What triggers allergies in the winter
Allergic rhinitis typically causes cold-like symptoms, such as sneezing, itchiness and a blocked or runny nose.
These symptoms usually start soon after being exposed to an allergen.
Some people only get allergic rhinitis for a few months at a time because they’re sensitive to seasonal allergens, such as tree or grass pollen. Other people get allergic rhinitis every year round.
Most people with allergic rhinitis own mild symptoms that can be easily and effectively treated.
But for some people symptoms can be severe and persistent, causing sleep problems and interfering with everyday life.
The symptoms of allergic rhinitis occasionally improve with time, but this can take numerous years and it’s unlikely that the condition will vanish completely.
Not every cases of rhinitis are caused by an allergic reaction.
Some cases are the result of:
- an infection, such as the common cold
- oversensitive blood vessels in the nose
- overuse of nasal decongestants
This type of rhinitis is known as non-allergic rhinitis.
Sheet final reviewed: 29 April 2019
Next review due: 29 April 2022
Oversensitive immune system
If you own allergic rhinitis, your natural defence against infection and illness (your immune system) will react to an allergen as if it were harmful.
If your immune system is oversensitive, it’ll react to allergens by producing antibodies to fight them off.
Antibodies are special proteins in the blood that are generally produced to fight viruses and infections.
Allergic reactions do not happen the first time you come into contact with an allergen.
The immune system has to recognise and «memorise» it before producing antibodies to fight it. This process is known as sensitisation.
After you develop sensitivity to an allergen, it’ll be detected by antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE) whenever it comes into contact with the inside of your nose and throat.
These antibodies cause cells to release a number of chemicals, including histamine, which can cause the inside layer of your nose (the mucous membrane) to become inflamed and produce too much mucus.
This is what causes the typical symptoms of sneezing and a blocked or runny nose.
Treating and preventing allergic rhinitis
It’s hard to completely avoid potential allergens, but you can take steps to reduce exposure to a specific allergen you know or suspect is triggering your allergic rhinitis.
This will assist improve your symptoms.
If your condition is mild, you can also assist reduce the symptoms by taking over-the-counter medications, such as non-sedating antihistamines, and by regularly rinsing your nasal passages with a salt water solution to hold your nose free of irritants.
See a GP for advice if you own tried taking these steps and they own not helped.
They may prescribe a stronger medication, such as a nasal spray containing corticosteroids.
What causes allergic rhinitis
Allergic rhinitis is caused by the immune system reacting to an allergen as if it were harmful.
This results in cells releasing a number of chemicals that cause the inside layer of your nose (the mucous membrane) to become swollen and too much mucus to be produced.
Common allergens that cause allergic rhinitis include pollen (this type of allergic rhinitis is known as hay fever), as well as mould spores, home dust mites, and flakes of skin or droplets of urine or saliva from certain animals.
Find out more about the causes of allergic rhinitis
When to see a GP
Visit a GP if the symptoms of allergic rhinitis are disrupting your sleep, preventing you carrying out everyday activities, or adversely affecting your performance at work or school.
A diagnosis of allergic rhinitis will generally be based on your symptoms and any possible triggers you may own noticed.
If the cause of your condition is uncertain, you may be referred for allergy testing.
Find out more about diagnosing allergic rhinitis
Allergic rhinitis can lead to complications in some cases.
- nasal polyps – abnormal but non-cancerous (benign) sacs of fluid that grow inside the nasal passages and sinuses
- sinusitis – an infection caused by nasal inflammation and swelling that prevents mucus draining from the sinuses
- middle ear infections – infection of part of the ear located directly behind the eardrum
These problems can often be treated with medication, although surgery is sometimes needed in severe or long-term cases.
Find out more about the complications of allergic rhinitis