What Is Allergic Rhinitis? Everything You Need to Know
Allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, is an all-too-familiar health problem for those who suffer from allergies. It starts when harmless environmental substances like dust mites and pollen cause the nose to become inflamed, congested, itchy, and runny. It can have long-term implications if left untreated.
Whether it's sneezing fits and sniffles, an itchy nose and watery eyes, or other unpleasant symptoms, this problem affects your daily life.
The good news is that with the proper knowledge, you can combat allergic rhinitis and prevent it from disrupting your life. So, what is allergic rhinitis, and how can you protect yourself from it?
About Allergic Rhinitis
Allergic rhinitis is an inflammation of the nasal passages caused by allergens such as dust mites, pet dander, mold, and pollen. The inflammation occurs when your immune system overreacts to these allergens and releases histamine and other chemicals into your nose.
There are two forms of allergic rhinitis: seasonal and perennial.
Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis
Seasonal allergic rhinitis occurs during certain times of the year when there is a high level of mold spores and pollen in the air. This type of allergic rhinitis usually happens in the spring, summer, and early fall. During this time, most plants, weeds, and grasses release pollen into the air.
Perennial Allergic Rhinitis
Perennial allergic rhinitis is a year-round condition caused by allergens that are always around, no matter the season. These include dust mites, pet dander, and indoor mold. This type of allergic rhinitis can occur even in the winter when the air is dry and cold.
You can experience both forms of allergic rhinitis such that your perennial allergic rhinitis symptoms worsen during the pollen season.
How Common Is Allergic Rhinitis?
Allergic rhinitis is very common in the U.S. and worldwide. According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, 7.7% of the U.S. population, or 19.7 million people, had hay fever in 2022. The affected people include children and adults.
Due to the dry winter season and increased pollen count in warmer seasons, many people suffer from this condition throughout the year.
What Causes Allergic Rhinitis?
The leading cause of allergic rhinitis is the body’s immune response to certain environmental allergens. Allergens are usually harmless, but when a person with allergic rhinitis breathes in an allergen such as pollen, mold, or animal dander, their immune system mistakenly identifies it as a harmful substance.
As a result, the body releases histamine and other chemicals to fight off the allergen. Histamine causes the mucous membranes in your throat, nose, and eyes to become inflamed as it tries to remove the allergen from your body. The chemicals released by your immune system also cause other allergic rhinitis symptoms, such as sneezing, a runny nose, itchy eyes, and congestion.
Besides the usual environmental allergens, food allergies and certain medications can also cause allergic rhinitis. Food allergies can trigger inflammation in the nose, throat, and airways when you consume a particular food that your body is sensitive to.
Other irritants can make your symptoms worse. These include:
- Cleaning products
- Wood smoke
- Cigarette smoke
- Air pollution
- Hair spray
- Exhaust fumes
- Cold temperatures
When exposed to these substances, your body may start releasing histamine and other chemicals into the airways, causing your allergic rhinitis symptoms to worsen.
Who Gets Allergic Rhinitis?
Allergic rhinitis is a common condition that affects both children and adults. It typically starts in childhood and can last into adulthood. Allergies are hereditary, so if you have a family history of allergies, it’s more likely that you or your children will also have allergic rhinitis.
But even if no one in your family is allergic, you can still develop allergic rhinitis.
Allergy-prone people who live in large cities with high levels of air pollution are more likely to develop allergic rhinitis and its associated symptoms. People who work in occupations that expose them to allergens such as dust or animal fur are also at a higher risk.
Signs and Symptoms
If you have allergic rhinitis, you’ll start experiencing cold-like nasal symptoms after exposure to the allergen. An immune system reaction may trigger symptoms such as:
- Stuffy nose due to congestion or blockage
- Itchy nose, eyes, or throat
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Postnasal drip
- Malaise and fatigue due to lack of sleep caused by nasal congestion
- Trouble breathing
- Ear popping and fullness
- Trouble smelling
- Facial pressure or pain
- Sore throat caused by dripping mucus
- Dark circles under the eyes (allergic shiners)
In most cases, the symptoms of allergic rhinitis are mild and can start immediately after exposure to the allergen. However, some symptoms might be severe, interfering with sleep and daily activities. While allergic rhinitis symptoms improve with time, some may last until the allergen is removed from your environment.
Your hay fever symptoms may be worse if you have allergic asthma. Allergic asthma refers to asthma symptoms triggered by allergies.
If you’re experiencing severe allergic rhinitis symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. Your doctor can provide an accurate diagnosis and create a personalized treatment plan to help relieve your symptoms.
When to See a Doctor
Most cases of allergic rhinitis can be treated successfully with over-the-counter (OTC) medications. However, if these medications don't reduce the severity and frequency of your symptoms, it's a good idea to see your doctor for help. You should also seek medical attention if:
- The allergic rhinitis symptoms interfere with your daily activities and quality of sleep, affecting your work and school life.
- The allergy symptoms are severe, causing problems like difficulty breathing, and chest pain.
- You're not sure what is triggering your symptoms.
- You have asthma or eczema, and the symptoms are getting worse.
Your doctor will examine you further to determine the underlying cause of your allergic rhinitis and create a personalized treatment plan to relieve symptoms.
How Is Allergic Rhinitis Diagnosed?
Your doctor will diagnose you with allergic rhinitis if your signs and symptoms align with what's typically seen with this condition. They will ask about your medical, family, and allergy history, environmental exposures, and lifestyle habits. They may also do a physical examination and ask about your symptoms.
The doctor may also ask you or examine you to determine whether you have underlying conditions that may be causing or worsening your symptoms, such as a deviated nasal septum or nasal polyps. Nasal polyps are small, noncancerous growths that can form inside your nose and sinuses. The condition can complicate the diagnosis and management of allergic rhinitis.
Your doctor may also order allergy tests to confirm an allergic rhinitis diagnosis and help determine which allergens are causing your symptoms. The test can be a skin prick or an at-home allergy test. Below are the details of each test:
Skin Prick Test
This is the old-fashioned way of testing for allergies, requiring you to appear at your doctor's office. Going to the doctor for skin prick testing can be time-consuming and uncomfortable. The doctor will use a needle containing different allergens to prick or scrape the skin.
They'll then monitor the pricked area for signs of irritation, such as redness, swelling, and itching. If you have an allergy, you'll develop hives or red bumps at the site where the allergen was placed. This experience is unpleasant as the bumps can be itchy and uncomfortable.
At-Home Allergy Test
Fortunately, an at-home test is an alternative solution to avoid the unpleasantness and discomfort of skin-prick testing. You can complete Wyndly's at-home allergy test and receive an accurate diagnosis without leaving the comfort of your own home.
- Place an online order for Wyndly's at-home test kit. Our kits are CLIA-certified, and we will deliver them to your home.
- Take an allergy test and mail it back to Wyndly. The test involves a quick finger prick to draw a blood sample that you will send back to us enclosed in the given envelope.
- Receive your allergy profile. Our allergy doctors will interpret your test results, create your allergy profile, and develop a personalized treatment plan.
Wyndly's at-home allergy test helps you get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan with minimal effort. We can test for more than 40 of the most common indoor and outdoor allergens.
Prevention of Allergic Rhinitis
One of the best ways to manage allergic rhinitis is to try and prevent it in the first place. If you know what triggers your allergies, you can plan ahead and take steps to limit exposure to the allergens as much as possible.
Here are some measures you can take to reduce your exposure to allergens:
- Limit outdoor activities: Use an app to check your area's pollen count daily. If the app shows a high pollen count, you should limit your time outdoors to reduce exposure.
- Wear a face mask: If you have to go out during peak pollen season, wearing a face mask can help reduce the number of allergens that enter your nose and mouth. You can also put on sunglasses to protect your eyes.
- Mainly go out in the evening: Try to go outdoors in the late afternoon or evening when pollen levels are lower.
- Use dust mite-proof bedding: Dust mites are one of the most common triggers of allergic rhinitis, so it's crucial to encase mattresses and pillows in dust mite-proof covers. You should also wash your bedding in hot water at least once a week to reduce the number of dust mites in your home.
- Keep your windows closed: Pollen can easily enter your home through open windows, so it's best to keep them closed in the spring and summer months. You should also use an air conditioner rather than a fan because fans can stir up existing indoor pollen.
- Shower and change clothes frequently: After spending time outdoors, it's important to shower and change your clothes as soon as possible to reduce allergen exposure. Taking a hot shower will remove pollen from your skin and hair. You should also wash your clothes frequently to remove any allergens that have accumulated on them.
- Regularly clean your house: Regular cleaning can reduce allergens like pollen, mold, pet dander, and dust mites. Vacuum the floors frequently with a HEPA filter vacuum, and use a damp cloth to dust surfaces.
- Change air filters regularly: To ensure that the indoor air is free from allergens, replace air filters every few months, or opt for HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters that can trap most airborne particles.
- Keep your home's humidity level low: High humidity levels can increase mold in the air, so it's essential to keep your home moisture-free. You can use a dehumidifier to reduce indoor humidity. Make sure you regularly check for any signs of mold and mildew on the walls or floors and hire professionals who offer mold removal services to eliminate these allergens in your house.
- Manage pets: If you have a pet in your home, it's important to bathe and groom them regularly. Pet fur can carry allergens, so take extra precautions like washing their bedding often. Keep cats or dogs out of your bedroom if they trigger your allergies.
- Avoid touching your eyes and nose: Allergens can easily enter your body through your eyes and nose, so keeping your hands away from these areas is essential. This measure is especially vital if you touch pet fur, plants, or other surfaces carrying allergens.
Treatment of Allergic Rhinitis
If limiting exposure to allergens isn't enough to reduce your symptoms, treating allergic rhinitis may require medications or sublingual immunotherapy. Below are the details about these treatment options:
You can use either OTC medications for mild allergic rhinitis or prescription medications for more severe cases. Some of the medicines that can relieve your allergic rhinitis symptoms include:
- Antihistamines: Antihistamines can block histamine to relieve your allergic rhinitis symptoms. You can use antihistamine nasal sprays, pills, or eye drops. Antihistamines can cause drowsiness and mouth dryness, so they're best taken at night before bedtime.
- Decongestants: Decongestants relieve nasal congestion and other symptoms of allergic rhinitis. OTC decongestant nasal sprays and oral decongestants are available, but you should only use them for up to three days. Decongestants can cause side effects such as increased heart rate and nervousness, so it's best to consult your doctor before using them.
- Corticosteroid Nasal Sprays: Corticosteroid nasal sprays, also known as steroid nasal sprays, can reduce inflammation in your airways and provide long-term relief from allergic rhinitis symptoms such as an itchy nose. They reduce your nasal tissue's reaction to the inhaled allergen, reducing swelling and stuffiness. However, they can cause side effects like nasal irritation and headache, so it's best to speak to your doctor before using them.
The medication you use will depend on the severity of your symptoms and how well you respond to medications. Your doctor can advise you on which medication is best for you. Once you find the appropriate option, follow the instructions closely for the best results.
Sublingual Immunotherapy Treatment
Sublingual immunotherapy is the best treatment option if you're looking for long-term relief from allergic rhinitis. It exposes your immune system to small doses of the allergens that trigger your allergic reactions by placing a tablet or drops of the allergen solution under your tongue daily. Over time, your body becomes desensitized to the allergens.
Once you're fully desensitized, you will no longer react to the allergens. Sublingual immunotherapy builds up the body's tolerance by altering your immune system's response to the allergen over time.
Sublingual immunotherapy differs from allergy shots in that it doesn't involve injections. In the latter, the doctor administers a series of shots using a small allergen amount and keeps increasing the allergen amount until your immune system stops reacting. Compared to allergy shots, sublingual immunotherapy is a more convenient and pain-free option since you complete the treatment in the comfort of your home.
Take Our Allergy Assessment
If you feel it's time to find long-term relief from allergic rhinitis, let our allergy doctors at Wyndly help you. The doctors will work with you to create a customized, clinically-proven treatment plan to reduce your allergic reactions.
Take our online assessment today to get started on the right path to feeling better and saying goodbye to allergies.