What is allergic rhinitis?

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Allergic rhinitis is a common condition, estimated to affect between 30 and 60 million people in the US. People of all ages can be affected by allergic rhinitis. Many people don’t seek medical attention as they feel allergic rhinitis symptoms are just one of life’s annoyances.

Some people may only experience mild symptoms and find them reasonably easy to manage. But for others, we know allergic rhinitis can be more than a nuisance. It can have quite an impact on your day to day life.

So what is allergic rhinitis exactly?

Allergic rhinitis is defined as an inflammation of the lining of the nose. Basically, the symptoms are very similar to a common cold. The difference is that allergic rhinitis symptoms are not caused by a virus but are triggered by an allergic reaction. Your immune system is overreacting to a substance that’s normally harmless, trying to get rid of the supposed intruder. The triggers causing the reaction are called allergens.

Allergic rhinitis symptoms

Allergic rhinitis typically causes symptoms such as:

  • A congested or stuffy nose
  • A runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • An itchy nose
  • Post-nasal drip (the feeling of mucus moving down the back of your throat)

Often, you might also experience associated symptoms such as:

  • Itchy, red or watery eyes
  • Cough
  • Tight chest or wheezing
  • Sinus inflammation/pain

More than just sneezing

It’s increasingly recognized that the symptoms of allergic rhinitis are more than the standard symptoms of sneezing and a blocked nose. Living with allergic rhinitis can have an impact on how you function in your everyday life.

Allergic rhinitis symptoms may cause you to have problems with sleeping, either losing sleep or having your sleep disturbed. Having allergic rhinitis can affect how you feel during the day and how well you are able to concentrate at work or school. It can cause you to feel tired and experience mood changes. In some people, allergic rhinitis may contribute to depression and anxiety.

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What causes allergic rhinitis?

Common allergens that can trigger allergic rhinitis are:

  • Pollen
  • House dust mites
  • Pet dander
  • Mold spores

Allergic rhinitis triggered by pollen

Plants such as trees, weeds and grasses produce pollen that’s carried by the wind. Airborne pollen usually appears as a fine dust and it’s this type of pollen that can trigger allergic rhinitis. When it’s triggered by pollen allergy, allergic rhinitis is commonly called hay fever. Weather and temperature can affect how much pollen is carried in the air.

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What is dust mite allergy?

Hot, dry, breezy days are more likely to have a higher level of pollen. Cool, damp, rainy days usually means there is less pollen in the air. The waxier pollen from flowers which is carried by insects for pollination, doesn’t usually trigger allergic rhinitis.

Allergic rhinitis triggered by dust mites

House dust mites are tiny creatures that thrive in humid conditions. They live in all our homes.Because they feed on our dead skin particles, they especially love our bedrooms favoring mattresses, pillows and bed linen. But you can also find them in carpets, soft furnishings, curtains and soft toys. The mites themselves don’t cause allergic rhinitis, it’s what they leave behind. We’re talking about their poop and particles of their shed skin.

Allergic rhinitis triggered by mold

Allergic rhinitis can be caused by spores from mold and fungi especially as spores are widespread in the air we breathe. Spores come from rotting organic matter and their development is increased in warm and humid conditions.

Allergic rhinitis triggered by pet dander

Animals such as cats and dogs produce allergens that can cause allergic rhinitis symptoms. The allergic reaction is triggered by their dander, which is flakes of their dead skin, their fur or hair, but also their urine and saliva. Pet dander can move around in the air and it also sticks to our clothing and upholstered furnishings.

Genetic tendency of allergic rhinitis

Oh, and allergic rhinitis often runs in families, but this isn’t a golden rule. It can mean you may have inherited the tendency towards having allergy.

Seasonal, perennial, intermittent or persistent allergic rhinitis – What’s all that about?

Allergic rhinitis is often broken down into different types depending on the time of year you experience the symptoms.

Seasonal allergic rhinitis

This means you have symptoms at certain times of the year. Your symptoms are caused by seasonal factors such as pollen or molds.

Perennial allergic rhinitis

This means you’ve got symptoms all year round. Your symptoms are caused by indoor allergens such as dust mites, mold or pet dander.

However, this division is not always appropriate. In some regions of the world certain pollen types can be present all year. And since we like to travel, exposure is possible outside the pollen seasons at home. Then your allergy doesn’t feel very seasonal. And the amount of house dust mites can vary depending on the weather. In some dryer climates, you can get a welcome break from your symptoms of house dust mite allergy during the dry summer months. If you’re lucky enough to live in a very dry climate, you might not feel affected by your allergic rhinitis symptoms all the time.

That’s why there’s another pair of definitions:

Intermittent allergic rhinitis

This means you only have symptoms at certain times of the year, less than four days a week for less than four weeks in a row.

Persistent allergic rhinitis

This is when you have symptoms for more than four days per week and for longer than four weeks in a row. Some people might even feel affected every single day.

The different types of allergic rhinitis can then be classified further as mild or moderate/severe.

Allergy testing to pinpoint triggers

Knowing what causes your allergic rhinitis is key to knowing how to manage your symptoms. Your health care provider might be able to diagnose allergic rhinitis based on your symptoms and your medical history. But if the exact cause isn’t clear, you may be referred for allergy testing.

How to manage allergic rhinitis

When you know what your triggers are, there are three main ways of managing your allergic rhinitis. You can try to avoid the substances that trigger your symptoms. You can take medication to relieve your symptoms. And ultimately, there are specialist treatments such as allergy immunotherapy. You can mix and match these options to find the combination that works for you.

Avoiding allergens to reduce the effect of allergic rhinitis

One way to lessen the effects of allergic rhinitis is to try to avoid the substance that causes it. We know that avoidance is not always an easy task. And some allergens are easier to avoid than others of course. When it’s not possible to avoid an allergen altogether, we’ve got a few suggestions you can try to help reduce your contact with it:

Three simple tips for managing allergic rhinitis caused by pollen

  1. Keep windows and doors closed when pollen levels are high – keep an eye on the pollen forecast.
  2. Wash your hair before going to bed to help keep your bedroom a no pollen zone.
  3. Don’t dry your laundry outside or you could be taking pollen indoors with the fresh laundry.
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Three simple tips for managing allergic rhinitis caused by house dust mites

  1. Wash bed linen at 120F every week – dust mites love your bed.
  2. Use mite-proof covers on your pillows and duvet - stopping dust mites from setting up camp.
  3. Invest in a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA-filter – keeping those dust mites inside the vacuum bag.

Three simple tips for managing allergic rhinitis caused by mold

  1. Keep the air fresh in your home – open windows and let the air circulate.
  2. Thoroughly clean your kitchen, bathroom and other areas where there can be moisture.
  3. Dry your clothes outside or use the tumble dryer to keep humidity levels down.

Three simple tips for managing allergic rhinitis caused by pet dander

  1. Avoid contact with the animal causing your reaction – we know that might be a tough one.
  2. As a minimum keep the pet out of the main living areas and your bedroom.
  3. Use HEPA-filter air cleaners – filtering pet dander out of the air.

Symptom relief for allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis treatment often involves antihistamines, corticosteroids, decongestants or a combination of these. There are several different types, such as tablets, eye drops and nasal sprays. Some forms or types might work better for you than others. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for the right symptom relief for your allergic rhinitis.

Allergy immunotherapy treatment for allergic rhinitis

If you have severe allergic rhinitis then your health care provider might discuss allergy immunotherapy with you. During immunotherapy treatment, you are given repeated tiny doses of an allergen. Immunotherapy aims to teach your immune system to get used to the allergen, so that when you encounter it as part of your daily life, you’ll have a much milder reaction to it. Allergy immunotherapy treatment can modify your allergy and reduce your need for symptom-relieving medicines.

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