • Perennial (persistent) allergic rhinitis is caused by allergens that may be present year round. These may include chemicals, dust, dust mites, cockroaches, animal dander or mold spores. Symptoms may be present any time of year.

Causes of Allergic Rhinitis

An allergic reaction occurs when your body's immune system overreacts to an allergen. When you breathe in an allergen, cells in your nasal passages release a chemical called histamine. Histamine causes your nose to feel itchy and also causes swelling and mucus production in the nasal passages.

Risk factors that increase your chance of developing allergic rhinitis include:

Symptoms

Allergic rhinitis can cause the following symptoms:

  • Sneezing
  • Itching in the nose, eyes, throat and ears
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Runny nose, nasal congestion
  • Sinus pressure
  • Postnasal drip and cough
  • Headache
  • Dark circles under your eyes

Diagnosing Allergic Rhinitis

Skin Prick Test

Your doctor uses a needle to place a tiny bit of an allergen under your skin. You may be allergic if your skin becomes red, raised and itchy. This can be done for multiple allergens at the same time.

RAST Testing

Your doctor tests a small sample of blood for different allergens.

Provocation Testing

While you breathe in air containing an allergen, your doctor watches to see if you have an allergic reaction, such as wheezing or trouble breathing. This test is usually reserved for research settings.

Treatment Options

The most effective way to treat allergies is to avoid the allergen. Since this can sometimes be difficult or impossible, other treatments are available.

Medications

  • Topical corticosteroids — Nasal sprays can decrease swelling in your nasal passages
  • Mast cell inhibitors — Nasal sprays can interfere with the chemical reactions leading to histamine release
  • Antihistamines — Block the action of histamine; available as nasal spray, pill or syrup
  • Decongestants — Decrease congestion by constricting blood vessels; taken as pills or as a nasal spray

Immunotherapy

With immunotherapy, your doctor gives you a very small shot of allergens over weeks, months or even years. The goal is to make your body's immune system less sensitive to those allergens. 

Sublingual immunotherapy involves putting the allergic substances under the tongue, rather than using allergy shots.

How To Prevent Allergic Rhinitis

The following strategies may help prevent allergic rhinitis:

  • Stay inside during the morning hours when pollen counts are highest.
  • Avoid outside activities during the time of year when the trees, grasses, weeds or molds are blooming.
  • Keep the windows of your house and car closed to keep pollen out.
  • Use an air conditioner to reduce indoor humidity and to prevent mold and mildew growth.
  • Clean your air conditioner's filters regularly.
  • Consider running an air purifier in your home, especially in your bedroom.
  • Use vacuum cleaners and air conditioners with HEPA filters to trap allergens.
  • Cover pillows and mattresses with vinyl covers to reduce your exposure to dust mites.
  • If you can't avoid having a pet with fur, vacuum frequently and keep your pet out of bedrooms and other rooms with carpets. 

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Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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