Is that runny nose and stuffiness, a nuisance or a menace?

Sound like you have a cold more often than not? Do you experience fits of sneezing, runny nose or having to clear mucus from the back of your throat? Then you are one of the many, living in America, with rhinitis or inflammation of the nasal passages. There are two types of rhinitis, allergic and nonallergic.

Allergic Rhinitis:

Children and adults with “allergies” are prone to days or weeks of runny nose, “post nasal drip” and nasal stuffiness. In addition to these symptoms, rhinitis can also contribute to other problems, such as cough, asthma, sinus headaches, respiratory infections (ear, throat, nose) or trouble sleeping (snoring or obstructive sleep apnea). Allergic rhinitis is the body’s defenses, the immune system, over-reaction to harmless substances, that exist in your home, school or work environment. Common allergens include pollen, mold, animal dander and components of dust:

Year Round Allergens: Dust mites, mold, animal dander and cockroaches:

  • Dust mites Dust mites are microscopic insects that live in dust and in the fibers of upholstered furniture, carpeting and drapes. These tiny insects require warm, humid areas, like your bed, to grow and proliferate.
  • Molds Molds are microscopic fungi with spores, which are released in the air, especially after storms and rain showers. Mold can be found in damp areas, such as the basement, fish tanks/aquariums, and bathrooms, as well as in the outdoor environment in grass, leaf piles, hay, mulch or under mushrooms.
  • Animal dander Proteins found in saliva as well as the sweat glands in an animal’s skin, cause allergic reactions in sensitized children and adults. Cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, horses and hamsters all have been shown to cause allergic symptoms in some individuals

Seasonal allergens include tree pollen (spring), grass and weed pollen (summer and fall), as well as ragweed pollen (late summer and fall):

  • Pollens Pollens are microscopic particles released in to the air by trees, grasses and weeds. When these particles are inspired, people who have inherited the potential to make allergic responses in their immune system may become sensitized. When children and adults are subsequently re-exposed to the same pollen, they may experience symptoms of nasal congestion, itchy/watery eyes, sneezing or cough.

Non-Allergic Rhinitis:

Some people with rhinitis symptoms do not have allergies (this is determined by allergy testing). Non-allergic rhinitis is seen in children (especially those exposed to second hand smoke) and in adults. There are several different types of nonallergic rhinitis:

  • Infectious rhinitis occurs after contact with someone suffering with a head cold or bacterial infection to strong odors, smoke or pollution, can experience, irritant induced, year-round symptoms.
  • Irritant rhinitis follows chronic exposure to chemicals floating about one’s home or work environment, such as strong odors or perfumes, cleaning agents, smoke or pollution
  • Medication induced rhinitis, which includes some blood pressure medicines, oral contraceptives or medications used for erectile dysfunction, as well as over the counter, nasal decongestant sprays such as oxymetazoline, This type of medication-induced rhinitis is also called rhinitis medicamentosa.
  • Occupational rhinitis: Prolonged exposure to chemicals or food stuffs will lead to occupation associated rhinitis, such as the following: bakers (flour, yeast), maintenance workers (cleaning agents), construction workers, sanitation (wood dust, chemicals); laboratory animal workers (animal dander, feeds); health care workers (medications, latex)

When to see an allergist:

  • If over the counter remedies are not helping or causing side effects, such as sleepiness, insomnia, constipation or agitation.
  • To determine whether one has allergic or nonallergic rhinitis. Having the right diagnosis will lend to a treatment plan that is tailored to treat your symptoms. An allergist can perform accurate testing, provide information to minimize exposure to offending agents, and develop an individualized treatment plan to help you feel better.
  • To screen for other disorders associated with rhinitis, including asthma, cough, respiratory infections, headache and sleep related breathing disorders, such as snoring and sleep apnea.
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