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Allergic rhinitis

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read
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The word ‘rhinitis’ means inflammation of the nose and if this is caused by an allergy, it’s known as ‘allergic rhinitis’. Allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, is an allergy to pollen. Typically, grass or tree pollen are the culprits. They cause itchy eyes, nose, and throat, plus sneezing, a runny nose, and watery eyes. These symptoms occur in what’s known as hay fever season, which is typically from the end of March to July but varies depending on where you are in the country and whether your allergy is to grass pollen or tree pollen. House dust mite and pet allergy can trigger allergic rhinitis at any time of the year.

Allergic rhinitis is very common, with around 7-8% of people in the US suffering with it at some point in their life; however, it most commonly starts as a child or teenager. It can run in families, and you are more likely to have allergic rhinitis if you also suffer from asthma or eczema. Allergic rhinitis is not contagious.

Doctor’s advice

How do I know what pollen I am allergic to?

Sometimes people can be quite specific about what causes their symptoms, such as rapeseed or common grass. Generally speaking, tree pollen tends to cause symptoms earlier in the spring, such as March to May, and grass pollen tends to be later in the summer, during June and July.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

People suffering from allergic rhinitis and allergies may suffer from the full spectrum of symptoms associated with this or just one symptom. In most cases, it's best to take a stepwise approach.

Taking an antihistamine will often relieve most symptoms, such as sneezing, drying up a runny streaming nose, and watery eyes. Any remaining symptoms, such as sinus congestion or red itchy eyes, can be resolved by add-on treatments such as a nasal spray or eye drops.

There may be a few cautions on pharmacy products if you are pregnant or you wear contact lenses. It's important that those who are pregnant try drug-free treatments first, such as sea salt-based nasal spray, and speak to your pharmacist or doctor before taking antihistamine tablets.

Not all eye drops are suitable for those wearing contact lenses, so it's important to check the product information carefully when deciding what to use.

If in any doubt, speak to your pharmacist.

When should I see my doctor?

You should book a routine doctor appointment if you have used over-the-counter medications from the pharmacy for two weeks and had no improvement or if your symptoms are worsening.

The doctor will ask you about your medical history and current symptoms. Depending on your symptoms, they may examine your eyes and listen to your chest. Your doctor can prescribe different medications unavailable in the pharmacy or, in some severe cases, refer you for specialist input.

Am I fit for work?

You are fit for work if you have allergic rhinitis.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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