Allergic Rhinitis: More than just a stuffy nose

Updated: Apr 14, 2019

Allergic rhinitis, commonly called hay fever, refers to a group of symptoms affecting the nose. 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. A cold, on the other hand, is caused by a virus.

Is it allergic rhinitis (hay fever) or a cold?

Ways to decipher if you have a cold or allergic rhinitis include:

Common cold Allergic rhinitis - Sore throat (common) - Sore throat (not common) - Symptoms appear a few days after infection - Symptoms appear immediately when exposed to an allergen - Typically lasts 3 - 7 days - Lasts only as long as you're exposed to allergens - Runny nose with watery or thick yellow discharge - Runny nose with thin, watery discharge - Can include body aches - No body aches - Does not cause watery and itchy eyes - Often causes watery and itchy eyes - Can include low-grade fever - No fever

Other allergic rhinitis symptoms

Along with sniffling, sneezing, and runny nose, allergic rhinitis signs and symptoms can include:

  • 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

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. For millions of people, pollen are powerful allergens that trigger life-disrupting allergic reactions. 

Mould spores: Mould spores can breed outdoors in fallen leaves, gardens, compost piles and yard waste. Mould 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. Mould spores are powerful allergens that can cause the immune system to overreact, resulting in coughing, restricted breathing, and other common-cold symptoms.

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. Learn more about dust mites and get tips to prevent exposure here.

How to fight allergic rhinitis