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How to Know if Your Symptoms Point to Allergic Rhinitis

What is allergic rhinitis?

Allergic rhinitis is a condition that mostly presents with symptoms of the upper respiratory system. Some people, however, also present with skin disorders such as eczema (atopic dermatitis). Another name for this is 'hay fever'. According to a report titled ‘Allergic Rhinitis (‘hay fever’) in Australia’ (2011), 15% of persons have an allergic rhinitis problem. This translates to almost 3.1 million people who suffer.

Allergic rhinitis occurs due to a disorder of the immune system. The body overreacts to substances (allergens) that are normally harmless to the majority of people like pollen and mould spores. Globally, this condition has been identified through studies as prevalent in many countries where about 400 million people (2008 statistics) are afflicted with this disorder. There are almost 36 million cases in the United States alone.

A study by Wang et al. (2017) has shown that dampness and mould contamination of the indoor living environment is one of the primary risk factors for developing allergic rhinitis. Other risk factors in the home include: poor ventilation that can trap indoor allergens and air moisture. The research by Sharpe et al. (2015) also highlights the role of dampness-related exposures and the risk from allergic diseases with an emphasis on exposure to mildew/musty odour as a proxy for exposure to fungus allergens. Therefore, people should be on the lookout for mould smell in the home which could be a risk factor for adverse health.

Signs and symptoms of allergic rhinitis

Early (immediate) signs and symptoms include:

• Sneezing
• Watery eyes
• Runny nose
• Itchy eyes and nose
• Headache

Without treatment, recurrent episodes of allergic rhinitis can lead to nasal blockage, difficulty in breathing and snoring.

Risk factors

Studies indicate that there is a connection between the home environment and the development of acute rhinitis. Top on the list are damp and mouldy homes. In the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, November 2013 a study was published supporting this fact. Other factors associated with this risk include:

• Genetics
• Prenatal exposure to pollutants such as smoking and particulate matter pollution (PM2.5/PM10)
• Birth during the pollen season (somewhat controversial)
• Early introduction of formula and other feeds
• House dust mites
• Animal dander (hair)
• Poor home ventilation. This is thought to support an accumulation of allergens mentioned above.

Is it allergic rhinitis, asthma or some other respiratory disorder?

Allergic rhinitis and asthma both affect the airways. Allergic rhinitis is restricted to the upper airway while asthma symptoms point to an affected lower airway. Where an infection is present, there is usually fever and maybe muco-purulent nasal discharge or sputum production. Allergic rhinitis is a risk factor for the development of asthma.

If you want to be sure, an allergy test is a good way to confirm your status. To test your home or office, you can use a DIY Kit for mould (available here) or you should contact a qualified mycologist or indoor air quality professional for an onsite inspection.


  1. Allergic rhinitis ('hay fever') in Australia. Australian Government, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
  2. Lin Z, Zhao Z, Xu H, Zhang X, Wang T, Kan H, et al. (2015) Home Dampness Signs in Association with Asthma and Allergic Diseases in 4618 Preschool Children in Urumqi, China - The Influence of Ventilation/Cleaning Habits. PLoS ONE 10(7): e0134359. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0134359
  3. R. A. Sharpe, C. R. Thornton, J. Tyrrell, V. Nikolaou and N. J. Osborne. Variable risk of atopic disease due to indoor fungal exposure in NHANES 2005-2006. Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 2015 (45) 1566–1578.
  4. Wang, Y-H., Wang, Y-C., Wu, P., Hsu, L., Wang, C-Y., Jan, C. and Su, H. (2017). A cross-sectionalstudy into the correlation of common household risk factors and allergic rhinitis in Taiwan’s tropical environment. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine. 
  5. Jeffery, P. K., & Haahtela, T. (2006). Allergic rhinitis and asthma: inflammation in a one-airway condition. BMC Pulmonary Medicine, 6(Suppl 1), S5.
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