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What is Rhinitis?

Rhinitis is inflammation in the nasal cavity lining. It can be allergic or nonallergic.

Allergic rhinitis occurs when an allergen is breathed in. It can be seasonal, perennial (occurring throughout the year), or both. Allergic rhinitis affects one in five people (UMMC).

Nonallergic rhinitis is similar to allergic rhinitis, but it is not caused by any specific allergen.

What Causes Rhinitis?

Allergic rhinitis occurs when the immune system detects an allergen or foreign material. It then works to rid the body of the allergen by releasing histamine. It is the histamine that causes the symptoms.

Allergens are generally harmless materials, but if you are allergic to them, your body responds as if the allergen is a toxic invader.

Hay fever, caused by pollen, is the common term for seasonal allergic rhinitis, which typically occurs in the spring and fall.

The causes of perennial allergic rhinitis include pet dander and saliva, mold, and animal droppings. Some people also develop symptoms of rhinitis from smoke, household odors, artificial fragrances, and changes in air quality. People’s sensitivity to common allergens and environmental factors varies greatly.

Nonallergic rhinitis is more challenging to diagnose. This is because it isn’t caused by an allergen and doesn’t involve the immune system.

Symptoms of nonallergic rhinitis can happen for short or long periods. Common causes include certain foods, odors, smoke, and pollution. Other causes are weather changes, hormonal changes, stress, or infections (such as colds). Nonallergic rhinitis can also be a side effect of medications, like those for blood pressure regulation, erectile dysfunction, or birth control.

Nonallergic rhinitis is sometimes caused by structural problems in the nasal cavity, such as a tumor or narrow passages.

Who Is at Risk for Rhinitis?

People with a family history of allergies are at more risk for rhinitis. If you already have food or other allergies, or are exposed to irritants like secondhand smoke, you are also more likely to have rhinitis.

What Are the Symptoms of Rhinitis?

Symptoms of rhinitis range from mild to severe. They generally target the nasal cavity, throat, and eyes. They include:

  • congestion
  • sore or scratchy throat
  • runny nose
  • cough
  • itchy nose
  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • sneezing
  • post-nasal drip
  • headache or facial pain
  • slight loss of smell, taste, or hearing
  • fatigue

How Is Rhinitis Diagnosed?

To diagnose allergic rhinitis, your doctor will perform a physical exam. Allergy testing can be done using a blood test or skin test. This is helpful in determining whether rhinitis is allergic or nonallergic.

How Is Rhinitis Treated?

The best way to treat allergic rhinitis is to avoid the allergen. If you are allergic to pets, mold, or other household allergens, you will need to remove those items. For pollen or other outdoor allergens, avoid being outside during peak periods. If you can’t avoid the allergen, then steroid spray, decongestants, and antihistamine pills or nasal sprays can help. Other treatment options include allergy shots and medication.

For non-allergic rhinitis, nasal sprays made from corticosteroids or antihistamines can help. Decongestants and nasal sprays can also help control symptoms. Surgery can be an option for nonallergic rhinitis caused by structural problems.

Alternative treatments like herbs, acupuncture, and homeopathy can help treat rhinitis or reduce the severity of the symptoms. Talk to your doctor to learn the best options for your situation.


Allergic rhinitis usually clears up when exposure to the allergen has passed. Nonallergic rhinitis can last for a longer time, but it can be managed with treatment. Rhinitis is inconvenient but poses little health risk.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Amber Erickson Gabbey
Published on: Aug 26, 2016on: Oct 24, 2016

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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