What’s the Difference Between Allergic and Nonallergic Rhinitis?
Allergy is a very common auto-immune condition that causes various symptoms, including nasal or sinus congestion, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, etc. These symptoms refer to a type of allergy known as allergic rhinitis.
However, many people who think they have allergic rhinitis are actually affected by nonallergic rhinitis, which is triggered by an infection, chemical sensitivity, or seasonal changes in weather, rather than pollen or dust mites. One study showed that 37 percent of 300 people involved were taking allergy medication for their symptoms, although they didn’t have a proper diagnosis of allergy and they didn’t even consult with the pharmacist.
According to statistics, estimated 7 percent of Americans have nonallergic rhinitis, which is about a third of the number of people with seasonal allergies. Usually, this condition affects adults, especially older adults. In many cases, people develop allergy- or cold-like symptoms as a result of nonallergic rhinitis. The symptoms like a runny or stuffy nose and sneezing may suddenly occur after exposure to a tobacco smoke, detergent odor, cold, dry air, or spicy foods.
To find the best treatment for allergic or nonallergic rhinitis, you need to determine the exact cause of your symptoms.
Are Your Symptoms Caused by an Allergy or Nonallergic Rhinitis?
If you notice having the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, try to keep track of the symptoms and identify the triggers. This will help to understand whether you have a seasonal allergy or nonallergic rhinitis. Use the tips below.
The most common symptoms of seasonal allergies are the following: nasal or sinus congestion, sneezing, clear nasal discharge, red, itchy and watery eyes, and itchy or scratchy throat.
People allergic to outdoor irritants such as pollen usually develop the symptoms during the period from February or March to October. In case of an indoor allergy, the symptoms may be present almost year-round.
Allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, is often triggered by tree, grass or weed pollen, airborne mold spores, pet dander, dust mites, cockroach body parts, etc.
When it comes to nonallergic rhinitis, the symptoms do include congestion, nasal discharge and sneezing, but they don’t affect the eyes and throat.
Like indoor allergies, this condition may last during the whole year, periodically.
There are many potential triggers of nonallergic rhinitis, including respiratory infections, air pollution, changes in weather and temperature, cold, dry air, spicy foods, strong odors and fumes, perfume, alcohol, tobacco smoke, and others.
In addition, certain medications can also trigger the symptoms of nonallergic rhinitis. These meds include nasal decongestant sprays (such as phenylephrine or oxymetazoline), aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, certain blood pressure drugs, erectile dysfunction drugs (e.g. sildenafil or tadalafil), as well as the enlarged-prostate medications called tamsulosin.
How to Get a Proper Diagnosis?
The tips mentioned above can help to distinguish between allergy and nonallergic rhinitis. However, if you are not sure what causes your symptoms, you may want to visit a doctor.
Based on your symptoms, overall health, medical history, allergy history in family, and some other factors, the doctor will make a diagnosis. You may also be recommended to perform an allergy test, such as skin prick test, for instance.
Skin prick test involves injecting tiny amounts of the allergens under the surface on the skin. If the affected area of the skin becomes red and develops an itchy bump, you are allergic.
Otherwise, your symptoms may be caused by nonallergic rhinitis or another condition.
Not all allergy tests are good at identifying allergies. Some pharmacies offer free allergy tests and cell home tests that are meant to determine allergies to dust mites, cat dander, grass, cedar, and egg. However, these tests often provide misleading results, which is why experts recommend getting tested at the doctor’s office. What is more, such tests have even been labelled as unnecessary and sometime harmful medical care by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
How Should You Treat Allergies?
There is no cure for allergies. The best way to prevent the symptoms is to avoid exposure to the allergens.
For example, if you have a seasonal allergy to pollen or mold, make sure to stay indoors when pollen and mold spore counts are high. Keep the windows closed and use the air conditioning instead.
If you have an indoor allergy, using an air dehumidifier can help to control the levels of allergens in the air, as well as removing carpeting, washing bedding, rugs and curtains regularly. Do the general cleaning of the house one a week.
You may also want to use allergy-proof bedding that help to reduce the levels of dust mites in your bed. If you have pets, keep them out of your bedroom.
In addition, there are a lot of different allergy medications available on the market. Antihistamine medications sold over the counter are the most common choice, when it comes to treating mild allergy symptoms. Popular antihistamines include loratadine (sold under the brand name Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec), and fexofenadine (Allegra).
Moderate to severe allergic rhinitis can be treated with over-the-counter steroid nasal sprays. However, if you develop irritation or nosebleeds after, you should stop using these medicines. Common steroid sprays include fluticasone (generic or brand version Flonase) and triamcinolone (Nasacort).
In some cases, allergy immunotherapy (allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy) can help to desensitize the immune system to the allergens. While allergy shots involve injecting tiny amounts of the allergens into the skin, sublingual immunotherapy involves placing the allergens under the tongue. Immunotherapy is the only treatment that helps to increase the body’s tolerance towards the allergen. However, this type of treatment can be quite expensive.
How to Control Your Nonallergic Rhinitis?
Like in case of allergies, the first step in the treatment of nonallergic rhinitis is to avoid the triggers.
If it’s not possible, experts suggest that you try a daily saline rinse to reduce the symptoms. Sterilized saline water solutions are often available at pharmacies. To prepare the solution at home, make sure to used bottled or distilled water, never use tap water.
Nasal symptoms can be relieved with the prescription nasal antihistamine called azelastine (brand medications include Astelin, or Astepro). If you are having persistent symptoms, you can try using steroid nasal sprays.