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Definition  

Allergic rhinitis is the set of symptoms that occurs when you breathe in substances you are allergic to. These substances are called allergens and are small proteins.

  • Seasonal (intermittent) allergic rhinitis (sometimes called hay fever or rose fever)—This occurs during times of the year when allergens are in the air, like spring, summer, and fall. The most common allergens are tree, grass, or weed pollens.
  • Perennial (persistent) allergic rhinitis—This condition is caused by allergens that may be present year round. These may include chemicals, dust, dust mites, cockroaches, animal dander, or mold spores. Symptoms may be present any time of year.
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Site of Histamine Production  
Nasal passage

This area has swelling and increased mucus production after contact with an allergen.

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Causes  

An allergic reaction occurs when your body's immune system overreacts to an allergen. When you breathe in an allergen, cells in your nasal passages release a chemical called histamine. Histamine causes your nose to feel itchy. Histamine also causes swelling and mucus production in the nasal passages.

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Risk Factors  

Factors that increase your chance of developing allergic rhinitis include:

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Symptoms  

Allergic rhinitis can cause the following symptoms:

  • Sneezing
  • Itching in the nose, eyes, throat, and ears
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Runny nose, nasal congestion
  • Sinus pressure
  • Postnasal drip and cough
  • Headache
  • Dark circles under your eyes
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Diagnosis  

Your doctor will try to find out which allergens you are allergic to. You may be referred to an allergist or immunologist. This is a doctor who specializes in allergies.

Tests may include:

Skin Prick Test  

A tiny bit of an allergen is placed under the skin with a needle. The doctor watches to see if the skin in that area becomes red, raised, and itchy. This can be done for multiple allergens at the same time.

RAST Testing  

A small sample of blood is taken and tested for different allergens.

Provocation Testing  

You breathe in air containing an allergen. The doctor will watch to see if you have an allergic reaction, such as wheezing or trouble breathing. This test is usually reserved for research settings.

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Treatment  

The most effective way to treat allergies is to avoid the allergen. Since this can sometimes be difficult or impossible, other treatments are available.

Treatments may include:

Medications  

Your doctor may advise:

  • Nasal sprays
    • Note: Using a nasal spray may lead to rebound congestion.
  • Antihistamines to block the action of histamine
  • Decongestants to decrease congestion