Allergic rhinitis is inflammation of the nasal airways. It is a collection of symptoms occurring mostly in the nose and eyes. It occurs when you breathe in something you are allergic to (allergens) such as dust, pollen, insect venom, indoor fungi, etc. If it is due to outdoor triggers, such as pollen, it is called hay fever. Allergic rhinitis occurs when your immune system overreacts to particles in the air that you breathe causing symptoms such as itchy nose, mouth, eyes, throat, skin, etc., watery eyes, sneezing and a runny nose.
If you have allergies, you will usually have symptoms for many years. You may have symptoms at certain times of the year or often during the year. Over time, allergens may affect you less. Your symptoms may not be as severe as they used to be.
Allergic Rhinitis can be classified according to:
How often a person has it and how severe it is:
- Intermittent – have symptoms fewer than 4 days a week or fewer than 4 weeks a year.
- Persistent – have symptoms 4 or more days a week and 4 or more weeks a year.
- Mild – symptoms that do not bother you a lot i.e. they do not affect your daily activities, sleep and work or school.
- Moderate to severe if your symptoms
- Interfere with your sleep
- Make daily activities or work or school difficult
- Bother you a lot
The kind of allergens a person reacted to and when the reactions occurred:
- Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis (SAR): Occurs at the same time each year and is often called hay fever. The most common allergens are windblown pollens from trees, grasses or weeds. The symptoms usually occur when certain plants are in bloom. Some types of mold occur seasonally causing similar symptoms.
- Perennial Allergic Rhinitis (PAR): A perennial (year-round) allergy. Occurs any time during the year. The symptoms of a year-round allergy may be more severe in winter. The most common causes of this type of allergy are dust mites, animal dandruff, cockroaches or mold.
- Occupational Allergic Rhinitis (OAR): Caused by an allergic reaction to a substance present in the workplace (e.g. grain, wood dust, chemicals or lab animals).
An allergen is something that triggers an allergy. When you are exposed to an allergen for the first time, your body’s immune system recognizes the allergen as a foreign substance. Your body reacts by making antibodies against the allergen. The next time you are exposed to the allergen, the antibodies attack it and release chemicals, including histamine that causes your allergy symptoms. This is called sensitization. In hay fever there is allergic reaction to pollen.
Some of the allergens that cause allergic rhinitis are dust mites, animal dandruff, cockroaches, and mold. Things in the workplace such as cereal grain, wood dust, chemicals or lab animals can also cause allergic rhinitis.
Common causes for Perennial Allergic Rhinitis (PAR) include:
- Indoor fungi
- Animal dandruff, the most important being cat’s. Dandruff from rodents, rabbits, dogs, and birds can cause rhinitis.
- Dust mites
- Other insects (esp. cockroach, gypsy moths , spiders, ladybugs and beetles)
Common causes for Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis (SAR) include:
- Tree pollens – symptoms in winter and spring
- Grass and weed pollens – symptoms in summer
- Ragweed – symptoms in late summer and autumn
Many people with allergies are very sensitive to strong scented products. Incense burning during prayers (puja) and Indian rituals (havan) emits smoke containing particulate matter, gas products and other organic compounds and causes air pollution, airway disease and health problems. However, several conflicting reports have also been documented. Some studies have found that there was no association between exposure to incense burning and respiratory symptoms like chronic cough, chronic bronchitis, runny nose, wheezing, asthma, allergic rhinitis, etc. According to Hindu Vedic practices, the smoke that rises from a receptacle (havan kund) during homa contains a powerful healing energy.
The following factors increase your chances of getting allergic rhinitis:
- Genes – Family history of allergies. A child is more likely to have an allergy if both parents have an allergy.
- Environment – Exposure to indoor allergens and pollens or molds.
- If you already suffer from eczema or asthma, you have greater chances of having allergic rhinitis.
Symptoms that occur immediately after you come into contact with the allergen may include:
- Itchy nose, mouth, eyes, throat, skin, etc.
- Problems with smell sensation
- Runny nose – drainage from a runny nose caused by allergies is usually clear and thin.
- Watery eyes
Symptoms that may develop later are:
- Stuffy nose (nasal congestion)
- Clogged ears
- Decreased sense of smell
- Sore throat
- Puffiness and dark circles under the eyes
- Fatigue and irritability
Allergic rhinitis is generally diagnosed based on your history of symptoms through –
- Physical examination
- Skin tests
- Blood tests
Here is detailed information on diagnosis of allergic rhinitis.
Allergic rhinitis can be treated with the help of -
Self-care: This involves use of home remedies or over the counter (OTC) drugs to combat its symptoms.
Medications: Drugs that are commonly prescribed to treat allergic rhinitis include –
- Leukotriene Modifiers
- Mast cell stabilizers
- Allergy Shots
- Immune-based therapies
Read to know in detail about various medications used to treat allergic rhinitis.
In case allergic rhinitis is not treated, it can trigger a number of health complications such as –
- Otitis media
- Upper respiratory infections
- Dental implication
Alternative therapies that are widely used to treat allergic rhinitis are –
Here is additional information on various alternative therapies for allergic rhinitis.