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Rhinitis

What Is Rhinitis?

Rhinitis is a defense reaction of the mucous membranes inside the nose. It is very common and affects between 10 and 30 percent of adults and up to 40 percent of children in the U.S.

Rhinitis can be caused by:

  • Viral infections, such as a cold

  • Allergies to substances, such as pollen, animal dander and dust

  • Changes in weather

  • Irritants, such as odors or foods

Symptoms

In addition to sneezing, the most common symptoms of rhinitis include:

  • Allergic conjunctivitis — Seasonal allergies can irritate the conjuctiva, a membrane that protects the eye and inner eyelid, resulting in red, watery, itchy, swollen or painful eyes.

  • Congestion and runny nose — This results from inflammation in the nose.

  • Headaches with facial tenderness — Pain is often felt over the sinus area, or it may be throbbing and located on one side of the head.

  • Itching in the ears, nose, throat, mouth and eyes — These occur when the immune system prompts the body to produce histamine and other chemicals in response to an allergen.

  • Low-grade fever — This may occur as the body fights off an infection.

  • Persistent cough — This can be caused by postnasal drip, another symptom of allergies or sinusitis.

Treatment Options

Rhinitis treatment depends on the cause. Allergic rhinitis can generally be treated with avoidance of the allergen, but medical treatments are also available and include:

  • Allergy shots (immunotherapy) — These gradually expose the immune system to an allergen so it no longer overreacts when it encounters that allergen.

  • Medication — Both over-the-counter and, if necessary, prescription allergy medications and nasal sprays can help reduce symptoms or allergic and non-allergic rhinitis.

  • Nasal irrigation — Rinsing out the nasal passages with a saline (saltwater) solution adds moisture to mucous membranes to ease the inflammation and wash away viruses, allergens and irritants.

Nonallergic rhinitis may also require antihistamines or antibiotics. As a last resort, surgery may be used to correct structural problems in the sinuses or to remove nasal polyps that cause blockage and irritation.

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