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Nasal Allergy Symptoms & Causes

Medically reviewed by Chhavi Gandhi, MD, Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on January 14, 2023

While your friends are enjoying spring flowers, you’re battling a runny nose. Walking by a bar at night, you pass through a cloud of cigarette smoke and almost instantly start sneezing. Spending a day landscaping means enduring a night with a stuffy nose and itchy eyes. If these concerns are familiar, you may have a nasal allergy. So what are its symptoms and causes?


Your Hyper-vigilant Immune System 


Allergies are an overreaction. You encounter something that can’t really hurt you –– like dust mites, animal dander, or pollen. Unfortunately, your immune system treats it as a dangerous threat. It floods your system with histamines –– which are designed to protect you by causing your blood vessels to expand and your skin to swell. For allergic people, this can mean everything from breathing difficulties to itchy eyes. Taking an antihistamine is often the best, most inexpensive treatment available.


Allergy symptoms are often similar to the ones for the common cold. These include everything from coughing and headaches to fatigue and a sore throat. You may also have itchy, watery eyes. Those symptoms can accompany common ones for a nasal allergy like sneezing. Your nose may also itch or run. You may be stuffed up and just generally feel terrible.


Unlike a cold or flu, allergy symptoms are often transitory. You may feel worse in the morning but feel better by the afternoon. Your allergies could flare up when you pass by a trigger, but then you’re fine not long after you are away from it. Colds usually persist for up to a week. Allergies are often seasonal.


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Allergic Rhinitis & Conjunctivitis - Symptoms

Allergic Rhinitis & Conjunctivitis - Symptoms

The Nose Knows


Allergic rhinitis or “inflammation of the nose” affects around 20% of all adults. In the U.S., allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness. Your nose is constantly producing mucus that helps keep everything from dander to dust out of your lungs. Normally this drains down your throat without you even noticing. But if you’re allergic, mucus can become thicker and run down the front of your nose.   


For most allergy sufferers, it’s a fairly benign condition. You can take control. The dead skin of your pets –– dander –– may produce an allergic reaction. Obviously you’re more likely to put your children up for adoption than give away a beloved cat or dog, right? By using a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter designed for sucking up fur (and dander) you’ll be doing yourself a real favor. You may also want to consider hiring cleaning professionals and swapping carpet for bare floors. Actually, carpeting is also a repository for dust mites and other common nasal allergens as well. So if you can, get rid of it. You can also invest in an air purifier with a HEPA filter. 


Don’t be afraid to hire out. If you are triggered by grass pollen, for example, don’t mow your own lawn. Don’t leave laundry outside on a line –– it’s an easy way for your clean sheets and towels to accumulate allergy-inducing pollen. Try to stay inside when it’s dry and windy. Keep your windows shut when pollen counts are high. 


Unfortunately, nasal allergies can progress to more serious conditions. These can range from insomnia to ear or sinus infections. If you already have asthma, nasal allergies can make it worse. Finding out exactly what you are allergic to is a good way to manage the condition. Common allergens include dust mites and animal dander. Besides being allergic to the old skin on an animal, you may also be allergic to their saliva. Mold can trigger allergies. Perhaps the most common type of allergy, hay fever, is seasonal. When plants release pollen, it triggers an allergic reaction. Grass pollen is the biggest concern for most people who live in suburban environments while being closer to nature means you’re in closer contact with grass or tree pollen.   


If you decide to seek treatment, your first step will be a visit with an allergist. This doctor may place potential allergens into your skin and wait to see if there is a reaction. They may also use a blood test that measures the quantity of immunoglobulin-E antibodies in your blood. Everyone is different, so treatment protocols vary from person to person. While antihistamines, nasal steroids or other allergy medications might work for many, you may have better luck with allergy shots that slowly increase your resistance to allergens. No matter what you choose, know that you don’t have to just endure allergy symptoms if they are causing you distress.


Written by John Bankston

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