Each year, as hay fever season approaches, you might hear or see the term ‘allergic rhinitis’ being mentioned. Hay fever is in fact a type of allergic rhinitis. Allergic rhinitis is a very common condition, estimated to affect around 1 in 5 people in the UK. So let us explain a little about allergic rhinitis, it’s symptoms and treatment available for it.
What is allergic rhinitis?
Allergic rhinitis is when an allergen causes inflammation of the nose. This inflammation can then cause cold-like symptoms, such as a runny, itchy or blocked nose, sneezing and tickly throat.
If the condition persists, it can affect people's performance and attendance at work or school, and can interfere with sleep patterns.
Causes and triggers of allergic rhinitis
As explained, allergic rhinitis is the allergic reaction to an allergen. This means that your immune system reacts to an allergen as it were harmful, producing antibodies to fight the allergens. This doesn’t happen the first time you come into contact with the allergen. Your body goes through a process of sensitisation as it develops its response to the allergen over time and contact.
One of the chemicals produced by these antibodies is histamine, this is what causes the inflammation of the inside layer of the nose. This is therefore what causes the typical symptoms of allergic rhinitis.
There are many triggers for allergic rhinitis, and these can differ from person to person. Having said this, the common causes include:
- House dust mites
- Pollen and spores
- Animals (interestingly this allergy is no caused by the fur as most people think, it is in fact an allergy to dead flakes of animal skin, saliva and urine)
- Wood dust
- Flour dust
- Symptoms of allergic rhinitis
The symptoms of allergic rhinitis, often mirror that of a common cold, and include:
- Runny nose
- Watery, itchy, red eyes
- Itchy nose, throat, roof of mouth
- Swollen eyes
- Postal nasal drip
For most people allergic rhinitis symptoms are only present for a couple of months a year, as they reflect levels of pollen or other triggering allergens. But some people can find that these symptoms persist throughout the year, and can have a real impact on their daily lives.
Types of allergic rhinitis
There are different types of allergic rhinitis, depending on their causes and persistence. Generally speaking allergic rhinitis can be categorised into:
- Seasonal allergic rhinitis/hay fever - occurs at certain times of the year in response to levels of pollen, spores and weeds.
- Perennial rhinitis - occurs throughout the year and is persistent, the allergens are commonly house dust mites and pets.
- Occupational rhinitis - symptoms occur due to exposure to allergens at work such as latex gloves, wood dust or flour.
You might also hear about allergic rhinitis being classified by severity and persistence, e.g. intermittent or persistent, mild or moderate-to-severe.
Preventing allergic rhinitis
It might sound simple, but really the best way to prevent a flare up of allergic rhinitis is to avoid the allergen that causes it. This can sometimes be hard if you don’t know the cause of allergic rhinitis, or it is something you can’t control e.g. pollen count on a specific day.
- Keep pets outside as much as possible
- Keep pets away from bedrooms
- Wash and groom your pets often
- Regular wash any soft furnishing you pet sits on
- If you are visiting someone with a pet, take an antihistamine 1 hour prior to arriving and tell them not to hoover or dust the day you arrive (this disturbs allergens in the air)
- Keep up to date with pollen count and stay inside when it is high
- Dry your clothes inside or in tumble dryer when pollen count is high
- Wear wrap around sunglasses
- Stay indoors, with the windows closed, in the mid morning and early evening - this is when pollen count tends to be highest
- Shower and wash your hair after being outside
House dust mites
- Consider buying allergy-proof covers for bedding and soft furnishings
- Consider wood or hard vinyl flooring
- Regularly clean all soft furnishings
- Avoid curtains, roller blinds can be wiped clean easily
- Use synthetic pillows and duvets, avoiding woolen blankets and feather bedding
Treating allergic rhinitis
There are a variety of treatment options available for allergic rhinitis, from over the counter remedies and medications to prescription only nasal sprays and tablets.
Before turning to medication, you might find that avoiding allergen contact is the best way to keep your allergic rhinitis at bay. You may also find that cleaning your nasal passages on a regular basis will help relieve your symptoms.
If you are experiencing mild symptoms, you can purchase over the counter antihistamines from most pharmacies or supermarkets. Antihistamine tablets can be bought without a prescription, however antihistamine nasal sprays will need a prescription from a clinician.
If you find that your symptoms persist, or do not go away with antihistamine tablets, you may want to visit your GP or our LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor allergy clinic.