What is rhinitis?

Rhinitis is a condition where the nasal mucosa becomes inflamed. The nasal mucosa is the lining of the inside of the nose. This is a common condition and is thought to affect one in every five people in the UK. Rhinitis can be triggered by allergies, which is called allergic rhinitis (e.g. hay fever). Rhinitis can be acute or it can be chronic (long-lasting).

What are the symptoms of rhinitis?

The main symptoms are sneezing, an itchy nose, itchy eyes, an itchy throat, a lack of smell and a blocked nose with nasal discharge. Due to nasal congestion, the patient cannot breathe freely or easily.

The symptoms occur mostly in the morning. This can be confused with a simple cold, but a cold will resolve in around two weeks, whereas rhinitis persists.

What causes rhinitis?

There are several causes of rhinitis. Rhinitis can be classified into three main groups:

  • Allergic rhinitis – caused by the immune system reacting to an allergen. Often flares up on a seasonal basis.
  • Non-allergic rhinitis – infection (bacterial or viral) causes infectious rhinitis; vasomotor rhinitis is caused by vasoconstrictor medications; hormonal rhinitis is caused by hyperthyroidism or pregnancy; mechanical rhinitis is caused by foreign bodies or a deviated septum.
  • Atrophic rhinitis – caused by the reduction in size of the nasal mucosa.

How can rhinitis be prevented and treated?

For allergic rhinitis, it is difficult to completely avoid the triggering allergens, however, attempts can be made to reduce exposure, such as avoiding leaving the house early in the morning when pollen is at its worst and keeping the windows closed.

Other treatment measures include:

  • Regularly cleaning the nasal passages
  • Antihistamines can help with allergic rhinitis
  • Corticosteroid sprays
  • Immunotherapy
  • Antibiotics
  • Surgery
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