What Is Chronic Rhinitis? Causes, Symptoms & Treatment in Denver

Learn more about Chronic Rhinitis, including what causes it, what its symptoms are, and how it can be treated at Advanced ENT & Allergy Center in Denver.

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If you’ve experienced congestion, sneezing, or a runny nose for months on end, you might have chronic rhinitis. Rhinitis is inflammation or swelling of the inner lining of the nose. While acute rhinitis only lasts a few days, chronic rhinitis can persist for months and even years.

There are two types of chronic rhinitis: allergic and non-allergic. Commonly referred to as hay fever, allergic rhinitis is your body’s response to specific airborne allergens. Non-allergic rhinitis isn’t caused by an allergy and can be triggered by a number of factors.

Symptoms of chronic rhinitis can include:

Allergic vs Non-Allergic Rhinitis

Chronic allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, is a common condition that affects millions of Americans. Also known as nasal allergies, this reaction is caused by your body’s allergic response to specific allergens in the air. Whether it’s pollen or pet dander, allergic rhinitis causes symptoms including a stuffy nose and itchy, watery eyes.

Chronic non-allergic rhinitis has similar symptoms, but is caused by something other than an allergen. These triggers can be anything from an air pollutant to a hormonal change. Unlike allergic rhinitis, non-allergic rhinitis doesn’t cause itchy eyes, nose or throat. If untreated, non-allergic rhinitis can cause serious damage to the body, including sinusitis, nasal polyps, and chronic ear infections.

Causes of Allergic Rhinitis

When you come into contact with an allergen, your body releases a natural chemical that shields your body from the unwanted substance. This chemical is called histamine — the true culprit for allergic rhinitis and all of its symptoms.

Common allergens include:

  • Tree pollen
  • Ragweed
  • Grass pollen
  • Dust mites
  • Animal dander
  • Mold

Allergic rhinitis can manifest as seasonal or perennial. Seasonal allergies occur during specific seasons (spring and fall, most commonly) in response to outdoor allergens like pollen. Perennial allergies can appear at any time, typically in response to indoor allergens like dust mites, animals, or mold.

Causes of Non-Allergic Rhinitis

While chronic non-allergic rhinitis is still a bit of a mystery, experts have uncovered some common causes. Unlike allergic rhinitis, non-allergic rhinitis doesn’t involve the immune system and is caused by the blood vessels inside the nose expanding in response to a specific trigger. This swelling inside of the nose causes congestion.

Triggers may include:

  • Environmental irritants (tobacco smoke, perfume, smog, detergent)
  • Foods and beverages (hot foods, spicy foods, alcohol)
  • Changes in the weather or air quality
  • Medications (aspirin, ibuprofen, beta blockers, antidepressants, oral contraceptives)
  • Colds or flu
  • Overuse of nasal decongestant sprays
  • Stress
  • Hormonal changes (pregnancy, menstruation)
  • Thyroid conditions
  • Sinus surgery
  • Nasal passage issues (deviated septum, enlarged turbinates, or adenoids)
  • Asthma
  • Chronic sinusitis

Symptoms of Chronic Rhinitis

Nasal congestion is the main symptom of chronic rhinitis, but other symptoms include runny nose, sneezing, and post-nasal drip.

Allergic and non-allergic rhinitis share many of the same symptoms, but there are a few differences. The most notable is that non-allergic rhinitis is not accompanied by itchy, watery eyes. Here are a few symptom commonalities and distinctions:

 

Rhinitis Issues

How is Chronic Rhinitis Diagnosed?

If your rhinitis symptoms persist over several weeks and your body isn’t responding to over-the-counter (OTC) medications, you should see a doctor. An immunologist or ENT doctor can perform an allergy test to determine if specific allergies are the root cause. Then, they can offer a path for treatment. If your rhinitis is non-allergic, your doctor can help uncover the cause and check your nasal passages for structural issues.

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Chronic Rhinitis Treatment

Chronic rhinitis can usually be treated with a combination of medications, lifestyle changes, and at-home remedies. In some severe cases, surgery may be required.

Medications

Antihistamines are medications used to treat the symptoms of allergic rhinitis. These come in both OTC and prescription form, including:

  • Antihistamines (Claritin, Zyrtec, Allegra)
  • Saline nasal sprays
  • Decongestant nasal sprays (Note: you shouldn’t use these for longer than three days.)
  • Steroid nasal sprays
  • Anticholinergic nasal sprays
  • Allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy for allergies

Lifestyle changes

The simplest way to treat chronic rhinitis is by avoiding the allergen. You can reduce exposure with some of these easy solutions:

  • Close your windows when pollen counts are high
  • Use an air purifier
  • Wear a mask and sunglasses when working outside
  • Change heating and air conditioning filters often
  • Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter
  • Wash bedding weekly
  • Bathe pets often
  • Shower after being outside
  • Avoid second-hand smoke

Home Remedies

Home remedies are useful for treating both allergic and non-allergic rhinitis. These quick fixes can help clear the nasal passages, encourage mucus drainage, and provide immediate relief:

  • Use a nasal irrigation (like a saline nasal spray or neti pot)
  • Buy a humidifier
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Avoid caffeine

Surgery

If your chronic rhinitis is caused by structural issues in the nose, like a deviated septum or enlarged turbinates, medications and home remedies may not alleviate your symptoms. An ENT specialist can help you understand your underlying issues and decide if surgery is the best way to fix your issues.

Complications from Chronic Rhinitis

If not treated, chronic inflammation in the nose can lead to issues such as:

  • Sinusitis, or swelling of the membrane that lines the sinuses
  • Frequent middle ear infections, resulting from fluid in the nose
  • Nasal polyps, which are noncancerous growths in the lining of the nose
  • Daily discomfort and decreased enjoyment of life

When Should I See a Doctor?

While it’s possible to treat chronic rhinitis with OTC medications and lifestyle changes, you should call your doctor if you answer yes to one or more of the following questions:

  • Are my symptoms severe?
  • Have my symptoms lasted longer than a week?
  • Are my symptoms not responding to OTC medications?
  • Are my symptoms disrupting my life?
  • Do I have another condition that’s making my symptoms worse (like asthma)?
  • Am I experiencing sinus pain?
  • Do I want to learn more about allergy shots or immunotherapy?

Let Us Help You Breathe Better

It can be difficult to decipher whether your chronic rhinitis is allergic or non-allergic. With so many factors contributing to these conditions, it can be hard to narrow down the exact trigger. At Advanced ENT & Allergy Center, we’re determined to understand the underlying causes of your chronic rhinitis. We’ll talk through your unique issues and offer a treatment plan that will alleviate your symptoms and help you breathe easier.

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