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What Is Allergic Rhinitis?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Allergic rhinitis is an irritation of the nasal passages caused by exposure to an allergen. You may also hear allergic rhinitis referred to as “hay fever” or simply “allergies,” and it is a very common health problem around the world. There are a variety of ways to treat and cope with allergic rhinitis, ranging from using prescription medications to suppress immune response to allergens to using acupuncture in allergy treatment.

This condition is caused by an aggressive immune system response in the nasal passages, triggered by the inhalation of pollen, chemicals, and other potential allergens. The nasal passages become irritated and swollen, and the patient experiences sneezing, a runny nose, watery eyes, an itchy face, fatigue, and sometimes difficulty breathing. Once the immune response abates, the symptoms of rhinitis fade away as well.

There are two kinds of allergic rhinitis: perennial and seasonal. Seasonal rhinitis usually occurs in the late spring and summer, when numerous plants are putting out pollen, increasing the load of allergens in the air. Perennial rhinitis is caused by consistent exposure to allergens such as household cleaners, pet dander, and so forth. Some people who suffer from rhinitis also experience sinusitis, as their clogged and inflamed sinuses become irritated and infected.

One of the most basic treatments for the condition is avoiding the allergen. When this isn't an option, antihistamines can be used to mitigate the allergic reaction, and prescription allergy drugs can also help. Nasal irrigation seems to relieve allergic rhinitis, and the use of nasal sprays can decrease the amount of irritation and increase comfort for the patient. The condition can also be treated with acupuncture.

Carrying a handkerchief during a bout of allergic rhinitis is a good idea, as blowing your nose will help to clear out your nasal passages and reduce irritation. For people with extremely runny noses, nasal irritation will also help to cut down on the amount of mucus produced, at least for a short period of time. Nasal irrigation can be used before a meeting, lecture, or any other important event so that the allergy sufferer does not have to sniffle and snort through the event.

Some people wear masks in environments where allergens are present to reduce the number of allergens inhaled. The condition can also sometimes be prevented with the use of allergy shots, a series of shots which desensitize the body to allergens. However, allergy shots are not available for all allergens, and they are also not always advisable. A doctor may need to evaluate a patient's individual case to make the best decision about allergy shots.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon940018 — On Mar 17, 2014

Try homeopathic treatment. It works for some, depending on what type of allergy they have. It's worth trying rather than living with this irritation.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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