By Melanie Claborn, PharmD, BCACP
Do you have a runny or stuffy nose that doesn’t seem to go away? If yes, then you may have allergic rhinitis.
What is allergic rhinitis?
It means allergies in the nose. Allergic rhinitis is one of the most common illnesses and can affect people of all ages. It can be a year round problem, but could also only occur during a certain season. Seasonal allergic rhinitis is also sometimes called hay fever. Allergic rhinitis has the potential to cause problems with sleep, and concentration at work or school.
What causes allergic rhinitis?
It occurs when the body’s immune system over responds to specific triggers or allergens that don’t cause problems for most people. These triggers can include molds, pollens, trees, grasses, chemicals, foods, animal dander or dust mites. The allergic reaction makes the inside of the nose irritated, swollen and inflamed. It also affects the back of the mouth and the throat.
What are the symptoms?
Not everyone with allergic rhinitis will have all of these symptoms.
- Itching of the nose, throat or eyes
- Watery “runny” nose
- Stuffy nose, nasal blockage or congestion
- Tearing eyes
- Dark circles under eyes (allergic shiners)
Allergic rhinitis does NOT cause fever.
How do providers diagnose allergic rhinitis?
A provider would consider your symptoms, everyday surroundings, your activities and complete a physical examination. It is important to be aware of the pattern of symptoms, such as when they started, with specific activities, certain times of the year, and if they get better or worse over time. Providers also may ask if family members have any allergies or if you have used any medications in the past.
How is allergic rhinitis treated?
Treatment can depend on the specific cause of the allergies. There is unfortunately no cure. However, it can easily be managed. Avoiding specific allergy triggers can help significantly reduce symptoms. Some allergens known to affect symptoms include cigarette smoke, pets, perfume and more. Switching to perfume-free soaps and lotions can sometimes help.
How can allergies be avoided?
- For a food allergy, try to avoid the food and learn how to read food labels.
- For seasonal allergies, stay indoors when the pollen count is high. Keep windows and doors shut at home and in the car during allergy season. After being outdoors, it can help to take a shower, wash your hair and change clothes.
- Another tip is to wash your sheets and bedding in hot water every week.
What medications can be used?
Before taking any medication for allergic rhinitis, please speak with a provider if you have any other medical conditions, are pregnant, taking any medications or you have nose bleeds. Several medications available over the counter include nasal saline rinses, nasal sprays and oral antihistamines. Other medications may also be available with a prescription.
- Nasal saline rinses: You can use a salt water (saline) solution daily to help clear the nose and soothe the lining of the nose.
- Corticosteroid nasal sprays are effective for controlling itching and sneezing, runny nose, blocked nose and eye itching or wateriness. These medications include betamethasone, budesonide, fluticasone, mometasone and triamcinolone. Improvement can be seen very quick, but it may take up to seven days for the full benefit. Be sure to ask your pharmacist about the proper way to give nasal medications.
- Oral antihistamines can help with sneezing, itchy and runny noses. These include non-drowsy products such as Claritin® (loratadine), Xyzal® (levocetirizine), Zyrtec® (cetirizine) or Allegra® (fexofenadine).
For any questions or medical concerns, please contact your primary care team at (405) 948-4900.