Allergic rhinitis (hay fever)


Rhinitis is the medical term for inflammation of the nose. Viruses, bacteria, allergens, and irritants can cause inflammation of the nasal mucous membranes, which results in rhinitis. Once inflamed, the nose produces excessive mucus, which causes a runny nose, nasal congestion, and postnasal drip (when mucus drips from the sinuses, down the throat).
Allergic rhinitis is one of the most common allergies. This type of rhinitis occurs when the body's immune system overreacts to allergen (a substance that can cause an allergic reaction), in this case, an airborne substance that is normally harmless, such as mold, pollen, animal dander, or dust mites. Once the allergen is inhaled through the nose, white blood cells of an allergic individual produce an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). This immunoglobulin attaches to the allergen, which triggers the release of histamine and other inflammatory chemicals that cause allergic rhinitis symptoms, such as runny nose and nasal congestion.
Allergic rhinitis may occur as either acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). Acute rhinitis is short-term and classified as the common cold, while chronic rhinitis is recurrent, with periods of remission in between. Chronic rhinitis lasts three months or longer.
There are two types of allergic rhinitis: seasonal allergic rhinitis and perennial allergic rhinitis.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis, also called pollinosis, hay fever, or nasal allergies, is characterized by several symptoms, predominantly in the nose and eyes. Symptoms occur after airborne allergens like dust, dander, or pollen are inhaled. When pollens cause the allergic symptoms, the allergic rhinitis is commonly referred to as "hay fever." According to the American Lung Association, an estimated 26.1 million Americans have hay fever symptoms each year, and 14.6 million Americans have asthma, which often accompanies hay fever.
Perennial allergic rhinitis is an allergic reaction to allergens that is not seasonal. Instead, symptoms are persistent and generally less severe than seasonal allergic rhinitis.
Some individuals, especially children, may outgrow allergic rhinitis as the immune system becomes less sensitive to certain allergens. Minimizing exposure to known allergens may help prevent or reduce allergy symptoms. Treatment for allergic rhinitis depends on the severity and frequency of the symptoms. Patients may benefit from allergy medications like antihistamines, mast cell stabilizers, decongestants, leukotriene receptor antagonists, and nasal corticosteroid sprays.

Related Terms

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nonallergic types of rhinitis

Atrophic rhinitis: Atrophic rhinitis is chronic inflammation of the nose. It causes the nasal mucosa, including the glands, turbinate bones, and nerves in the nose, to atrophy (shrink). It may also cause a foul-smelling nasal discharge. Patients may experience nosebleeds and may lose their sense of smell. This condition may be the result of a sinus surgery or prolonged bacterial infection of the nose.
Snuffles: Patients born with syphilis (a sexually transmitted disease) may experience rhinitis. When syphilis is the cause of the symptoms, the condition is called snuffles.
Vasomotor rhinitis: Vasomotor rhinitis, also known as nonallergenic rhinitis, is thought to be the result of nerve disorders. Vasomotor rhinitis, unlike allergic rhinitis, does not involve the immune system. Instead, this form is caused by oversensitive or excessive blood vessels in the nasal membrane. The body overreacts to stimuli such as changes in weather, temperature, barometric pressure, chemical irritants, aerosol sprays, psychological stress, or certain types of medication. The exact cause of vasomotor rhinitis is not well understood. It is possible for patients to suffer from vasomotor rhinitis and allergic rhinitis at the same time.