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Vasomotor Rhinitis: What It Is, How to Treat It

Updated on August 30, 2012

It’s the beginning of Spring, and you have a runny nose, nasal congestion, slightly watery eyes, and episodes of sneezing. You figure that it must be all the tree pollen being released into the air this time of year.

After this goes on for two weeks (or continues unabated), you finally pay a visit to your doctor or allergist. The allergist tests you for the most common 75 allergic triggers, and your skin produces no reaction. At this point, your doctor may suggest that you suffer from vasomotor rhinitis. Your doctor suspects vasomotor rhinitis because your test results rule out other possibilities.

What Is It?

What is vasomotor rhinitis? It is a heightened sensitivity and reaction to our external environment that causes a chronic blockage in the nasal mucosa. Researchers believe that a nerve imbalance in the nose may be implicated. The condition may make it difficult to breathe nasally. A sufferer of vasomotor rhinitis may have a constant watery discharge, or none at all, but he/she will definitely have nasal passages that are constantly red and inflamed. During the worst episodes, a victim will show many of the other signs of allergic reaction, such as sneezing, an itchy throat, and thick nasal secretions.

What causes the sensitivities? The possibilities are wide, and include such things as household chemicals, aerosols, perfume and cologne, cigarette smoke, ozone, auto exhaust, strong emotions, spicy foods, weather changes, and formaldehyde.


How Individual Is It?

I have a rather mild problem with vasomotor rhinitis (or so I was told by an allergist), and my triggers seem to be oven cleaner, certain disinfectant sprays, the barometric pressure on some days, and sudden temperature swings. If you have VMR, you might not be able to stand being in the presence of women who wear heavy perfume. I, on the other hand, can wear any fragrance, natural or synthetic. If you have VMR, you might handle sudden, 30-degree changes in temperature with no difficulty. I cannot. I sneeze every time I go from an air-conditioned building to the outside at 100 degrees in August. Everyone is different!

A Few Complications

It is also possible that you might have one simple allergy, as to dust, and also have vasomotor rhinitis because you are so sensitive to air pollution, for instance.

With a severe problem, you may be more likely to suffer from chronic sinus infections, or have difficulty clearing such infections with antibiotics.

I am lucky in that I have the “dry” type of vasomotor rhinitis, but some people are not so fortunate.  They have frequent problems with a runny nose and/or congestion.  The problem can make their lives unpleasant.

What Medicine Offers

Typically, the medical establishment has not had a lot to offer a sufferer.  People with vasomotor rhinitis are often told to use decongestants, and many times the doctor will write them a prescription for Nasonex or Afrin.  These are vasoconstrictors which help to shrink your swollen and engorged nasal passages.  The problem with Nasonex is that it contains corticosteroids, and the more you use, the more you need.  I wouldn’t recommend using it unless you are having a significantly bad day with your symptoms, and then, use it for only a few days at the most.  You can also research the Internet to see what kinds of nasal sprays are available that are formulated with natural ingredients, especially if you don’t like contributing financially to drug companies.

How to Use the Netti Pot

Totally Natural Things

Anyone with a severe problem should definitely be using a Netti pot or the NeilMed sinus rinse system every day.  By washing out the nasal passages each day, you are easing the tissues and rinsing harmful irritants or viruses down the drain.  It takes discipline to use these consistently, but it will be worth the effort, and you will probably have fewer sinus infections as a result.  If you don’t have significant problems, you may wish to use a Netti pot only during cold and flu season.

It goes without saying that it’s important to drink lots of water.  The old recommendation of eight glasses of water per day is a good standard.  Your body cannot function without adequate hydration, and by drinking enough water, you are flushing harmful substances from your tissues.  One of my relatives mentioned to me that drinking more water has been extremely beneficial for her sinuses.  By using this preventative measure, her sinus infections are much more infrequent.

Your Home's Environment

The typical dry air in your heated home or apartment during the winter is bad for a lot of things. Low humidity dries out your nasal passages, and then cracks form in the tissues. This allows viruses to enter your system. I believe that sufferers of VM don’t need the added complication of colds and viruses, so they may want to consider the purchase of a bedroom humidifier that runs while they are asleep. A humidifier does need frequent maintenance, so consider whether or not it would be worthwhile for you.

Something Else to Consider

I seem to fit most of the descriptions of a person with vasomotor rhinitis, and in the absence of other factors, one doctor diagnosed me accordingly. However, a visit to my primary care physician last year offered yet another clue.

When I have acute episodes of nasal congestion and stuffiness (many uninformed people will say, “when my allergies are acting up”), I suffer for ten days to two weeks. However, at times I have noticed that after the symptoms clear up, I sometimes have a mild headache that lasts for 2 or 3 days. My physician questioned me about where the pain was, and I showed him. He then surprised me by commenting that some people think they have a cold or allergies because of severe congestion, but very often it’s simply the build-up to a migraine. He told me that the occasional headaches I described to him sounded “migrainous” in nature. I won’t argue with him – for after all, migraine is a syndrome, not “just a headache", and associated headaches are not necessarily severe in any case. And, for sure, my headaches are not tension headaches. Nothing helps them except time. The nasal congestion part was certainly new to me, though.

So it seems that I may have “mild” problems with migraine and with vasomotor rhinitis.   If you have a more severe problem, get as much medical help as you need to, and definitely, try natural remedies if they are available.  Avoid the conditions that trigger your symptoms, and do what you can to change your home environment so that it is not contributing to the problem.

The information contained in this article is not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.  If your symptoms persist, consult with your personal physician.

Photo Credit

Photo of a man with stuffy nose is from Iaian Farrell.


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