Exercise-Induced Rhinitis Causes and Treatment

Exercise can lead to a runny nose or other symptoms of rhinitis. Rhinitis is a common medical condition that may cause sneezing, a runny nose (rhinorrhea), nasal congestion, or an itchy nose.

The most common form of rhinitis is allergic rhinitis. It may be triggered by things in your environment, like pollen or dust mites. A high percentage of people with allergic rhinitis also have allergic conjunctivitis (watery eyes that are usually also red and itchy).

A less common form of rhinitis is nonallergic rhinitis (NAR). This is also known as vasomotor rhinitis. Nonallergic rhinitis is more difficult to diagnose. It is a diagnosis of exclusion rather than a disorder that you can be tested for in a doctor’s office. A diagnosis of exclusion means that the doctor tests for other causes of rhinitis before coming to the conclusion you have nonallergic rhinitis.

This article will discuss rhinitis and the ways that exercise can cause it. It will also talk about how a doctor provides treatment for your rhinitis.

Woman running in park at dusk

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Normal Nasal Response to Exercise

In most cases, as the heart rate speeds up during exercise, blood vessels in the body constrict or narrow (vasoconstriction) in tissues instead of inside the active skeletal muscles (where they dilate).

This vasoconstriction is related to the release of adrenaline, a hormone your body produces during times of stress. It leads to less resistance inside the nasal passage airways. In many instances where blood vessels dilate and cause nasal obstruction (nasal passages become swollen), exercise actually helps to decrease the symptoms.

Causes of Rhinitis With Exercise

Exercise can cause a runny nose if you have allergic rhinitis or nonallergic rhinitis. Scientists understand allergic rhinitis more than the nonallergic kind.

When you exercise, you are exposed to more allergens (substances that cause allergic reactions) because you breathe in a larger amount of air. You breathe deeper and faster, allowing the allergens to enter your body. This is one way exercise can make your symptoms worse. Also, your nose is the air filter for your body and constantly captures irritants and particulate matter before they reach your lungs. During exercise this process is ramped up and thereby can cause more inflammation in the nasal cavities.

Between 27% and 74% of athletes are known to have some type of rhinitis.

Nonallergic causes of exercise-induced rhinitis are still a bit of a mystery to scientists. There are several factors that cause a runny nose that are not related to allergies. The main nonallergic causes of exercise-induced rhinitis are the following:

  • You may be exposed to irritants like chemical fumes or strong odors that irritate your nasal passages although they do not trigger true allergies. Decreasing your exposure to these irritants can help resolve your chronic rhinitis.
  • Emotional-induced rhinitis occurs because of stress and your emotions. A 2014 study revealed that people with higher stress levels experienced more runny noses, coughs, and congestion than people who had less stress.
  • Vasomotor rhinitis is a catch-all category of nonallergic rhinitis that is used when the doctor rules out all other forms of rhinitis. It is more common in the elderly than the young.

Treatment for Nonallergic Rhinitis

The first step in treating nonallergic rhinitis is to try to eliminate any triggers that may be causing it, such as avoiding irritants or reducing stress. If you can do this, exercise may actually improve your congestion and runny nose due to the body's natural response to adrenaline.

However, if you continue to experience rhinitis after making these changes, your doctor may prescribe a medication to help manage your symptoms.

These medications usually come from three groups.

  • Anticholinergics like ipratropium bromide (Atrovent) is an inhaler that relaxes and opens the airways but may not be a good fit for some people as it may increase the risk of dementia.
  • Nasal steroid sprays like fluticasone (Flonase) or triamcinolone acetonide (Nasacort) are common nasal medications that may help treat nasal congestion and a runny nose.
  • Intranasal antihistamines, such as azelastine (Astelin and Astepro), may effectively treat allergy-related rhinitis as well as nonallergic rhinitis.

Summary

Exercise can cause rhinitis, a common medical condition that can make you have a runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, or an itchy nose. Allergic rhinitis is triggered by allergens in the environment. Nonallergic rhinitis may be caused by substances in the workplace or around you that irritate your nasal passages but don't trigger true allergies.

Nonallergic rhinitis may also occur because of your emotions. If the doctor rules out all other forms of rhinitis, it's called vasomotor rhinitis. Doctors treat rhinitis with creams or various kinds of nasal sprays.

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8 Sources
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Additional Reading
  • Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Rhinitis (nasal allergies).

  • Goldenberg D, Goldstein BJ. Handbook of Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. New York, NY: Thieme Medical Publishers, Inc.