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Rhinitis is an inflammation or irritation of the nasal passages. This condition causes excess mucus production in the nose, leading to a runny nose and nasal congestion. A related condition called post-nasal drip, in which excess mucus accumulates at the back of the nose, is also a common side effect. Up to 20% of people are affected by rhinitis at any time, with most episodes being of fairly short duration. Prolonged episodes of rhinitis are called chronic rhinitis. This condition is often caused by allergies or exposure to chemical or other irritants.
There are two main types of chronic rhinitis: allergic and non-allergic. Chronic allergic rhinitis is a relatively minor condition, but has the potential to affect quality of life significantly, as the condition may affect the eyes, ears, and throat in addition to the nose. Allergic rhinitis is caused by over-sensitization of the immune system to environmental antigens, which causes chronic irritation and inflammation when exposure occurs. One of the most common trigger of allergic rhinitis is wind-borne pollen from grasses, weeds, and certain types of tree and shrub. Other common triggers include dust mites, pet dander, and pet hair.
Non-allergic chronic rhinitis does not directly involve the immune system. Instead, exposure to one or more environmental triggers can cause inflammation of the nasal passages. Triggers differ from person to person, and may include smoke or perfume, changes in temperature or humidity, respiratory infection, alcohol or spicy food, stress, or specific types of medications.
Symptoms of rhinitis include nasal itching and congestion, as well as runny nose and sneezing. Additional chronic rhinitis symptoms may include red or watery eyes, blockage in the ears, headaches, and fatigue, if the condition is caused by allergies. When post-nasal drip is involved, a sore throat or chronic cough may also develop.
Allergic rhinitis is typically treated with medication to control symptoms. Avoiding triggers is somewhat difficult, particularly when the trigger is pollen. Limiting outdoor exposure on dry or windy days can help reduce pollen exposure, and showering after outdoor time is also a useful measure. Medications to treat this condition include prescription antihistamines and anti-inflammatory medications to limit the allergic response, and decongestants to clear the nose. People who do not respond to this treatment may be able to opt for a form of immunotherapy in which the immune system is desensitized to the allergy-inducing antigens.
Chronic non-allergic rhinitis can be treated with a wide range of home remedies or over-the-counter preparations. Oral decongestants and nasal sprays, and over-the-counter antihistamine and anti-inflammatory medications can help reduce inflammation and clear the nose; however these tend to be more useful for chronic allergic rhinitis. Non-allergic chronic rhinitis can also be eased with plenty of fluids to improve hydration, and a humidifier to help keep the nose clear. A hot shower or facial steam bath is a popular home remedy to loosen mucus in the nose and keep the head clear.