Allergic rhinitis is the set of symptoms that occurs when you breathe in substances you are allergic to. These substances are called allergens and are small proteins.
- Seasonal (intermittent) allergic rhinitis (sometimes called hay fever or rose fever)—This occurs during times of the year when allergens are in the air, like spring, summer, and fall. The most common allergens are tree, grass, or weed pollens.
- Perennial (persistent) allergic rhinitis—This condition is caused by allergens that may be present year round. These may include chemicals, dust, dust mites, cockroaches, animal dander, or mold spores. Symptoms may be present any time of year.
An allergic reaction occurs when your body's immune system overreacts to an allergen. When you breathe in an allergen, cells in your nasal passages release a chemical called histamine. Histamine causes your nose to feel itchy. Histamine also causes swelling and mucus production in the nasal passages.
Site of Histamine Production
This area has swelling and increased mucus production after contact with an allergen.
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Risk factors that increase your chance of developing allergic rhinitis include:
Allergic rhinitis can cause the following symptoms:
- Itching in the nose, eyes, throat, and ears
- Red, watery eyes
- Runny nose, nasal congestion
- Sinus pressure
Postnasal drip and
- Dark circles under your eyes
Your doctor will try to find out which allergens you are allergic to. You may be referred to an allergist or immunologist. This is a doctor who specializes in allergies.
Tests may include:
A tiny bit of an allergen is placed under the skin with a needle. The doctor watches to see if the skin in that area becomes red, raised, and itchy. This can be done for multiple allergens at the same time.
A small sample of blood is taken and tested for different allergens.
You breathe in air containing an allergen. The doctor will watch to see if you have an allergic reaction, such as wheezing or trouble breathing. This test is usually reserved for research settings.
The most effective way to treat allergies is to avoid the allergen. Since this can sometimes be difficult or impossible, other treatments are available.
Treatments may include:
- Topical corticosteroids—Nasal sprays that decrease swelling in the nasal passages
- Mast cell inhibitors—Nasal sprays that interfere with the chemical reactions leading to histamine release
- Antihistamines—Block the action of histamine; available as nasal spray, pill, or syrup
Decongestants—Decrease congestion by constricting blood vessels; taken as pills or as a nasal spray
- Note: Using a nasal spray may lead to rebound congestion.
With immunotherapy, very small amounts of allergens are injected over weeks, months, or even years. The goal is to make your body's immune system less sensitive to those allergens. This treatment may be effective in reducing or eliminating the symptoms of allergic rhinitis.
may also be used. This type of treatment involves putting the allergic substances under the tongue, rather than using allergy shots.
If you are diagnosed with allergic rhinitis, follow your doctor's
The following strategies may help
prevent allergic rhinitis
- Stay inside during the morning hours when pollen counts are highest.
- Avoid outside activities during the time of year when the trees, grasses, weeds, or molds are blooming.
- Keep the windows of your house and car closed to keep pollen out.
- Use an air conditioner to reduce indoor humidity and to prevent mold and mildew growth.
- Clean your air conditioner's filters regularly.
- Consider running an air purifier in your home, especially in your bedroom.
- Use vacuum cleaners and air conditioners with HEPA filters to trap allergens.
- Decrease or avoid outdoor activities on hot summer days, when ozone levels may make your symptoms worse.
- Cover pillows and mattresses with vinyl covers to reduce your exposure to dust mites.
- Wash bedding weekly in very hot water.
- Use fewer dust-collecting items, such as curtains, bed skirts, carpeting, and stuffed animals, especially in your bedroom.
- If you can't avoid having a pet with fur, vacuum frequently and keep your pet out of bedrooms and other rooms with carpets.
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Allergic rhinitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
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Allergy: Principles and Practice. 7th ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby-Year Book, Inc; 2009.
Rhinitis. American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology website. Available at:
. Accessed October 31, 2012.
8/11/2006 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
: Durham SR, Yang WH, Pedersen MR, et al. Sublingual immunotherapy with once-daily grass allergen tablets: a randomized controlled trial in seasonal allergic rhinoconjunctivitis.
J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2006;117:802-809.
8/27/2013 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
: Kim JM, Lin SY, Suarez-Cuervo C, et al. Allergen-specific immunotherapy for pediatric asthma and rhinoconjunctivitis: a systematic review. Pediatrics. 2013 Jun;131(6):1155-67.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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