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An explanation of rhinitis

Prashanthi Y'Chili, MD
Y'Chili, MD
Is rhinitis seasonal?

Rhinitis, an inflammation of the inner lining of the nose, is classified as nonallergic and allergic. Both types can affect people year-round.

What is nonallergic rhinitis?

Contact with an irritant cuases blood vessels in your nose to dilate, resulting in a runny nose, post-nasal drip and nasal congestion. Common contributors to nonallergic rhinitis include air pollution, cigarette soke, perfumes, weather changes, hot or spicy foods, hormonal changes, some medications and infections such as a cold or flu. Nonallergic rhinitis is more common in people over age 20, females, people working in occupations with exposure to fumes and irritants, and people with certain health conditions.

What is allergic rhinitis?

Allergic rhinitis , more commonly known as hay fever, is an allergic reaction where your immune system identifies a substance you encounter as harmful and produces antibodies that subsequently react every time you encounter this substance. Generally, allergic rhinitis is caused by outdoor or indoor allergens such as pet dander and pollens. Symptoms include runny nose, post-nasal drip, nasal congestion, sneezing, sinus pressure, and an itchy nose, eyes and throat. Allergic rhinitis usually occurs before age 20 and, depending on the particular cause, may affect some people only during a particular season. For instance, someone allergic to tree pollens will probably have symptoms only in the spring. (The term hay fever has no practical application to allergic rhinitis. Hay is almost never a trigger and there is no fever associated with allergic rhinitis.)

Are there other health risks associated with having rhinitis?

Nasal polyps can develop due to chronic inflammation. If they become large, they can block airflow through the nose. Chronic sinusitis may cause pain, tenderness and swelling aorund the eyes, nose and cheeks. People with chronic rhinitis are more likely to have middle ear infections, poor sleep and poorer quality of life in general.

What can I do to minimize symptoms?

Most importantly, observe what contibutes to your symptoms and then avoid those triggers. Rinse your nasal passages daily, using a specially designed saline kit that can be purchased at your local drugstore. When you shower, try to breathe the steam in through your nasal passages to loosen the mucus in your nose. Use a humidifier at work and in your bedroom when you sleep. Drink lots of clear liquids to stay hydrated. Try over-the-counter nasal sprays, oral antihistamines and decongestants for temporary relief.

Should I see a doctor?

Rhinitis symptoms can interfere with your effectiveness at work and at home. Sometimes side effects from over-the-counter medications can make your problems worse. And effective treatment varies, depending on whether or not you have nonallergic or allergic rhinitis. Your primary care doctor will do tests to correctly diagnose the type of rhinitis you have and prescribe medications most effective for your needs. Your doctor also can help you make changes at home and work that will limit your exposure to the triggers that contribute to your rhinitis symptoms.

Prashanthi Y’Chili, MD is a board-certified family medicine doctor at Sanford North Clinic. She completed her medical degree at Gulbarga University in Kanataka, India, and completed an internship at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Pa., and a residency at Louisiana State University in New Orleans.


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