Someone blowing their nose into a tissue.
Common symptoms of chronic rhinitis are a stuffed or runny nose.

What Is Chronic Rhinitis?

Do you have seasonal hay fever, or is it actually an ongoing condition? The allergens from hay fever generally only affects people at certain times of the year. If it seems like your hay fever strikes year-round, you may be experiencing symptoms of chronic rhinitis instead.

Chronic Rhinitis Explained

Chronic rhinitis is long-lasting inflammation and swelling that affects the nose’s mucus membrane—usually both nostrils at the same time. That is not to suggest that chronic rhinitis symptoms plague you all day every day; symptoms may ebb and flow in severity and persistence. Sometimes, chronic rhinitis is mild irritation, but in more severe cases, the affected individual becomes distressed by regular symptoms that occur daily. One definition that some doctors use to determine if it is chronic rhinitis is that symptoms last for an hour or longer on most days of the year.

Allergic and Non-allergic Rhinitis

Rhinitis itself is usually caused by a common cold or seasonal allergy, but there are allergic and non-allergic sub-types. Allergic causes of rhinitis are the more likely reason for rhinitis.

Allergic Rhinitis

Chronic allergic rhinitis is most common, and it is caused by particles in the air that trigger an overreaction from your immune system because of an allergy. These allergen particles spark an immune system attack because the particles in your body cause physical reactions that put your body into defence mode. You may have allergic symptoms for years before a chronic rhinitis diagnosis. Common allergens that trigger rhinitis are pollens, dust mites, animal dander, mold and some chemicals.

Non-allergic Rhinitis

Inflammation and swelling in the nose can be triggered by something other than an allergy, but this type of rhinitis is less common. The term non-allergic rhinitis refers to rhinitis without a known cause. This can include things like air pollution, changes in the weather, infection with a virus, spicy food, certain medications, hormone changes, aging, and more.

Common Symptoms of Rhinitis

Your diagnosis is based on your symptoms. Symptoms may vary depending on whether you have allergic or non-allergic rhinitis:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Post-nasal drip
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy eyes, ears, nose and throat (only with allergic rhinitis)
  • Watery eyes (only with allergic rhinitis)
  • Nasal obstruction
  • Crusting, bleeding and pus-filled discharge from the nose
  • Loss of smell, face pain and headaches

Causes of Chronic Rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis is the body’s response to an allergen. The allergen causes inflammation and other symptoms to develop. In many cases, the cause is an allergy to dust mites in the home, an allergy to pets, or at certain times of the year, hay fever (an allergy to pollen). Hay fever generally is not considered a chronic condition because it only hits at particular points throughout the year. In allergic rhinitis, the cells in the lining of your nose release histamine (ad other chemicals) when an allergen enters the body.

Causes of Persistent Non-allergic Types

Nonallergic rhinitis is usually the result of a viral infection or irritants such as second-hand smoke, strong smells, fumes, chemicals, or changes in humidity. Other factors that cause nonallergic rhinitis are hormone changes (such as with pregnancy), an overactive thyroid, spicy food or drinks, certain food colorings or food preservatives, and in rare occasions, as a side effect of medications.

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What Are the Treatment Options?

There is no cure for allergic rhinitis and non-allergic rhinitis is difficult to treat. Rhinitis comes in various forms and each are treated in different ways:

  • Medications (either prescription or over the counter), such as antibiotics, antihistamines, decongestants, corticosteroids, and more
  • Nasal passage saline rinse with a neti pot or bulb syringe
  • Desensitization injections, also referred to as allergy shots
  • Surgery

Risk Factors

There are some factors that increase risk of contracting chronic rhinitis. This is a common condition that can be found more often with these factors:

  • Older age. While this condition can affect anyone of any age, chronic rhinitis is more common in adults than in children. It’s also found to occur more in seniors than those who are younger.
  • Persistent colds. There is a correlation between chronic rhinitis and inflammation of the sinuses.
  • Genetics. Certain allergies run in families. If you have family members with a certain allergy, you may be more likely to develop similar allergies.

Can It Be Prevented?

You may not be able to cure your chronic rhinitis, but you can do the next best thing, which is to try and prevent it from happening. If you suffer from allergic rhinitis, get some allergy testing to find out your allergens. Once you know your allergic triggers, do what you can to avoid them. If dust, animal dander, or mold, set you off, clean your house often to get rid of these triggers. When pollen counts are up at certain times of the year, stay inside to avoid these airborne triggers.

It's worth trying anything to ease your chronic rhinitis symptoms. A combination of solutions, such as allergen avoidance, saline rinses and sometimes medication can ease your symptoms and make chronic rhinitis tolerable.