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Allergic Rhinitis - Topic Overview

What is allergic rhinitis?

Allergic rhinitis, often called allergies or hay fever, occurs when your immune system overreacts to particles in the air that you breathe—you are allergic to them. Your immune system attacks the particles in your body, causing symptoms such as sneezing and a runny nose. The particles are called allergens, which simply means they can cause an allergic reaction.

People with allergies usually have symptoms for many years. You may have symptoms often during the year, or just at certain times. You also may get other problems such as sinusitis and ear infections as a result of your allergies.

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Over time, allergens may begin to affect you less, and your symptoms may not be as severe as they had been.

What are the symptoms of allergic rhinitis?

In most cases, when you have allergic rhinitis:

  • You sneeze again and again, especially after you wake up in the morning.
  • You have a runny nose and postnasal drip. The drainage from a runny nose caused by allergies is usually clear and thin. But it may become thicker and cloudy or yellowish if you get a nasal or sinus infection.
  • Your eyes are watery and itchy.
  • Your ears, nose, and throat are itchy.

Which allergens commonly cause allergic rhinitis?

You probably know that pollens from trees, grasses, and weeds cause allergic rhinitis. Many people have allergies to dust mites, animal dander, cockroaches, and mold as well. Things in the workplace, such as cereal grain, wood dust, chemicals, or lab animals, can also cause allergic rhinitis.

If you are allergic to pollens, you may have symptoms only at certain times of the year. If you are allergic to dust mites and indoor allergens, you may have symptoms all the time.

How is allergic rhinitis diagnosed?

To find out if you have allergies, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and examine you. Knowing what symptoms you have, when you get them, and what makes them worse or better can help your doctor know whether you have allergies or another problem.

If you have severe symptoms, you may need to have allergy tests to find out what you are allergic to.

  • Your doctor may do a skin test. In this test your doctor puts a small amount of an allergen into your skin to see if it causes an allergic reaction.
  • Your doctor may order lab tests. These tests look for substances that put you at risk for allergies.
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