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Welcome to our health education library. The information shared below is provided to you as an educational and informational source only and is not intended to replace a medical examination or consultation, or medical advice given to you by a physician or medical professional.

Allergic Rhinitis

What is allergic rhinitis?

Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, is an inflammation of the nasal passages, usually associated with watery nasal discharge and itching of the nose and eyes.

What are the causes and risk factors of allergic rhinitis?

Many perennial and seasonal allergens cause allergic rhinitis. Dust mites, cockroaches, molds and animal dander are examples of year-round allergens.

Tree, grass and ragweed pollens are primarily seasonal outdoor allergens. Seasonal pollens depend on wind for cross-pollination. Plants that depend on insect pollination, such as goldenrod and dandelions, do not usually cause allergic rhinitis.

Mold spores grow in warm, damp environments. The highest mold spore counts occur in early spring, late summer and early fall, but mold spores can be measured indoors year-round.

Animal allergens are also important indoor allergens. The major cat allergen is secreted through the sebaceous glands of the animal’s skin. These small, light proteins are capable of staying suspended in the air for up to six hours and can be measured for several months after a cat is removed from an indoor environment.

What are the symptoms of allergic rhinitis?

Characteristic symptoms include repetitive sneezing; rhinorrhea (runny nose); postnasal drip; nasal congestion; pruritic (itchy) eyes, ears, nose or throat; and generalized fatigue. Symptoms can also include wheezing, eye tearing, sore throat and impaired smell. A chronic cough may be secondary to postnasal drip but should not be mistaken for asthma. Sinus headaches and ear plugging are also common.

How is allergic rhinitis diagnosed?

After a thorough medical history, the physician will perform a physical exam. Often, the nasal mucosa (lining of the nose) is pale or violaceous because of the engorged veins. Nasal polyps may be seen. Classic signs of allergic rhinitis may include swelling of the eyelids, injected sclerae (the whites of the eyes may be red), allergic shiners (darkened areas under the lower eyelids thought to result from venous pooling of blood) and extra skin folds in the lower eyelids.

Skin testing may confirm the diagnosis of allergic rhinitis. Initial skin testing is performed by the prick method. Intradermal testing is performed if results of prick testing are negative.

What are the treatment options?

The goal of treatment is to reduce the allergy symptoms. Avoidance of the allergen or minimization of contact with it is the best treatment, but some relief may be found with antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays and immunotherapy (allergy shots).

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