Have you ever felt as if you were experiencing allergy-like symptoms, but weren't sure why? If so, vasomotor rhinitis may be to blame. This article will explain the condition in more detail, including its prevalence, causes, and symptoms. It will also outline the best treatment options available to find relief.
What Is Non-Allergic Rhinitis (Vasomotor Rhinitis)?
Vasomotor rhinitis is a type of allergy in which symptoms are local to the nose and of an unknown cause. The condition is known to cause things like persistent sneezing, nasal congestion, runny nose, and postnasal drip.
When exposed to irritants, the nose's blood vessels swell to try to block out the foreign particles. This causes congestion and other related symptoms.
Vasomotor rhinitis isn't attributable to a single cause. Unlike traditional allergies, which may be triggered by recognizable things like pollen, dust, pet dander, or mold, this condition is not as easily pinpointed. It can be caused by environmental irritants, or even fluctuations in temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure. Symptoms are chronic and may last anywhere between a few days to multiple weeks.
Vasomotor rhinitis is often referred to as non-allergic rhinitis but does involve the same parts of the body as traditional allergic reactions. The biggest distinctions are that this condition is not caused by a single identifiable allergen, and it does not produce reactions like the classic hives or skin rashes associated with allergies. It can still be very disruptive and uncomfortable.
Who Gets Vasomotor Rhinitis?
Anyone can develop vasomotor rhinitis, no matter their age or gender. However, it is far more common in adults than in children and tends to affect women more. People are usually diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 60 years old.
It's thought that women and people assigned female at birth are more susceptible to developing vasomotor rhinitis due to natural changes in hormones that occur during pregnancy, menstruation, birth control use, and in cases of hypothyroidism.
Conditions like asthma and eczema may put an individual at higher risk of developing the condition, as well as a genetic history of allergic diseases. There are also predisposing factors to vasomotor rhinitis such as atopy, which puts individuals at a higher risk of developing this condition.
How Common Is Vasomotor Rhinitis?
It's estimated that forms of nonallergic rhinitis like vasomotor rhinitis account for as much as half of allergy cases. Some people experience this condition in addition to traditional allergies, but it can also exist independently and without a known cause or predisposition.
It isn't clear why some people are more prone to vasomotor rhinitis than others, or if certain areas of the world have higher rates of occurrence. It may have something to do with regional climate and weather, or it could be the result of different levels of air pollution or dust. What we do know, however, is that this form of nonallergic rhinitis affects a large portion of the population and can be very disruptive to one's day-to-day life.
What Causes Vasomotor Rhinitis?
The trouble with vasomotor rhinitis is that it doesn't really have a definite cause. The condition is considered a type of non-allergic rhinitis, which means that, unlike conventional pollen, pet dander, or dust allergies, there's no specific allergen responsible for its occurrence.
Instead, a variety of factors can go into triggering its symptoms, ranging from environmental irritants to changes in weather and even certain medications. The most common causes of vasomotor rhinitis are listed below.
Changes in Humidity and Temperature
Sudden changes in temperature and humidity can cause the tiny blood vessels in the nose to expand, leading to congestion and other symptoms. This is why many people with the condition tend to feel worse during the summer months when humidity levels are high.
Certain medications can provoke nonallergic rhinitis, including aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, etc), and medications for high blood pressure like beta blockers. Some people also experience symptoms when taking sedatives, antidepressants, or oral contraceptives. While the reasons for this are varied, it generally comes down to the effect the medications have on hormones or blood vessels in the nasal passages.
Consuming alcohol can lead to the widening of certain blood vessels — including in the nose. This can cause inflammation and other symptoms of nonallergic rhinitis.
Changes in hormone levels, such as during pregnancy or menopause, can also lead to nonallergic rhinitis. This is because hormones play a large role in how the body responds to various environmental changes, including temperature and humidity.
Eating spicy foods can also trigger vasomotor rhinitis. This is because the intense flavorings in many spices, such as garlic and peppers, can cause the nose's blood vessels to dilate, leading to a chain reaction of symptoms.
Exposure to Chemical Irritants
The presence of strong chemical fumes, such as those released by paint and perfumes, has been linked to the onset of vasomotor rhinitis. It can also make existing symptoms worse.
Exposure to Smoke
Smoking (or being exposed to second-hand smoke) is known to irritate the membranes in the nose, leading to inflammation and congestion.
Exposure to Pollution
Exposure to air pollution or other forms of environmental toxins can cause inflammation and irritation in the nose. This is especially true in urban areas with high concentrations of air pollution.
What Are Vasomotor Rhinitis Symptoms?
Vasomotor rhinitis generally presents itself as a set of symptoms localized to the nose and sinuses. They can range from mild to severe and have the potential to impact one's day-to-day life in several ways. Symptoms are also chronic and capable of lasting multiple weeks.
Common symptoms of vasomotor rhinitis include:
Itching of the skin inside and around the nose is one of the most recognizable symptoms of vasomotor rhinitis. It is often described as intense, persistent itchiness.
A runny nose, or rhinorrhea, is a common symptom of vasomotor rhinitis. It can be caused by both the nasal mucous membranes' swelling and excessive mucus production. A runny nose may lead to a blocked or congested feeling in the nose.
Sneezing from vasomotor rhinitis can range from occasional to frequent sneezing fits. It can be triggered by environmental irritants and is often accompanied by a runny nose.
Post-nasal drip is a condition where mucus drips in the back of the throat. It is caused by the inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the nose. The mucus produced is usually thin and watery, but can also be thick and yellowish-green.
Nasal Congestion and Stuffy Nose
When irritants are in the air, the nose's blood vessels become inflamed and swell up; this is known as vasoconstriction. This can lead to congestion and a stuffy nose, making breathing difficult.
Lost Sense of Smell
The same vasoconstriction that causes congestion and post-nasal drip can also lead to a loss of smell or difficulty in smelling. This can cause food to taste different or for certain smells to be undetectable.
Is Vasomotor Rhinitis Contagious?
No, vasomotor rhinitis is an allergic reaction to certain irritants, causing symptoms like congestion, sneezing, and a runny nose. While this may mimic a head cold, it isn't driven by an actual infection. Rather, symptoms are a reflection of the body's immune system overreacting to an environmental factor.
Vasomotor rhinitis can't be passed on through physical contact. It is, however, possible for a person to develop vasomotor rhinitis in response to an irritant that someone else is already exposed to. For instance, if one person in a room is suffering from the condition due to a specific trigger, others nearby may start to exhibit the same symptoms because the irritant is still present.
When to See a Doctor
Fortunately, vasomotor rhinitis is a non-life-threatening condition. In most cases, people with it will face ongoing symptoms that affect their quality of life, but won’t be at risk for any further medical complications.
That said, it is important to make sure that you get properly diagnosed if you have ongoing or extreme nasal symptoms. This is because some of the same local symptoms can be attributed to more serious issues like sinus infections, conditions of the ear and throat, or immunodeficiency diseases.
If you think that your nasal symptoms may not be related to vasomotor rhinitis, it's best to make an appointment with your doctor right away. They will be able to evaluate your condition and make a proper diagnosis.
To diagnose vasomotor rhinitis, your doctor may do a physical examination of your nasal passages and take a medical history. They may also suggest taking a skin prick test or an at-home allergy test to look for any allergies that could be causing your symptoms. Depending on their findings, they may also order imaging tests to look for any signs of infection or inflammation in your sinuses.
The most effective way of taking precautions against any type of rhinitis is by avoiding exposure to known irritants. The challenge, in this case, is that the irritants that cause vasomotor rhinitis can vary greatly from person to person, making it difficult to predict what will affect you.
Consider the best practices below to reduce your risk of developing symptoms:
Avoid Environmental Triggers
Take the time to identify any environmental factors that could be affecting your symptoms. Pay special attention to changes in temperature or humidity, dust or smoke in the air, and even perfumes or chemicals. Keeping your home clean and free of dust is a useful preventive measure, as is investing in an air purifier to help filter the air.
If you're a smoker, consider quitting. Smoking has been linked to worsening symptoms of vasomotor rhinitis. Reducing your smoking habit can still have a positive effect on your symptoms.
Avoid Spicy Foods
Reduce your intake of hot peppers, mustard, and other spicy ingredients as they can act as dietary triggers for vasomotor rhinitis. If you find yourself particularly sensitive to these foods, try swapping them out completely with milder alternatives like garlic, oregano, and basil.
Wear a Mask
Wearing a mask can be an effective way of protecting yourself from certain irritants. This is especially useful if you have to go outdoors on windy or cold days, or if you're exposed to certain chemicals or smoke. Make sure the mask fits properly and is made of a material that won't irritate your skin.
Staying hydrated is also important in preventing or reducing the symptoms of vasomotor rhinitis. Drinking plenty of water helps keep your nasal passages moist, which can help reduce inflammation and irritation. Aim to drink at least 8-10 glasses of water a day if possible.
Stress can be a major contributing factor to vasomotor rhinitis. Stress hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine, have the potential to make the symptoms worse. Therefore, it's important to find ways to manage your stress and anxiety.
It's also just as important to make sure you get enough sleep and practice healthy lifestyle habits.
Vasomotor rhinitis is a chronic condition, which means that it can be difficult to completely cure. The good news is that there are many treatments available that can help reduce the symptoms.
Most cases of vasomotor rhinitis can be managed with a combination of medications, such as antihistamines or decongestants. These medications are designed to reduce inflammation and irritation in the nasal passages.
In some cases, steroids or corticosteroid nasal sprays may also be prescribed to reduce inflammation. These require a trip to your doctor and should only be used for short-term relief.
Nasal irrigation is a technique that involves using a saline solution to flush out allergens, irritants, and excess mucus from your nasal passages. This can provide relief from symptoms such as congestion and post-nasal drip.
If you have specific seasonal or environmental allergens you are allergic to, allergy shots, or immunotherapy, may help. Allergy shots involve the administration of injections containing small amounts of the allergen that triggers your symptoms. Over time, this can help desensitize your body and reduce the severity of your symptoms.
Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT)
Sublingual immunotherapy is a similar treatment to allergy shots, but instead of being injected, the allergen is administered under the tongue in the form of allergy drops or tablets. This allows the allergen to be absorbed directly into your bloodstream and can help reduce your sensitivity to it over time. Unlike allergy shots that require frequent trips to the doctor’s office, sublingual immunotherapy can be safely taken from the comfort of your home.
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