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 make you sneeze, have 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. A high percentage of people with allergic rhinitis also have conjunctivitis (watery eyes that are usually also red and itchy.)

A less common form of rhinitis is nonallergic rhinitis (NAR). 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 identifiable reasons for 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.

With allergic rhinitis, you are exposed to more allergens (substances that cause allergic reactions) because you breathe in a larger amount of air. As you exercise, you breathe deeper and faster, allowing the allergens to enter your body.

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 make adults get a runny nose, and they're not related to allergies. The main nonallergic causes of exercise-induced rhinitis are the following:

  • Irritants like chemical fumes or strong odors may be in the environment or around your workplace. These substances can irritate the nasal passages although they do not cause you to develop allergies. Decreasing your exposure to the 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 increased runny noses, coughs, and congestion than other people who participated in the study.
  • Vasomotor rhinitis is the catch-all category of nonallergic rhinitis and is the diagnosis 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 early stages of any treatment for nonallergic rhinitis should include staying away from the triggers that cause it. Continued exercise, without exposure to allergens or irritants, may actually reduce the times you get a runny nose. This is due to the body’s natural reaction to adrenaline.

Your doctor may prescribe medicine if you continue to experience rhinitis even though you avoid triggers and make lifestyle changes.

Medications usually come from three groups.

  • Anticholinergics like ipratropium bromide are a medication you rub on the skin. They cause very few side effects.
  • Nasal steroid sprays like Flonase or Nasacort are common nasal medications that may help treat nasal congestion and rhinorrhea (runny nose).
  • Intranasal antihistamines, such as Azelastine, may effectively treat allergy-related rhinitis as well as nonallergic rhinitis.

If the turbinates (spongy bone inside the nose) become enlarged, a surgical procedure called a turbinate reduction can help reduce symptoms.

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. Even though they are in your environment, they don't cause you to develop allergies. They only irritate your nasal passages.

Nonallergic rhinitis may also occur because of your emotions. You have vasomotor rhinitis if the doctor rules out all other forms of rhinitis. Doctors treat rhinitis with creams or various kinds of nasal sprays.

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7 Sources
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Additional Reading
  • Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Rhinitis (Nasal Allergies). Published October 2015.

  • Goldenberg D, Goldstein BJ. Handbook of Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. New York, NY: Thieme Medical Publishers, Inc.; 2011.