What is allergic rhinitis?
An allergen is a normally harmless substance that causes an
allergic reaction. Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, is an allergic response to
specific allergens. Pollen is the most common allergen.
Nearly 8 percent
of adults in the United States experience allergic rhinitis of some kind,
according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). Between
10 to 30 percent of the worldwide population may also have allergic rhinitis. Learn
more about this condition.
Symptoms of allergic rhinitis
Common symptoms of allergic rhinitis include:
- a runny nose
- a stuffy nose
- an itchy nose
- a sore or scratchy throat
- itchy eyes
- watery eyes
- dark circles under the eyes
- frequent headaches
- eczema-type symptoms, such as having extremely
dry, itchy skin that often blisters
- excessive fatigue
You’ll usually feel one or more of these symptoms
immediately after coming into contact with an allergen. Some symptoms, such as
recurrent headaches and fatigue, may only happen after long-term exposure to
allergens. Fever isn’t a symptom of hay fever.
Some people experience symptoms only rarely. This is highly
likely when you’re exposed to allergens in large quantities. Other people
experience symptoms all year long. Talk to your doctor about possible allergies
if your symptoms last for more than a few weeks and don’t seem to be improving.
What causes allergic rhinitis?
When your body comes into contact with an allergen, it
releases histamine, which is a natural chemical that defends your body from the
allergen. This chemical causes allergic rhinitis and its symptoms, including a
runny nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes.
In addition to pollen, other common causes include:
- animal dander, which is old skin
- cat saliva
During certain times of the year, pollen can be especially
problematic. Tree and flower pollens are more common in the spring. Grasses and
weeds produce more pollen in the summer and fall.
What are the types of allergic rhinitis
The two types of allergic rhinitis are seasonal and
perennial, which lasts all year. Pollen-based allergies are usually seasonal.
Perennial allergies usually occur due to sensitivity to dust mites,
cockroaches, or animal dander. It’s possible to be in constant contact with all
of these allergens on a daily basis. This is especially true if you have a dog
or pests in your home.
Risk factors for allergic rhinitis
Allergies can affect anyone, but you’re more likely to
develop allergic rhinitis if your family has a history of allergies.
Some external factors can trigger or worsen this condition, including:
- cigarette smoke
- cold temperatures
- air pollution
- wood smoke
How is allergic rhinitis diagnosed?
If you have minor allergies, you’ll probably only need a
physical exam. However, your doctor may perform certain tests to figure out the
best treatment and prevention plan for you.
A skin prick test is one of the most common. Your doctor
places several substances onto your skin to see how your body reacts to each
one. Usually, a small red bump appears if you’re allergic to a substance.
A blood test, or radioallergosorbent test (RAST), is also
common. The RAST measures the amount of immunoglobulin E antibodies to particular
allergens in your blood.
Treatments for allergic rhinitis
You can treat your allergic rhinitis in several ways.
You can take antihistamines to treat allergies. They
work by stopping your body from making histamine.
Some popular over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines include:
Talk to your doctor before starting a new medication. Make
sure that a new allergy medication won’t interfere with other medications or
You can use decongestants over a short period to relieve a stuffy
nose and sinus pressure. Popular OTC decongestants include:
If you have high blood pressure or a genitourinary disease,
speak with your doctor before using a decongestant.
Eye drops and nasal sprays
Eye drops and nasal sprays can help relieve itchiness and
other allergy-related symptoms for a short time. However, you should avoid
long-term use of these products.
Overusing eye drops can cause a rebound effect. This means
that, when you stop using them after a long period, your symptoms will be worse
than before you started using eye drops.
Overusing nasal spray can cause a yeast infection to occur
in the back of your nose. It can also create a hole in your nasal septum.
Corticosteroids can also help with inflammation or immune
responses. These steroids are usually available as injections, creams, or eye
Your doctor may recommend immunotherapy, or allergy shots,
if you have severe allergies. You can use this treatment plan in conjunction
with medications to control your symptoms. These shots decrease your immune
response to particular allergens over time.
An allergy shot regimen begins with a buildup phase. During
this phase, you’ll go to your allergist for a shot one to three times per week
for about three to six months to let your body get used to the allergen in the
During the maintenance phase, you should see your allergist
for shots about once per month over the course of three to five years. You may
not notice a change until over a year after the maintenance phase begins. Once
you reach this point, it’s possible that your allergy symptoms will fade or disappear
Some people experience severe allergic reactions to an
allergen in their shot. Many allergists ask you to wait in the office for 30 to
45 minutes after a shot to ensure that you don’t have an intense or
life-threatening response to it.
Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT)
SLIT involves placing a tablet containing a mixture of
several allergens under your tongue. It works similarly to allergy shots. You
can take SLIT treatments, such as Oralair, at home after an initial
consultation with your doctor.
Possible side effects include itching in the mouth or ear
and throat irritation. In rare cases, SLIT treatments can cause anaphylaxis. Talk to your
doctor about SLIT to see if your allergies will respond to this treatment.
Home remedies will depend on your allergens. If you have
seasonal or pollen allergies, you can try using an air conditioner instead of
opening your windows. If possible, add a filter designed for allergies.
Using a dehumidifier or a high-efficiency particulate air
(HEPA) filter can help you control your allergies while indoors. If you’re
allergic to dust mites, wash your sheets and blankets in hot water that’s above
130°F (54.4°C). Adding a HEPA filter to your vacuum and vacuuming weekly may
Allergic rhinitis in children
Children can develop allergic rhinitis, and it typically
appears before the age of 10. If you notice that your child develops cold-like
symptoms at the same time each year, they probably have allergic rhinitis.
The symptoms in children are similar to those in adults.
Children usually develop watery, bloodshot eyes, which is called allergic
conjunctivitis. If you notice wheezing or shortness of breath in addition to
other symptoms, your child may have also developed asthma.
Limit your child’s exposure to allergens by keeping them
inside and washing their clothes and sheets frequently during allergy season.
Many antihistamines, decongestants, and corticosteroids are available to help
your child’s allergies. However, some antihistamines can cause drowsiness or
hyperactivity in your child, even in small doses.
The outcome of treatment depends on your condition. Seasonal
allergic rhinitis usually isn’t severe, and you can manage it well with
medications. However, severe forms of this condition will likely require
The best way to prevent allergy symptoms is to manage your
allergies before your body has a chance to respond to substances adversely. The
recommends starting medications before seasonal allergy attacks. For example,
if you’re sensitive to tree pollen in the spring, you may want to start taking
antihistamines before an allergic reaction has the chance to occur.