Allergic Rhinitis Overview
Allergic rhinitis refers to a group of symptoms—such as a runny or itchy nose, watery eyes, and sneezing—that result from inflammation of the nasal mucous membranes. A common, but inaccurate, name for this condition is hay fever. It is estimated that 40-50 million people in the United States develop allergic rhinitis during their lifetime. Allergic rhinitis precedes the onset of asthma in over 50% of cases so treating it as early as possible is recommended.
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Mucous membranes in the nose may become inflamed when certain airborne allergens—such as dust, pollen, mold, or animal dander—are inhaled. For those who are sensitive, these allergens stimulate an excessive immune reaction.
The body makes an immunoglobulin antibody (IgE) specific to that allergen and binds to mast cells that make chemicals, like histamine. This is called “sensitization.” The next time your body comes into contact with the allergen, the antibody recognizes it, and the histamine is released from the mast cell. The histamine causes dilation of nasal blood vessels and inflammation of the mucous membranes, which result in common allergy symptoms.
Types of Allergic Rhinitis
There are two types of allergic rhinitis:
- Seasonal—Symptoms occur only at certain times of the year, usually spring, summer, and early fall. In most cases, people with seasonal allergic rhinitis are sensitive to pollens from trees, grasses, weeds, or airborne mold spores.
- Perennial—Perennial allergic rhinitis causes symptoms all year-round. People who have this form of allergic rhinitis are generally allergic to house dust mites, cockroaches, animal dander, and/or mold spores. Occasionally, food allergies may cause perennial allergic rhinitis.
Complications of Allergic Rhinitis
In general, allergic rhinitis is a relatively mild condition that may cause discomfort, but is seldom serious. Some complications associated with allergic rhinitis include:
- Ear infections
- Recurrent sore throats
Advice from your allergist: Rhinitis. American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology website. Available at:
. Accessed September 15, 2008.
Allergic rhinitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
. Updated September 2008. Accessed September 15, 2008.