Do you have allergic rhinitis? What does allergic rhinitis look like for you? Is it just a few of the more typical symptoms such as a runny nose with some degree of postnasal drip and the occasional sneezing bout? Do your eyes get watery and red and itchy? Do your ears get red and feel warm? Or does your nose get completely blocked leading you to have to breathe through your mouth?
Do your symptoms manifest or seem worse at certain times during the day, but subside or are more tolerable at other times? To what degree does your allergic rhinitis impact your daily life? Just how bad can allergic rhinitis get during full allergy season such as ambrosia or ragweed allergy season in the fall?
What is allergic rhinitis?
Allergic rhinitis is a collection of symptoms specific to seasonal pollen allergies which fall under the category of allergy symptoms. If you have one or more of the symptoms in the list below, then you stand a high chance of having seasonal pollen allergies.
What does allergic rhinitis look like?
1- Your nose is runny all the time
A clear sign of allergic rhinitis is a runny nose. If your nose is runny all the time, sometimes to the point it’s dripping very liquid mucus, and the symptom is triggered by contact with the outside (e.g. going outside, opening a window), then it’s highly likely it’s allergic rhinitis. It’s important to note if you have or develop a fever or chills or your mucus changes color which are symptoms that normally indicate an infection.
2- You produce lots of clear or whitish mucus
Being filled with mucus is a clear sign of allergic rhinitis. But the secret to knowing if you have allergic rhinitis from seasonal pollen allergies such as fall ragweed allergy is the color of your mucus: mucus should be clear (transparent) or a slightly opaque, but clean whitish color.
Mucus may sometimes also be slightly streaked with gray which commonly indicates you’ve breathed in some dust. Other mucus colors often indicate an infection. Also learn more about white mucus in the nose and throat.
3- You always seem to have phlegm
Allergic rhinitis is when you constantly feel the need to expectorate phlegm, notably after going outside, being outside or coming from outside, but have no symptoms of infection such as a fever, chills or body aches.
Mucus building up in the back of your throat, either so runny that it just drips down in your mouth or so thick that you can actually feel it sticking to the back of the throat, is one of the most common symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Mucus may also stick to your vocal cords and cause hoarseness.
4- Mucus keeps dripping down the back of your throat
This is called postnasal drip and represents one of the more upsetting symptoms of allergic rhinitis. You may feel the mucus dripping from your nose down the back of your throat, or sticking to your throat, depending on whether it’s runny to denser. You may also feel congested all the time because your sinuses are filled with mucus.
Usually there are only two ‘ways out’ for the mucus: you may expectorate it by spitting it out or coughing it up, or you may swallow it (this may cause a gagging sensation and make you feel like you’re about to vomit). You may also experience a tingling sensation in the back of your throat causing you to cough lightly, or hoarseness as the mucus is coming down on your vocal cords.
5- You nose is blocked
In allergic rhinitis, if you don’t have a runny nose, then you have a blocked nose (stuffy nose). But you can also have both, usually in an alternating pattern. Nasal congestion tends to come about when you go outside or come into contact with pollen from the outside via other people, clothes, sheets, pets, flowers or an open window.
You may feel like you can only breathe through your mouth certain days and that creates fatigue as not being able to use your nose for breathing puts more strain on your chest muscles. You may also feel like you are not breathing well or like you can’t seem to take a full breath by breathing just through your mouth when you are congested.
6- You sneeze, sometimes in bouts
Sneezing in allergic rhinitis comes about unexpectedly, but usually after contact with the outside, more specifically allergens from the outside such as pollen particles. When allergens are breathed in, they settle in the mucus in the nasal passages. The immune system is alerted as to their presence and produces a response against them. One of the responses is sneezing.
The force of a sneeze is meant to expel allergens from the nose which, for the immune system, means eliminating the threat. Sneezing can help stop the immune system involvement, ending the allergic rhinitis symptoms for the time being.
Bouts of sneezing are common after going outside or being outside, even after something as innocuous as opening a window. Sneezing in allergic rhinitis commonly occurs very early in the morning when you wake up, or can wake you up from sleep in which case it may be brought on by light sensitivity.
7- Your eyes get watery all the time
Allergic rhinitis is when you eyes keep getting watery when you’re outside. Your eyes may get watery either as soon as you go outside, especially if it’s a particularly windy day, or when you are in certain areas where the source or sources of your allergy are present (e.g. in a field where there’s ragweed growing naturally, or birch or some other plant).
8- Your eyes get red and itchy
Allergic rhinitis is when your eyes suddenly get red and itchy, and also teary. This is more likely to occur when you’re outside or come into contact with the outside in some way or another (e.g. via pets or hugging some who’s been outside). It helps to either wash your face or wet a towel or piece of clothing or paper napkin and gently clean your eyes with it.
9- Your eyelids and undereye area may become puffy
Swelling of the eyelids and/or undereye area is a common symptom of allergic rhinitis which occurs in response to exposure to allergens such as pollen from plants. In fact, swelling of the eyelids and/or undereye area is part of a collection of symptoms called allergic conjunctivitis, occurring together with watery and itchy eyes.
10- Your ears may itch
Did you know that allergic rhinitis causes your ears to itch? Ears that become itchy all of a sudden when you go outside or come into contact with the outside such as via a pet or opening a window are a sign of allergy.
11- Your ears may feel warm or burn and get red
Allergic rhinitis can present in unusual ways. One such unusual symptom is red and burning ears. If you, for example, feel your ears warm or burning, and/or notice they’re getting red, you might be experiencing an allergic response from contact with an allergen.
12- You may feel like you’re not getting enough air
In allergic rhinitis, when your nose is blocked, which is very common and happens all the time, you are forced to breathe through your mouth. And when nasal congestion lasts for hours at a time, several days in a row if it’s full allergy season, then your breathing muscles may feel somewhat tired from the effort.
That leads to a feeling of not being able to get enough air, like you can’t breathe well. This causes anxiety which then amplifies the sensation that you’re not getting enough air.
Of course, breathing through your nose is best and feels more natural, so when you can’t do it because of congestion due to allergies, it leaves you feeling physically and mentally unwell. To reassure yourself that it’s just allergies, notice how well you’re breathing when you do get to breathe through your nose (nasal congestion in allergic rhinitis doesn’t really last 24/7 for weeks at a time).
If you can take good (satisfying) breaths when you do get to breathe through your nose (and don’t have a fever or chills, lose your appetite or vomit, get diarrhea or body aches), rest assured that it’s allergies. Drinking lots of still water can help release the congestion and allow you to breathe through your nose.
13- You feel drowsy, sluggish and just want to sleep
If you’re congested or your nose has been runny and all you want to do is just stay in bed and sleep all day, even if you did get enough sleep during the night, but don’t have a fever, chills or body aches, then that there is a classic symptom of allergic rhinitis.
14- You can’t sleep
Allergies cause either excessive sleepiness, and the associated sluggishness, or insomnia. Often times the two symptoms alternate so you may experience both during the duration of an allergy season in pollen allergies. For example, September to November is ragweed season and, during the two months (sometimes more), you are likely to experience both types of symptoms.
15- You feel tired all the time
This has got to be one of the most misunderstood and atypical symptoms of allergic rhinitis and, at the same time, one of the most common. So many people with seasonal allergies feel unusually tired during their allergy season. There’s even a term called ‘spring fever’ which was coined to denominate this very feeling of tiredness that hits during the pollen-filled season of spring.
Spring fever refers to the feeling of tiredness, sluggishness, drowsiness or sleepiness, lethargy and overall lack of vitality that many people with allergies experience during spring when plants all come to life with flowers. Find out more about spring fever and what it looks like.
16- You are hoarse
Mild to moderate, typically occasional hoarseness is a side effect of mucus in the throat and is commonly seen in allergic rhinitis. Allergies normally cause immune system involvement which manifest as production of excessive amounts of mucus meant to trap and inactivate allergens in the airways.
But as mucus from the nasal passages reaches the vocal cords, it may stagnate for a while and cause hoarseness. Expectorating the mucus, or swallowing it, should see the return of one’s normal voice.
17- Your throat may be somewhat sore
It’s not uncommon to experience some degree of throat soreness in allergic rhinitis. The soreness is caused by the airways being dry as a result of being outside in windy weather or slightly lower temperatures (common in spring and fall, two of the most allergenic seasons), or as a result of the effort put in towards expectorating excess mucus.
In any case, the soreness should be mild if it’s allergic rhinitis, and improve with staying indoors, drinking water or eating some honey. If it gets progressively worse, do consider the possibility of a respiratory infection. Keep an eye out for a fever, chills, body aches, a change in mucus color which indicate infection.
18- You may experience a light cough
A light cough is normal with allergies and is more of a mechanical side effect that results from excess throat mucus. Coughing tends to occur when there’s mucus sticking to the throat and is meant to dislodge it.
19- Your taste and smell may be affected
Altered taste and smell perception, or the complete loss of smell and sometimes also taste, were allergy symptoms long before they were COVID symptoms. While they do occur in respiratory infection as well, including the flu, the common cold and COVID-19, there are also common in pollen allergies and can last for weeks or months at a time in some people.
20- You may experience light headaches
It’s not uncommon to occasionally get light headaches when it’s allergy season. However, do watch out for other symptoms, as headaches, if uncommon to you, may occur in a respiratory infection too. If you suddenly start getting persistent and/or severe headaches, but you didn’t used to, get them investigated.
21- Malaise is common too
Allergies take a toll on the whole body as the involvement of the immune system in allergic rhinitis is extensive. And that can translate into reduced vitality and physical symptoms such as malaise. The need to breathe through your mouth because of nasal congestion alone can cause a state of physical and mental unwell that leads to feelings of tiredness and malaise.
22- You may develop a sinus infection
If you are someone who has severe allergic rhinitis, then that means your symptoms are more extreme. For instance, you may be producing lots of mucus. Too much mucus clogs the sinuses and, if the condition persists for some weeks in a row, it can progress to an infection of the sinuses due to the stagnant mucus which creates the perfect environment for infection.
23- Symptoms come about or get worse at specific times
When you have allergies, particularly pollen allergies, you may notice some of your symptoms occur at very specific times. For instance, you may get a runny nose, become congested or experience bouts of sneezing very early in the morning when you wake up, or you may even get woken up from your sleep by some of these symptoms.
Symptoms also commonly tend to be triggered by being outside, most notably in pollen allergies, so you may sneeze or get a runny nose or watery eyes as soon as you step outside or some time after being outdoors. You may also suddenly get drowsy, sleepy or feel extremely tired when you go outside.