What Is Allergic Rhinitis? - Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Marisela Duque

Marisela teaches nursing courses at the college level. She also works as a unit educator, teaching experienced nurses about changes in nursing practice.

After completing this lesson, you will be able to define allergic rhinitis, including its symptoms and treatment options. A short quiz follows this lesson so that you can test your knowledge.

The Magic of Spring

Imagine for a moment that it is springtime and you are standing in a field of glorious daisies. The wind is in your hair, and you can't resist recreating a scene from The Sound of Music. As you dance and sing amongst the flowers, enjoying this gorgeous day, your eyes begin to water. At first, you think it is tears of joy, but that's not it. Suddenly, you can't stop sneezing and your nose is running like a faucet. Then you realize, this might be allergic rhinitis, and you run for the safety of the indoors and the comforts of artificial air conditioning!

What Causes Allergic Rhinitis?

Allergic Rhinitis occurs from exposure to an allergen. An allergen can be any substance that you are allergic to; common allergens are pollen, pet dander, plants, cockroaches, dust and mold. Allergic rhinitis that occurs due to pollen in the spring and summer months is also known as hay fever.

If you have allergic rhinitis and your body comes in contact with an allergen, it causes your immune system to kick into overdrive. Your body recognizes the invasion of the enemy allergen and fights back with swelling, sneezing and watery/itchy eyes. This occurs because your body uses antibodies, primarily immunoglobin E (IgE), to attach itself to mast cells in the lungs, skin, and mucous membranes. This marriage of IgE with mast cells causes a release of chemicals (including histamine) that causes the symptoms of allergic rhinitis.

Symptoms

Some symptoms of allergic rhinitis appear immediately after you are exposed to the enemy allergen. These include:

  • Itchy nose, mouth, eyes, throat or skin
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes

Symptoms that may appear later include:

  • Stuffy nose
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Dark circles under your eyes
  • Headache

Treatment

The best way to prevent allergic rhinitis is to avoid known allergens. For example, if you are allergic to pet dander than a furry kitten may not be the ideal pet for you, try a turtle or goldfish instead. Unfortunately, some allergens, like pollen, are almost impossible to avoid. Not to worry, there is no reason to suffer on. There are a number of treatment options available; it's only a matter of finding what works best for you.

Many medications are available both over-the-counter and by prescription that can alleviate that runny nose and itchy/watery eyes. Antihistamines, corticosteroids, decongestants, leukotriene inhibitors and allergy shots are all used to treat allergic rhinitis.

Antihistamines work by blocking histamine, they work best for people with milder allergies. This medicine comes in pill form and nasal spray, some doctors recommend trying this first.

Corticosteroids are another type of medication that is recommended for people with allergic rhinitis. They work by preventing your body from making cytokines, which are chemical messengers that prolong the inflammation (swelling) associated with allergic rhinitis. Nasal corticosteroid sprays are said to be the best at treating the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, especially when used nonstop. There are many brands available both over the counter and by prescription.

Decongestants can help to reduce nasal stuffiness by constricting (narrowing) the blood vessels in the nose. Keep in mind that you should not use decongestant nasal spray for more than 3-7 days straight because it can damage the cells in your nose and make symptoms worse.

Leukotriene antagonists are drugs that block the action of certain chemicals, called leukotrienes. These chemicals are responsible for making breathing harder by constricting the muscles around your airway. Leukotrienes, like histamine, are also released when your body has an allergic reaction.

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