Air Quality Life

Woman with allergies blows her nose
Woman with allergies blows her nose
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Allergic rhinitis: More than just a stuffy nose

Allergic rhinitis causes similar symptoms as the common cold. Learn how to tell the difference.

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. 

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.

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

Whether you and your allergist decide to address your allergies with medication and/or immunotherapy, environmental control, also know, as allergen avoidance, can help prevent exposure and thus prevent allergic reactions. Preventive tips include:

  • Give your home regular thorough cleanings. This includes using a HEPA vacuum cleaner on all rugs, carpets and draperies.
  • 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 an N95 particulate respirator, 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. For accurate pollen and mold counts in your area, visit
  • Bathe your pets and/or wipe down their fur regularly to remove pollen and mold.
  • 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.
  • Use a powerful air purifier for allergies to stop allergens before they trigger a reaction.

Following these tips can help you prevent exposure to allergens, therefore preventing allergic reactions.

Air Quality Life is brought to you by The IQAir Group, the world’s leading innovator of Indoor Air Quality solutions since 1963. This online publication is designed to educate and inform the public about the latest research and news affecting indoor and outdoor air quality.

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