Nonallergic rhinitis: Types, symptoms, and risk factors

When a person has rhinitis, the inside of the nose becomes inflamed, or swollen, causing cold-like symptoms, such as itchiness, blocked nose, runny nose, and sneezing.

Allergic rhinitis can be caused by an allergy. In other cases, it is called nonallergic rhinitis.

The symptoms of nonallergic and allergic rhinitis are similar, but the causes are different.

What is nonallergic rhinitis?

Nonallergic rhinitis triggers symptoms similar to those of a cold.
Nonallergic rhinitis triggers symptoms similar to those of a cold.

People with nonallergic rhinitis may have a runny nose that does not seem to get better, or they may have recurring symptoms.

If a person has rhinitis, the blood vessels inside the nose expand, causing the lining of the nose to swell.

This stimulates the mucus glands in the nose, causing it to become congested and “drippy.”

Nonallergic rhinitis affects children and adults alike. Women may be more prone to nasal congestion during menstruation and pregnancy.

The Greek word “rhinos” means “nose,” and “-itis” means “inflammation.”

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There are different types of nonallergic rhinitis.

Infectious rhinitis

Infectious rhinitis, or viral rhinitis, is caused by an infection, such as the common cold or flu. The lining of the nose and throat become inflamed when a virus attacks the area. Inflammation triggers mucus production, and this causes sneezing and a runny nose.

Vasomotor rhinitis

Vasomotor rhinitis happens when the blood vessels in the nose are too sensitive, and there is abnormal nerve control of the blood vessels in the nose. This leads to inflammation.

Normally, the contraction and expansion of blood vessels inside the nose help to control the flow of mucus. If the blood vessels are oversensitive, certain environmental triggers can cause them to dilate. This causes congestion and overproduction of mucus.

Triggers include chemical irritants, perfumes, paint fumes, smoke, changes in humidity, a drop in temperature, consumption of alcohol, spicy foods and mental stress.

Atrophic rhinitis

Atrophic rhinitis happens when the membranes inside the nose, called turbinate tissue, become thinner and harder, causing the nasal passages to widen and become drier.

Turbinate tissue refers to the tissue that covers three ridges of bone inside the nose. It helps to keep the inside of the nose moist, it protects against bacteria, it helps to regulate air pressure when breathing in, and it contains nerve endings that give the sense of smell.

When the turbinate tissue thins, it is easier for bacteria to grow in the nasal cavity. Therefore, loss of turbinate tissue increases the chance of nose surgery or an infection.

In atrophic rhinitis, crusts form inside the nose, and they may smell bad. If the person tries to remove them, bleeding may occur. There may be a loss of sense of smell.

Loss of turbinate tissue happens with age. It can also result from complications of nose surgery or an infection.

Atrophic rhinitis most often occurs in people who have gone through multiple nasal surgeries, or it can be a complication of a single procedure.

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Rhinitis medicamentosa

Rhinitis medicamentosa is caused by the use of drugs. This can be the overuse of nasal decongestants, beta blockers, aspirin or cocaine.

Nasal decongestants reduce the swelling of the blood vessels inside the nose. If used for more than a week, they can cause the nose to become inflamed again, even if the original problem, say, a cold, has gone.


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