What is rhinitis?

woman with rhinitis blowing her noseRhinitis is inflammation of the soft tissue lining (mucosa) of the nasal cavities. The inflamed lining swells up and blocks airflow, making it hard to breathe. Glands within the mucosa may also create excess mucus, causing a runny nose or postnasal drip.

There are two main types of rhinitis:

  • Allergic rhinitis
  • Nonallergic rhinitis

Our rhinology specialists will determine which type of rhinitis you have and what the best treatment options are.

Allergic rhinitis (hay fever)

Allergic rhinitis occurs when an allergen passes into the nose and causes a reaction. Symptoms include itchy nose or eyes, runny nose, congestion, sneezing or watery eyes.

This condition is often called hay fever. Hay fever is a seasonal allergy triggered by grass, tree or weed pollens. But these are not the only causes of rhinitis. Our doctors may recommend allergy testing to identify what is triggering your symptoms. 

People with asthma often suffer from allergic rhinitis. We will work with your pulmonologist or primary care provider to coordinate the treatment you need.

Nonallergic rhinitis

There are several types of rhinitis that are not caused by allergies. These include:

  • Infectious rhinitis:  A cold or flu virus causes nasal congestion and drainage.  
  • Irritant rhinitis: Environmental irritants such as dust, perfume, cleaning products, smoke or other pollutants trigger rhinitis symptoms.
  • Mixed rhinitis: Both allergens and nonallergic factors can contribute to rhinitis symptoms.
  • Rhinitis medicamentosa: Overusing nasal decongestant sprays can cause rhinitis. The nose becomes “addicted” and must be weaned off with a nasal steroid spray.
  • Rhinitis of pregnancy: Some women experience rhinitis only while pregnant. Experts suspect changing hormone levels and increased blood flow to mucous membranes.
  • Vasomotor rhinitis:  Overactive nerves in the nose may cause rhinitis. Triggers such as spicy foods, alcohol or temperature changes may cause nerves to stimulate glands to produce excess mucus.

Treatment for rhinitis

The type of rhinitis determines the correct treatment option, which can include:

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