Rhinitis is a type of illness that affects about 50 million people in the United States. It is an inflammation of the mucous membranes in the inner lining of the nose, but it can affect the eyes, nose and throat. It occurs when allergens, or airborne particles, cause the body to release histamines, which cause both fluid production and inflammation in the nose. Rhinitis can be caused by pollen, mold, dust mites, smoke, changes in the atmosphere, and fumes and odors.
There are two types of rhinitis, and they often have similar symptoms. Allergic rhinitis is a type of infection that occurs seasonally or perennially, often when there are high levels of pollen. People who suffer from other conditions, such as asthma, also may get allergic rhinitis or vice versa. When rhinitis is caused by plant pollen, it is generally called hay fever. Non-allergic rhinitis also is caused by environmental factors, but it manifests as a blocked nasal passage or overgrowths in the lining of the nose or sinuses called polyps. Some of the common symptoms for both types of rhinitis include sneezing, congestion, runny nose and an itchy nose, throat, eyes and ears.
There are other symptoms that can result from rhinitis that are less common. These include a postnasal drip, which is when mucous builds up in the throat; fatigue; headaches; wheezing; eye tearing; sore throat; loss of the ability to smell; pale linings in the nose, caused by enlarged veins; swelling of the eyelids; injected sclerae, which is when the whites of the eyes turn red; and allergic shiners, which is when darker areas appear under the eyes. A chronic cough also can develop because of the postnasal drip.
For allergic rhinitis, the symptoms often manifest in the eyes and nose shortly after people are exposed to dust, animal dander and pollen. According to the USA Today website Health Encyclopedia, about 30 percent of people show signs of rhinitis, especially allergic rhinitis, before they reach age 30, but symptoms can appear at any time. Boys under 10 are twice as likely to have symptoms as girls the same age, but anyone can get rhinitis. There is a greater chance that a child with one or both parents with rhinitis also will have it. For children, some of the symptoms, which are similar to a cold, can keep them out of school, especially if they persist for long periods of time.
It is important for people who are experiencing hay fever symptoms to go to physicians so that they can find out which allergen is causing them problems. Doctors generally will ask about a patient’s history to get a sense of when the symptoms started or became worse. If someone experiences a runny nose and congestion after they mow the lawn, it is likely that allergens in grass are responsible for their reactions. Sometimes allergens can be difficult to pinpoint, so doctors may have to perform skin testing. One method involves putting substances on a patient’s skin and then scratching the skin with a needle. Another method entails injecting allergens into the skin, which has been found to be a more definitive way to find the source of allergies.
The most important way to get rid of the symptoms of rhinitis is for sufferers to change their behaviors and environment. If they tend to get rhinitis from mold or dust, they could take measures to reduce dust in their homes by covering pillows and mattresses with plastic covers, using synthetic materials such as foam mattresses instead of those made with animal products, and getting rid of household appliances and products that collect dust, such as drapes and bedspreads. People who are allergic to pollen can avoid doing activities, such as gardening and mowing, during which they would be exposed to pollen for long periods of time. Sometimes avoidance may not be possible because people may live in areas where there are high levels of allergens, so they may have to get medical treatments.
There are a number of medical treatments to alleviate the symptoms of rhinitis, including antihistamines, decongestants and allergy shots. Antihistamines often are given to people who have symptoms for short periods of time, such as allergy seasons, and they work to stop people from having runny noses and sneezing by countering the effects of histamines. Decongestants are used to help stop nasal congestion, often in the form of nasal sprays, and they usually are used for no more than three days. They work by shrinking blood vessels and allowing air to flow through the nose. Allergy shots are generally given only to those who live in areas with high levels of allergens and whose symptoms are difficult to treat in other ways. These allergy shots often contain doses of the allergens that people are allergic to. This allows their bodies to get used to these allergens so that they will no longer produce antibodies against it.