Rhinitis is a condition in which the mucous membranes that line the soft tissues on the inside of the nose get swollen. It can produce a variety of upper respiratory symptoms. While the condition is typically broken out into one of two general categories, there can be many possible causes. Treatments generally include lifestyle changes and/or medications.
When a person has rhinitis, the blood vessels inside the soft tissues of the nasal cavity swell up, which causes the mucous membranes to produce more mucus. This swelling and excess mucus can lead to symptoms such as sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, and coughing up mucus that runs down the back of the throat. Depending on the underlying cause, a person may also have an itchy nose, as well as eyes that are itchy and watery. Over time, the excess mucus can provide a breeding ground for bacteria in and around the nasal cavity, potentially leading to sinus or ear infections.
Typically, the condition is broken down into two general categories: allergic and non-allergic. Allergic rhinitis is generally brought on by exposure to a substance a person is allergic to, such as dust, mold or pollen. This is the type that can include symptoms like itching of the eyes and noses, which are common effects of the immune system's reaction to allergen exposure.
Non-allergic rhinitis may have a variety of different causes. These can include, for example, hormonal changes, stress, the common cold, and irritating substances in the air, such as smoke or chemicals. This form of the condition can also happen in response to the use of certain medications, such as high blood pressure medications that can affect the blood vessels in the nose.
Treatments often include lifestyle changes and medications. Some changes may help treat both allergic and non-allergic forms. For example, for both allergic rhinitis and that caused by exposure to irritants, avoiding the offending substances may help. Washing the nasal passages regularly with a saline solution can also help clear out excess mucus, regardless of the cause. Certain medications, such as decongestants, nasal spray antihistamines and nasal spray steroids may also help with a variety of forms of the condition.
Sometimes, however, treatments targeted to the underlying cause are recommended. For example, allergic rhinitis may be treated with oral antihistamines or allergy shots, both of which can help modulate the immune system's response to allergenic triggers. Or, if the problem is a side effect of taking certain medications, treatment may involve adjusting the dose or discontinuing that medication.