Having a cold once or twice a year, as most of us do, is bad enough – imagine what it would be like to have cold-like symptoms all the year round. Probably about one person in ten – children and adults – suffers in this way.
Rhinitis is simply an inflammation of the mucous membrane lining the nose and there are many possible causes. Seasonal rhinitis occurs as an allergic reaction to pollens and other allergens around at a particular time of year – in between while the symptoms disappear.
In the case of perennial rhinitis, however, the nose remains inflamed and unpleasant symptoms – which may include a constantly blocked or runny nose, itchy eyes and frequent sneezing – persist. The sense of taste and smell can also be affected and the sufferer often feels generally ‘under the weather’. If he or she experiences these symptoms for more than one hour in 24 on most days of the year, a diagnosis of perennial rhinitis can be made. Children who suffer from perennial rhinitis typically develop a ‘nose crease’ from constantly rubbing their itchy nose upwards, nose bleeds are quite common and dark circles under the eyes may be another sign.
So what causes these continuing symptoms? In a few cases they will be due to a physical obstruction in the nose, such as polyps. Sometimes they will be a reaction to certain drugs, to changes in hormone levels – during pregnancy and at the menopause, for instance – or to changes in temperature and humidity. Irritating conditions at work, such as smoke or fumes, can also be responsible.
Most often, however, symptoms are due to an allergy – to animal fur and hair, for example, but especially to house-dust mites. These tiny creatures, invisible to the naked eye, exist in their millions in the furnishings, floors and bedding of even the cleanest home. They live on the dead skin cells that we shed constantly and each produces 40 faecal pellets a day – not a pretty thought! Fortunately, most of us coexist quite happily with our house-dust mites, but these pellets are the trigger that provokes the allergic response and symptoms of perennial rhinitis in those susceptible.
Sufferers can minimise their problem by hoovering floors and furnishings and damp-dusting frequently, having the curtains and blankets cleaned regularly, covering mattresses with a plastic cover and using pillows and duvets made from artificial fibres rather than feathers. Polished boards or ‘lino’ are less of a mite trap than carpets. Mites thrive in warmth, so keep the bedroom cool and well aired. Smaller objects, such as children’s fluffy toys, can be put into the deep freeze every so often – mites cannot survive at that temperature.
Many people who suffer from perennial rhinitis just put up with it – they think the symptoms are too trivial to bother their doctor with – or they try to treat themselves with medicines bough: from the chemist, such as nasal decongestant sprays. Although these can be all right, used sparingly, for the short-term relief of the blocked nose at the end of a common cold, they are quite unsuitable for treating the long-term blocked nose of perennial rhinitis. Overuse of these sprays will soon damage the lining of the nose and actually make the condition worse with so-called ‘rebound congestion’. Antihistamines bought over the counter will temporarily dry up a runny nose, but they will have no effect on a blocked nose and can cause drowsiness (for antihistamines to help ease rhinitis see