Allergic rhinitis, also commonly called hayfever, is the most recognizable type of allergic disease. Exactly like other manifestations of allergic disease, allergic rhinitis involves inflammation. The inflammatory process in the case of allergic rhinitis involves the nasal membranes and nearby areas. Common symptoms include sneezing, nasal itching, runny nose, congestion, itching of the eyes, watery eyes, itching of the throat, and itching of the ears.
What Causes Allergic Rhinitis?
Allergic rhinitis is caused by sensitivity to environmental allergic triggers (see the allergy section for a lengthy discussion of the allergic response and allergic triggers). There are two general types of allergic rhinitis, defined by the triggers to which the individual is sensitive:
- Seasonal allergic rhinitis: Involves seasonal symptoms due to sensitivity to pollens (tree pollens in the spring, grass pollens in the early/mid summer, and weed pollens in the mid summer to early fall).
- Perennial allergic rhinitis: Involves year-round symptoms due to sensitivity to pet dander, molds, and dust mites. It is important to note that many people have both seasonal and perennial sensitivities.
How Do I Know if I Have Allergic Rhinitis?
The presence of the above-described symptoms, along with, in many individuals, seasonal variation in symptoms, strongly suggests that the individual has allergic rhinitis. Further supporting evidence for the diagnosis of allergic rhinitis is relief of symptoms from antihistamines. However, there are many people who have a disease called “non-allergic rhinitis.”
Non-allergic rhinitis involves nasal inflammation and symptoms very similar to allergic rhinitis, but is not caused by true allergic triggers. An example of non-allergic rhinitis is sneezing and nasal irritation after exposure to environmental irritants, such as tobacco smoke and perfume. The best way to determine if an individual has allergic rhinitis is to be seen by an allergist, who will perform a careful history and physical exam, along with allergy testing, if deemed appropriate.
What Are My Treatment Options?
The treatment of allergic rhinitis is broken down into three categories:
- Environmental Control: One of the many benefits of allergy testing is to identify specific allergic triggers. A variety of environmental control measures may then be used that are often very effective.
- Medications: Medications for allergic rhinitis include antihistamines, either by tablet or by nasal spray, and nasally inhaled corticosteroid sprays. Other medications, such as decongestants and antihistamine eye drops may also be used.
- Immunotherapy (Allergy Shots): It is both surprising and fascinating that a treatment method as old as allergy immunotherapy (which was first used before World War I) remains effective. In fact, the best method to achieve long-term symptom control or resolution is allergy shots.
An allergist can help you to use the different treatment options available to best treat your allergic rhinitis.
I Do Not Feel That Bad. Do I Really Need to Be Treated?
Many people have relatively mild symptoms and can go through life with minimum discomfort without very much evaluation or treatment. However, many other people, with symptoms that significantly impair their quality of life, choose to suffer rather than seek appropriate evaluation and treatment. Examples significant quality of life impairments include difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating in school or at work, or socially embarassing symptoms such as sneezing episodes, runny nose, or red eyes.
Another reason why it is important to treat allergic rhinitis is the fact that many illnesses are often associated with allergic rhinitis, such as sinusitis and asthma. The treatment of allergic rhinitis in individuals who have associated illnesses may result in significant improvement in the associated illnesses.