The human body is an amazing thing, but it’s far from perfect. Case in point: allergies. Who needs ’em, right? Yet many of us suffer seasonally from the itchy, stuffy, sneezy scourge that seems to exist solely to remind us of our mortality. Luckily, most allergy sufferers can take comfort in the knowledge that our ordeal will last only as long as allergy season. Until then, we can seek relief from over the counter medications.
But what if that wasn’t the case. What if your symptoms popped up randomly and seemingly without cause, persisted for long periods of time (sometimes years), and didn’t respond to meds? That is the reality faced by those suffering from nonallergic rhinitis each day.
Nonallergic rhinitis is allergy symptoms without allergies. Allergic reactions occur when the body’s immune system reacts to a foreign substance that it falsely interprets as a threat, such as pollen or pet dander. It’s basically a case of biological friendly fire. Nonallergic rhinitis occurs when the swelling, runniness, and congestion typically associated with allergies arise for no apparent reason.
Triggers for nonallergic rhinitis are notoriously difficult to determine because they can be almost anything. They can range from changes in the weather to household or occupational irritants such as smog or sawdust. Even things like stress or spicy foods can be the culprit!
Experts are uncertain what causes nonallergic rhinitis, but one possible explanation is over-sensitive nerve endings in the nose. Think of it like nose-asthma. Tiny triggers cause massive over-responses in the nasal passages. Since nonallergic rhinitis is more common in older adults, it’s believed to result from the degenerative process of age. Studies have revealed that it’s more common in women, but there are no theories yet as to why.
Diagnosing nonallergic rhinitis is difficult because you can’t test for allergies that don’t exist. All you can do is confirm that it isn’t allergies causing the symptoms. Like detectives, doctors have to eliminate a long list of usual suspects before confirming a case. The process can be slow and extremely frustrating to the patient, who just wants relief.
When patients come to the Pasha Snoring and Sinus Center with persistent allergy symptoms, their treatment begins with an allergy test. Also known as a skin prick test, the process involves piercing the skin with more than 50 needles coated with allergen extract. Sounds scary, but the process involves little to no pain because only the outermost layer of the skin is punctured. We also check to ensure that structural problems such as nasal polyps or a deviated septum aren’t causing the symptoms.
Only after all the other tests have failed to find the culprit is nonallergic rhinitis considered a suspect. When that happens, treatment varies depending on the severity and frequency of the symptoms. The worst part about nonallergic rhinitis is that there’s no sure-fire way to treat it. Sometimes saline or corticosteroid nasal sprays will do the trick; other times, in-office procedures such as radiofrequency turbinate reduction are required to alleviate symptoms.
If you suffer from chronic allergy symptoms, don’t just try to play through the pain. Left untreated, nonallergic rhinitis can lead to ear infections or sinusitis. It can also lead to structural conditions such as the formation of nasal polyps or enlargement of air regulating structures in the nose called turbinates. All of these conditions restrict airflow through your nose, and we can’t overemphasize the importance of breathing well. Denying your body the oxygen it needs opens the door to any number of health complications. The sooner you seek treatment, the better.