Get tips for living with allergic and non-allergic rhinitis.
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Nasal congestion, runny nose, and sneezing? Itching in the nose, roof of the mouth, throat, eyes, or ears? If this sums up your symptoms, you could have rhinitis, a condition in which the lining of the nose becomes inflamed or irritated. More than 50 million Americans have it, too.
Allergic vs. Non-Allergic Rhinitis
There are two types of rhinitis: allergic rhinitis (sometimes called a “sinus allergy”) and non-allergic rhinitis. If you have allergic rhinitis, your body produces IgE (or immunoglobulin E) antibodies to certain substances you are allergic to, called allergens. When you come into contact with these allergens, IgE triggers the allergic reaction and your immune system releases substances called histamine and leukotriene that cause the lining of your nose to become inflamed. “In allergic rhinitis, you can identify IgE antibodies to various proteins,” explains Julie McNairn, MD, an allergist/immunologist in Cincinnati.
An allergist can help identify what allergens are causing your allergic rhinitis by administering skin or blood tests. People who suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis — known as hay fever — may be allergic to trees, grasses, weed pollens, or mold spores that are more common during a particular season of the year. Those who experience symptoms year-round, a condition called “perennial allergic rhinitis,” are usually allergic to dust mites, pet dander, mold spores, or foods.
If your allergist is not able to identify an allergen that is causing your rhinitis, you may have non-allergic rhinitis. One in three people with rhinitis don’t seem to have a specific allergen that triggers the problem. “In non-allergic rhinitis, there are no identifiable IgE antibodies against a specific protein,” says Dr. McNairn, noting that irritants such as cigarette smoke, odors, weather changes, and dust are common culprits for people with non-allergic rhinitis. “Anything that is irritating to the mucus membranes can cause non-allergic rhinitis,” she adds. These irritants are thought to lead to inflammation of the sinuses.
Non-allergic rhinitis can also be caused by long-term use of nasal decongestant sprays. People who have non-allergic rhinitis usually suffer from their symptoms all year long.
Treatment Options for Rhinitis
How you and your doctor decide to treat your rhinitis will depend on your preferences, symptoms, and the cause of your rhinitis. Treatment options for rhinitis are many, and include:
Reducing allergens in your home
Corticosteroid nasal sprays
Ipratropium nasal spray
Allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots)
Living With Rhinitis
“People tend to underestimate just how much of a problem rhinitis is,” says McNairn. Rhinitis contributes to a lot of missed school and work, and those with rhinitis may function poorly in their daily activities because they are probably not sleeping well.
If you have prolonged sneezing, runny nose, or nasal congestion, you should consider seeing an allergist, who can determine if you have rhinitis. If you do, the allergist can identify the allergens — if any — triggering your symptoms and help you find the best way to treat your condition.