Allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, is when your immune system identifies a substance like pollen or mold as an intruder. As a result, the immune system releases histamine and chemical mediators that cause symptoms in the nose, throat, ears, eyes, roof of the mouth, and the skin. Hay fever causes cold-like symptoms like runny nose, congestion, sneezing, and sinus pressure. Hay fever is caused by an allergic response to indoor allergens like dust mites, animal dander, cockroaches, and mold. You will notice these signs and symptoms almost immediately after having contact with an allergen. These symptoms that occur year-round are known as perennial allergic rhinitis.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis is caused by pollen during the warmer months. Triggers for seasonal hay fever are: tree pollen, grass pollen, ragweed and weed pollen.
About one in three people who have hay fever symptoms do not have allergies. This is known as vasomotor rhinitis (non-allergic rhinitis). Nearly 19 million people in the United States have non-allergic rhinitis. This condition usually affects adults and causes symptoms year-round. Non-allergic rhinitis does not involve the immune system. Because the symptoms of allergic and non-allergic rhinitis are similar, allergy testing is needed to confirm the condition.
Treatment and Management
Rhinitis is not a bacterial or viral infection so antibiotics are ineffective in relieving the symptoms of hay fever. You can treat rhinitis with medications. Discuss any new treatments with your allergist before starting a new allergy regimen.
The following treatments can help treat or avoid the onset of hay fever:
- Antihistamines (Claritin, Zyrtec)
- Nasal corticosteroid sprays
- Eye drops
- Saltwater solution
- Desensitization injections
You should limit exposure to your allergen as much as possible. It is also best to start medications before the seasonal allergy season. If you are sensitive to ragweed, you should begin taking your allergy medicines in early spring before an allergic reaction happens. Clean your house appropriately to limit dust mites. Avoid pets and animal dander if you are sensitive to animals.