Allergic rhinitis, commonly called hay fever, refers to a group of symptoms affecting the nose.1 It causes cold-like signs and symptoms, such as a runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion, sneezing, and sinus pressure.
An allergy, such as allergic rhinitis, is your body’s response to a perceived threat that is typically harmless. This allergic response includes the release of chemicals called histamines to attack the threat. These histamines trigger allergy symptoms.
Allergic reactions can be minor to life-threatening depending on the severity of a person’s allergic reaction.
Both the common cold and influenza (flu) have symptoms that may be confused for the symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Colds are the result of respiratory viruses, typically rhinoviruses, and the flu is the result of the influenza virus.2
Is it allergic rhinitis (hay fever) or a cold?
There are several differences between allergic rhinitis, the common cold, and the flu:3,4
|Common cold||Allergic rhinitis||Flu|
|Sore throat (common)
Mild to moderate chest discomfort
|Sore throat (not common)
Cough (not common)
Rare chest discomfort except for those with allergic asthma
|Sore throat (not common)
Common chest discomfort
|Symptoms appear a few days
|Symptoms appear immediately when exposed to an allergen
||Symptoms usually appear suddenly|
|Typically lasts 3 - 7 days
||Lasts only as long as you're exposed to allergens
||Typically lasts up to 2 weeks|
|Runny nose with watery or thick yellow discharge
||Runny nose with thin, watery discharge
||Runny nose may occur sometimes|
|Can include body aches
||No body aches
||Body aches are usual|
|Does not cause watery and itchy eyes
||Often causes watery and itchy eyes
||Does not cause watery and itchy eyes|
|Can include low-grade fever
||Fever is common and lasts 3-4 days|
Other allergic rhinitis symptoms
Along with sniffling, sneezing, and runny nose, allergic rhinitis signs and symptoms can include:5,6
- Allergic shiner: Dark circles under your eyes from swelling and discoloration of blood vessels under the skin. They look similar to a “shiner” you might develop if you’ve been hit near your eye.
- Allergic (adenoidal) face: Nasal allergies can trigger a swelling of the adenoids (lymph tissue lining the back of the throat and behind the nose). This can result in a tired and droopy look.
- Nasal crease: Constant upward rubbing in an attempt to relieve nasal congestion and itching can result in a line appearing across the bridge of the nose.
- Mouth breathing: Allergic rhinitis can cause severe nasal congestion, resulting in constant breathing through the mouth. Some sufferers will develop a high, arched palate, an elevated upper lip, and an overbite. Teens with allergic rhinitis might need braces to correct dental issues.
Common triggers of allergic rhinitis
There are several common environmental triggers that can allergic rhinitis flare-ups.
Pollen: These tiny grains are typically about six microns in diameter (human hair diameter: 50 - 70 microns). When airborne, they can enter your respiratory system, where your body treats them as invaders and releases antibodies for protection. In most locations, spring brings wind-blown seasonal pollen grains from trees, grasses, flowers, and weeds. The peak time for allergic reactions may depend upon whether a person is allergic to tree pollen, grasses, or ragweed, and the climate in which that person lives. For millions of people, pollen are powerful allergens that trigger life-disrupting allergic reactions.
Mold spores: Mold spores can breed outdoors in fallen leaves, gardens, compost piles, and yard waste. Mold spores can also breed indoors with a water leak or another source of humidity. The spores are small, light and easily inhaled into the lungs. Mold spores are powerful allergens that can cause the immune system to overreact, resulting in coughing, restricted breathing, and other common-cold symptoms. Mold can fall under several categories, with varying danger to human health. Dangers may range from causing mild illness like aggravated allergies to causing infection in the immunocompromised.
Dust mites: Dust mites are microscopic insects feed off the flakes of skin shed naturally by your family and pets. Dust mite droppings and decomposing bodies act as allergens for allergy and asthma sufferers. Dust mites can be controlled to help reduce allergic reactions by controlling indoor humidity, properly cleaning areas that are habitats for dust mites, and installing air cleaning purifiers and filters.
Animals: Exposure to certain animals can cause allergens to flare up for some people. The animal’s dead skin flakes, urine, and saliva can all trigger an allergic reaction. Animals that may cause a reaction include:7
The most common animal allergic reactions are to dogs and cats.
How to fight allergic rhinitis
Whether you and your allergist decide to address your allergies with medication and/or immunotherapy, allergen avoidance can help prevent exposure and allergic reactions. Preventive tips include:8,9
- Give your home regular thorough cleanings. This includes using a HEPA vacuum cleaner on all rugs, carpets, and draperies. Clean surfaces with a damp cloth to reduce the spread of dust.
- Rake your yard of fallen leaves and other dead vegetation, and don’t leave piles sitting on the lawn.
- Clean out gutters and compost bins regularly. It’s a good idea to wear an allergy mask, such as a N95/KN95 mask, to filter pollen and mold while doing yard work. Clear safety goggles will also help.
- Monitor the pollen and mold count in your area. On days when they are high, stay indoors as much as possible and keep doors and windows closed.
- Bathe your pets and/or wipe down their fur regularly to remove pollen and mold.
- Keep pets off of couches and beds. You may also want to close doors to rooms that you don’t want your pets to enter. After playing with your pet, wash your hands.
- Pollen and mold sticks to clothing, skin, and hair, so remove jackets and shoes before coming into the house and change into fresh clothes once inside. Also, bathe or shower before going to bed each night to keep it from getting on sheets and pillowcases.
- Avoid outdoor exposure. If you are prone to extreme allergic reactions, you may wish to minimize outdoor activities during heavy pollen months and during times, when pollen counts are heaviest. Have someone else do outdoor activities for you that may stir up allergens.
- Wear an air pollution mask to reduce your exposure to allergens when you're outdoors or in heavily polluted areas. A KN95-certified pollution protection mask, such as the IQAir Mask, can filter virtually all pollen and other allergens from the air you breathe.
- Use a powerful air purifier for allergies to stop allergens before they trigger a reaction.
- Use a car air purifier. An often-overlooked place for exposure to allergens is in the car. An Atem Car can help filter pollen, bacteria, and allergens in your vehicle’s cabin. Allergens enter our vehicles with us through our shoes, through window cracks, and in upholstered seats that aren’t vacuumed frequently enough.10 Even new vehicles, with a “new car smell” can emit dangerous pollutants through off-gassing.
Following these tips can help you prevent exposure to allergens, therefore preventing allergic reactions.