Understanding Allergic Rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis includes hay fever, and presents with sneezing and more.

You’re outside enjoying nature or snuggling with your favorite pet when it hits: itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, and a stuffy nose. All of these are symptoms of allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever.

About 30% of American adults and 40% of kids have allergy symptoms, such as a nose allergy, with sneezing and stuffiness. 

This article will explain allergic rhinitis symptoms and causes and ways to treat it. 

Woman sneezing

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What Is Allergic Rhinitis?

Allergic rhinitis is allergy symptoms that affect the nose, like sneezing, stuffiness, congestion, and decreased sense of smell. These occur when you breathe in something you’re allergic to, like dust, pollen, or pet hair. It can also happen when you eat certain foods.

Types of Allergic Rhinitis

The term allergic rhinitis is often used interchangeably with hay fever. However, hay fever is actually a subtype of allergic rhinitis. There are two types of nose allergies:

  • Seasonal: Also known as hay fever, seasonal allergic rhinitis occurs most often in the spring, summer, and fall. Common irritants are pollen or mold. Symptoms resolve as the seasonal irritants become less prevalent. 
  • Perennial: Perennial allergic rhinitis occurs year-round. Symptoms flare after a person is exposed to allergens like mold, pet dander, or dust mites

Some people also suffer from nonallergic rhinitis. This condition is characterized by rhinitis symptoms like sneezing and stuffiness that are not linked to exposure to an allergen. Healthcare providers aren’t sure what causes nonallergic rhinitis.

Symptoms of Allergic Rhinitis

The symptoms of allergic rhinitis occur throughout your nose and the rest of your face. The initial symptoms include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Changes to the sense of smell
  • Watery eyes
  • Itchy nose, mouth, eyes, or skin

After exposure to an allergen, you might also experience these symptoms that typically develop a bit later:

  • Stuffy nose
  • Coughing
  • Blocked or clogged ears
  • Sore throat
  • Dark circles or puffiness under the eyes
  • Feeling tired or irritable
  • Headache

Causes of Allergic Rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis occurs when the body overreacts to a substance that is harmless to most people, like pollen. If you have allergic rhinitis, your body releases a chemical called histamine when you breathe in an allergen. Histamine is meant to protect the body from harmful substances, but it also causes all the symptoms we associate with allergic rhinitis.

People commonly experience allergic rhinitis after coming into contact with:

  • Pollen
  • Plants like grass or ragweed
  • Mold
  • Animal dander
  • Dust or dust mites

Ways to Treat Allergic Rhinitis

Healthcare providers will diagnose allergic rhinitis based on your symptoms. Nose allergy can be treated with lifestyle changes, over-the-counter medications, and prescriptions. The treatment for allergic rhinitis includes:

  • Avoiding triggers: Once you identify what causes your allergies, try your best to stay away from them. For example, have someone else do the dusting or keep windows closed when pollen counts are high. 
  • Nasal wash: A nasal wash can help clear allergens from your nose. Use a saline spray to help reduce your exposure to allergens. 
  • Antihistamines: Antihistamines, like Claritin, are over-the-counter medications that block histamine receptors, preventing symptoms like sneezing and watery eyes. Antihistamines are best used when symptoms only occur occasionally. For allergic rhinitis, a nasal spray antihistamine is often best. 
  • Steroids: Corticosteroids, like Flonase, are the most effective treatment for allergic rhinitis. They need to be taken daily and are available as a nasal spray or oral medication. Some are available over-the-counter, while others require a prescription.
  • Decongestants: Decongestants can be used to manage the symptoms of allergic rhinitis but shouldn’t be used for more than three days in a row. 
  • Allergy shots: If you can’t avoid your allergens or are severely affected by allergies, your healthcare provider might recommend allergy shots. The shots are a form of immunotherapy, which exposes your body to a small amount of the allergen to build resistance. 

Outlook 

Most people with allergic rhinitis can control their symptoms by making lifestyle adjustments and taking medication, especially when their allergies are worst. Children with allergic rhinitis might outgrow their symptoms.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

In most cases, allergic rhinitis is not serious, and symptoms resolve on their own when you’re away from the allergen. However, if you notice any changes to your allergy symptoms you should speak with your healthcare provider. In addition, seek medical attention or call 911 immediately if you have trouble breathing or experiencing any facial, tongue, or neck swelling.

Summary

Allergic rhinitis is a very common allergic reaction that affects up to 30% of adults and 40% of children. It’s characterized by sneezing, a runny nose, and other symptoms. Hay fever, which is seasonal allergies in response to plant matter, is a type of allergic rhinitis. Most people manage their allergic rhinitis symptoms with lifestyle changes and occasional medication, but if allergies continue to affect your life, you may need more intensive treatment like allergy shots. 

A Word From Verywell

Allergic rhinitis isn’t a dangerous medical condition, but it can have a major impact on your quality of life. If you find yourself sneezing or getting a runny nose frequently, take note of any patterns you notice. Then, speak with your healthcare provider about allergic rhinitis and what treatments might work for you. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does allergic rhinitis last?

    The symptoms of allergic rhinitis last for as long as you’re exposed to the allergen. For people with hay fever, episodes can last weeks or more. If you experience allergic rhinitis, taking an antihistamine can help alleviate symptoms. 

  • What happens if allergic rhinitis is left untreated?

    Allergic rhinitis generally doesn’t have serious side effects. If it's left untreated it will usually resolve on its own when you are no longer exposed to the allergen. However, the symptoms of allergic rhinitis can be miserable, so you should talk with your healthcare provider if you are experiencing symptoms.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. World Allergy Organization. In-depth review of allergic rhinitis.

  2. MedlinePlus. Allergic rhinitis.

  3. American Academy of Family Physicians. What is allergic rhinitis?

  4. American Family Physician. Nonallergic rhinitis.