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Allergies Health Center

Nonallergic Rhinitis

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Nonallergic rhinitis is a medical term that describes a set of symptoms that resemble an allergy but that occur without a known cause. It produces symptoms such as:

  • Postnasal drip
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy nose

Usually, it develops in adulthood, and symptoms last year-round.

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Unlike allergic rhinitis, nonallergic rhinitis does not involve the immune system. About 58 million Americans have allergic rhinitis. By comparison, 19 million have nonallergic rhinitis.

Nonallergic rhinitis can cause just as much misery as allergic rhinitis. It can also be associated with the same complications, such as:

Both types of rhinitis are associated with:

  • Decreased production at work
  • Increased doctor visits
  • Side effects from treatment, such as drowsiness, nosebleed, and nasal dryness

Because the two are so similar, it's often necessary to perform allergy tests and blood tests to tell them apart.

Causes of Nonallergic Rhinitis

Often, what causes nonallergic rhinitis is unknown. And the condition is often confirmed only after other conditions such as allergic rhinitis or infection are ruled out.

Environmental irritants are common triggers of nonallergic rhinitis. Some are found in the home and others are more common in the workplace.

Examples of what can trigger symptoms include:

  • Car exhaust
  • Chlorine
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Cleaning solutions
  • Glues
  • Hair spray
  • Latex
  • Laundry detergents
  • Metal salts
  • Perfume
  • Smog
  • Wood dust

When such triggers cause nonallergic rhinitis, they also often cause asthma.

Some medications can trigger non-allergic rhinitis. Examples include:

  • NSAIDs -- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Blood pressure medicines such as ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers
  • Antidepressants
  • Tranquilizers
  • Drugs used to treat erectile dysfunction

Foods and beverages may also sometimes be triggers. Examples include:

  • Hot foods, such as soup
  • Spicy foods
  • Alcoholic beverages, especially beer and wine

Other triggers include:

  • Illegal drugs. Cocaine and other snorted street drugs often cause chronic nonallergic rhinitis.
  • Weather changes. Sudden changes in weather or temperature can trigger nonallergic rhinitis. Skiers, for instance, often develop a runny nose. And some people are affected by any cold exposure. In some cases, people even start sneezing after leaving a cold, air-conditioned room.
  • Hormone changes. Nonallergic rhinitis often occurs during periods of hormonal imbalance. For instance, it may occur during puberty, menstruation, or pregnancy. It usually starts during the second month of pregnancy and lasts until childbirth. Hormonal conditions such as hypothyroidism can also trigger symptoms.
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