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Allergy symptoms may be something else

October 14, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Does a constant, runny nose have you heading for the nearest drugstore? Yes, it could be a cold. Maybe you're even convinced it's allergies. But if you see the doctor, you could be in for a surprise. It may not be either. For years a box of tissues was Rosalin Siv's must-have accessory.

"My nose was constantly running," said Siv. "It was super itchy."

When over-the-counter medications didn't seem to do the trick, Siv decided to see an allergist.

"I was pretty convinced that I had regular allergies," said Siv.

She was blown away by her diagnosis. Siv was told she had non-allergic rhinitis. Symptoms are similar to nasal allergies: a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, and post-nasal drip. But when patients are tested for allergies, the results come back negative, making it a diagnosis by exclusion.

"Recent studies showed that about 17 million Americans live with non-allergic rhinitis, so this is a condition that is gaining a lot of attention," said Dr. Cascya Charlot of American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

While this condition can affect anyone, allergy researcher Dr. Jonathan Bernstein says it seems to be more common among women. Also patients also tend to suffer from symptoms year round.

"The other concern with non-allergic rhinitis is its association with complications such as chronic sinusitis, nasal polyps and recurring ear infections," said Dr. Bernstein.

This can all result in headache, lack of sleep or lack of concentration. The exact cause of non-allergic rhinitis is not known, but Dr. Bernstein is conducting clinical studies to find out.

"Many people suspect it might be due to an imbalance of the autonomic nervous system," said Dr. Bernstein.

What is known? The triggers, which vary from person to person, and may include changes in the weather, certain medications, even spicy foods.

"Fragrance and smoke definitely bothers me," said Siv. "Laundry detergents and dryer sheets, I'm constantly buying the non-fragrance."

Dr. Charlot recommended prescription nasal spray for Siv. Today, she's breathing a bit easier.

"I feel informed and now I can just better monitor my lifestyle," said Siv.

It's also possible to have mixed rhinitis, meaning you suffer from both non-allergic rhinitis and allergies. An allergist can help diagnose your symptoms and put you on a treatment plan ASAP.


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