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Allergic Rhinitis

What is allergic rhinitis?

Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, is swelling of the inside of your nose. The swelling is a reaction to allergens in the air. An allergen can be anything that causes an allergic reaction. Allergies to weeds, grass, trees, or mold often cause seasonal allergic rhinitis. Indoor dust mites, cockroaches, pet dander, or mold can also cause allergic rhinitis.

What are the signs and symptoms of allergic rhinitis?

  • Sneezing

  • Nasal congestion

  • Runny nose

  • Itchy nose, eyes, or mouth

  • Red, watery eyes

  • Postnasal drip (nasal drainage down the back of your throat)

  • Cough or frequent throat clearing

  • Feeling tired or lethargic

  • Dark circles under your eyes

How is allergic rhinitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and examine you. He may ask if you know what makes your symptoms worse. Tell him if you have pets. You may need any of the following:

  • Skin testing may show what you are allergic to. Your healthcare provider lightly pricks or scratches your skin with tiny amounts of a possible allergen. He watches to see how your skin reacts. If a bump appears within a few minutes, you are likely allergic to the allergen.

  • A nasal swab is used to test fluid from your nose for allergic disease.

  • A rhinoscopy is a procedure used to check for another cause of your symptoms, such as polyps or a foreign object. Your healthcare provider will use a thin tube with a camera on the end to look inside your nose.

How is allergic rhinitis treated?

  • Antihistamines help reduce itching, sneezing, and a runny nose. Some antihistamines can make you sleepy.

  • Nasal steroids help decrease inflammation in your nose.

  • Decongestants help clear your stuffy nose.

  • Immunotherapy may be needed if your symptoms are severe or other treatments do not work. Immunotherapy is used to inject an allergen into your skin. At first, the therapy contains tiny amounts of the allergen. Your healthcare provider will slowly increase the amount of allergen. This may help your body be less sensitive to the allergen and stop reacting to it. You may need immunotherapy for weeks or longer.

How can I manage allergic rhinitis?

The best way to manage allergic rhinitis is to avoid allergens that can trigger your symptoms. Any of the following may help decrease your symptoms:

  • Rinse your nose and sinuses with a salt water solution or use a salt water nasal spray. This will help thin the mucus in your nose and rinse away pollen and dirt. It will also help reduce swelling so you can breathe normally. Ask your healthcare provider how often to rinse your nose.

  • Reduce exposure to dust mites. Wash sheets and towels in hot water every week. Cover your pillows and mattresses with allergen-free covers. Limit the number of stuffed animals and soft toys your child has. Wash your child's toys in hot water regularly. Vacuum weekly and use a vacuum cleaner with an air filter. If possible, get rid of carpets and curtains. These collect dust and dust mites.

  • Reduce exposure to pollen. Keep windows and doors closed in your house and car. Stay inside when air pollution or the pollen count is high. Run your air conditioner on recycle, and change air filters often. Shower and wash your hair before bed every night to rinse away pollen.

  • Reduce exposure to pet dander. If possible, do not keep cats, dogs, birds, or other pets. If you do keep pets in your home, keep them out of bedrooms and carpeted rooms. Bathe them often.

  • Reduce exposure to mold. Do not spend time in basements. Choose artificial plants instead of live plants. Keep your home's humidity at less than 45%. Do not have ponds or standing water in your home or yard.

  • Do not smoke. Avoid others who smoke. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit.

Call 911 for the following:

  • You have chest pain or shortness of breath.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have severe pain.

  • You cough up blood.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.

  • You have ear or sinus pain, or a headache.

  • Your symptoms get worse, even after treatment.

  • You have yellow, green, brown, or bloody mucus coming from your nose.

  • Your nose is bleeding or you have pain inside your nose.

  • You have trouble sleeping because of your symptoms.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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