What is rhinitis?

Rhinitis is when a reaction occurs that causes a stuffy nose, runny nose, sneezing, and itching. Most types of rhinitis are caused by inflammation and lead to symptoms in the eyes, ears, or throat. There are several types of rhinitis. The most common types of rhinitis are:

  • Acute rhinitis, which is often caused by a viral illness

  • Allergic rhinitis (can be seasonal or year round)

  • Nonallergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis is caused when allergens in the air trigger the release of histamine in the nose and sinuses. Histamine causes itching, swelling, and fluid to build up in the fragile linings of the nasal passages, sinuses, and eyelids. 

What causes rhinitis?

The most common causes of rhinitis are:

  • Pollen given off by trees, grass, and weeds

  • Dust mites

  • Mold

  • Cockroach waste

  • Animal dander

  • Fumes and odors

  • Extreme temperature or changes in temperature

  • Hormonal changes

  • Certain medicines and overuse of topical nose sprays

  • Changes in the environment

  • Irritants, such as strong odors and tobacco smoke

  • Certain foods or spices 

Who is at risk for rhinitis?

People with asthma are at a higher risk for rhinitis. Allergic rhinitis is a common problem that may be linked to asthma. But this link is not fully understood. Experts think that since rhinitis makes it hard to breathe through the nose, it's harder for the nose to work normally. Breathing through the mouth does not warm, filter, or humidify the air before it enters the lungs. This can make asthma symptoms worse.

Asthma and allergies are also caused by many of the same chemical triggers in the body.

Controlling allergic rhinitis may help control asthma in some people.

What are the symptoms of rhinitis?

Symptoms of rhinitis include:

  • Sneezing

  • Stuffy nose

  • Runny nose

  • Itchy nose, throat, eyes, and ears

  • Nosebleeds

  • Clear drainage from the nose

  • Ear infections that keep coming back

  • Snoring

  • Breathing through the mouth

How is rhinitis diagnosed?

Most often, the diagnosis is made by your healthcare provider based on a full health history and physical exam. In addition to the above signs, the healthcare provider may find:

  • Dark circles under the eyes (more common in children)

  • Creases under the eyes

  • Swollen tissues inside the nose

  • Mouth breathing

How is rhinitis treated?

Staying away from the allergens that are causing the problem is the best treatment. Sometimes it can be hard to stay away from triggers (including allergens), such as pollens. The symptoms of rhinitis sometimes look like other conditions or health problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Treatments for rhinitis may include:

  • Antihistamines

  • Nose sprays

  • Decongestants

  • Medicines for asthma symptoms

  • Allergy shots

  • Surgery for some health problems

Can I prevent rhinitis?

Preventive measures depend on what triggers your rhinitis. These can include:

  • Staying away from areas where there is heavy dust, or mold

  • Not being around pets

  • Staying away from what you know you are allergic to, or what triggers your symptoms

  • Controls in your environment, such as air conditioning during pollen season

  • Staying away from people who are smoking

  • Staying away from strong odors and irritants when possible

  • Using nose sprays only for the prescribed length of time

Key points about rhinitis

  • Allergic rhinitis is a reaction that happens in the eyes, nose, and throat when allergens in the air trigger histamine to be released in the body.

  • Some of the most common causes of allergic rhinitis are pollen, dust mites, mold, cockroach waste, animal dander.

  • Nonallergic rhinitis is inflammation in the nose, eyes, and throat from nonallergic sources, such as fumes and odors, hormonal changes, and smoke.

  • Symptoms of rhinitis include sneezing, stuffy and runny nose, nosebleeds, and itchy throat, eyes, and ears.

  • Treatment may include medicines, allergy shots, and surgery for some health problems.

  • Preventive measures for rhinitis include staying away from what you are allergic to and other triggers.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your healthcare provider if you have questions, especially after office hours and on weekends and holidays.

Online Medical Reviewer: Chris Southard RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Deborah Pedersen MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals RN BSN MPH
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2023
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