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Month: May 2019

Non-Allergic Rhinitis

Non-Allergic RhinitisSymptoms such as nasal congestion, clear runny nose, and itchy throat are most commonly due to sensitivity to common “allergens” in the environment (e.g., pollens, dust mites, mold spores, animals).  Our immune system mistakes them as potentially harmful and thus mounts a defensive attack on these substances when it encounters them.  During this process, there is a release of chemical substances (e.g., histamine, prostaglandins, leukotrienes) into the tissues inside the nose and eyes and these chemicals are responsible for the symptoms of allergies.

The symptoms may be relieved with medications that block the actions of these chemicals which can be utilized to make allergic individuals more comfortable.  The symptoms may also be prevented either by avoiding the exposure to the allergens, by environmental controls, or by getting desensitized to the allergens by allergy immunotherapy (allergy shots, allergy injections, allergy desensitization, allergy hyposensitization).  Sensitizing allergens can vary from person to person and allergy tests obtained by skin or blood testing are needed to identify the offending allergen in order to consider specific environmental controls and/or desensitizing treatments.

What if one has all the symptoms suggestive of “allergies” but all the tests are negative?  You may have a condition called vasomotor rhinitis or more appropriately called non-allergic rhinitis.

The symptoms of non-allergic rhinitis may include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Mucus (i.e., phlegm) in the throat (e.g. post-nasal drip)
  • Cough

These symptoms can be long term or may last only a short period of time.  They can come and go all year-round.  Itching of the nose, eyes, and/or throat are not present in non-allergic rhinitis as they are more likely to be features of allergic rhinitis (i.e., hay fever).

The exact cause of non-allergic rhinitis is not known.  The effect is widening of the blood vessels inside the nostrils and leakage of fluids into the tissues resulting in excessive mucus and swelling of the mucus membrane linings and nasal turbinates.

The common triggers of non-allergic rhinitis are:

  • Environmental or occupational irritants: Dust, smoke, pollutants, strong odors, perfumes, colognes, potpourri, chemical sprays, fumes, etc.
  • Weather changes: Fluctuations in temperature and humidity.
  • Food: Hot and spicy foods, certain alcoholic beverages.
  • Infections: Viral infections such as the common cold or influenza (i.e., the flu)
  • Medications: Aspirin, Ibuprofen, certain blood pressure medications (e.g., beta-blockers ACE inhibitors), sedatives, antidepressants, and oral contraceptives.
  • Rhinitis medicamentosa: Prolonged and/or overuse of over-the-counter decongestant nasal sprays (e.g., Afrin, Neosynephrine) can cause rebound congestion and habituation.
  • Hormonal changes: Pregnancy, menstruation, and hypothyroidism.
  • Stress: Emotional or physical stress.
  • Other triggers: Sleeping posture, sleep apnea, acid reflux, etc.


  • Nasal polyps: These are soft, benign growths that develop on the lining of the nose or sinuses due to chronic inflammation.  Small polyps may not cause problems, but larger ones may block the airflow through the nose, making it difficult to breathe.  They also increase the likelihood of recurrent sinus infections.
  • Sinusitis: Prolonged nasal congestion due to non-allergic rhinitis may increase the chances of developing sinusitis, an infection or inflammation of the membranes that line the sinuses.
  • Middle ear infections: Increased fluid and nasal congestion may lead to middle ear infections.
  • Interrupted daily activities: Non-allergic rhinitis may affect focus and concentration and in turn impact learning at school and/or productivity at work.

The diagnosis is established when one presents with the classic symptoms of rhinitis and when the skin tests and/or blood tests fail to identify specific environmental sensitivities.  Common infections of the nose and sinuses also need to be ruled out by examination and imaging tests. There are no confirmatory tests for non-allergic rhinitis and it is usually an exclusion diagnosis.


Avoidance of the common triggers is the first step in the management of non-allergic rhinitis.  When avoidance is not possible or when it does not work, the following actions may be helpful.

  • An over-the-counter nasal saline spray or homemade salt water solution to flush the nose of irritants and help thin the mucus and soothe the membranes inside the nose.
  • Corticosteroid nasal sprays (e.g., fluticasone, triamcinolone, budesonide) may help reduce the congestion due to their anti-inflammatory effect by shrinking the swelling and reducing excessive mucus production.
  • Antihistamine nasal sprays (e.g., azelastine, olopatadine) are more helpful than oral antihistamines in relieving the symptoms of non-allergic rhinitis.
  • Anticholinergic nasal sprays (e.g., ipratropium bromide) can help to dry up the excessive nasal secretions and relieve runny nose and post nasal drip.
  • Oral decongestants (e.g., pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine) can help relieve nasal stuffiness by shrinking the blood vessels and reducing mucus buildup. Side effects of these medications however may include elevated blood pressure, rapid pulse, restlessness, sleep disturbances, palpitations, and/or tremors.


A recent small study showed that eating oily fish (e.g., herring, mackerel, salmon) at least once a week may reduce the risk of rhinitis.  However more studies are needed to confirm this finding.

The board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy have 3 convenient locations with on-site parking located in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA.  The Washington, DC and McLean, VA offices are Metro accessible and we offer a free shuttle that runs between the McLean, VA office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line.  The allergy specialists at Black & Kletz Allergy are extremely knowledgeable regarding non-allergic rhinitis as well as allergic rhinitis.  We diagnose and treat both pediatric and adult patients.  In addition, we treat patients with food, medication, insect sting, and skin allergies, asthma, eosinophilic esophagitis, sinus disease, and immunological disorders.  To schedule an appointment, please call any of our offices or you may alternatively click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours by the next business day.  We have been servicing the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area for more than 50 years and we look forward to providing you with comprehensive state-of the-art allergy care in a friendly and professional environment.




Does Eating Local Honey Help Treat Allergies?

honey treating allergiesDoes eating local honey help treat allergies?  This question has been asked for decades.  Many individuals swear that consuming local honey does help alleviate their seasonal allergy symptoms known as allergic rhinitis (i.e., hay fever).  Beekeepers generally also agree with this theory.  In order to answer this question, another important question to ask is “how does local honey help allergies?”, if in fact it does help.

The theory behind this hypothesis is rooted in the fact that when bees land on flowering trees and plants, the pollens that are on the flowers stick to the bees’ abdomens.  When bees make honey, the pollen that is on their abdomen is incorporated in the honey.  Local honey contains the pollen of these flowering trees and plants.  Processed honey that you would typically buy at a grocery store is usually micro-filtered and pasteurized.  These processes generally remove the pollen from the honey.  The thought is that local “raw” honey contains pollens from local trees and plants and by eating the honey, an individual will develop a “resistance” to the pollens that are in the local honey.  This would then lead to less or no allergic symptoms when exposed to these local pollens.  In theory, this sounds good, but in fact, there are flaws in this concept which are as follows:

The first fault in this idea is that individuals suffering from seasonal allergies in the Spring are allergic to non-flowering trees such as maple, birch, elm, hickory, cedar, ash, beech, and oak trees.  They are not generally allergic to the pollen from flowering trees and plants such as cherry trees, Bradford pear trees, redbud trees, dogwood trees, and forsythia bushes.  The reason for this is fairly simple.  The pollen of flowering trees and plants are heavy in weight and thus are not wind-dispersed.  Since the pollen is heavy, through evolution, these types of trees and plants had to develop flowers in order to attract bees so that they could cross-pollinate and thus reproduce.  The bees land on a flower and the pollen then sticks on the abdomen of the bees.  The bees then fly to another same species flowering tree or plant and when they land on these flowers, the pollen on their abdomen gets distributed on this new flower and hence cross-pollination occurs.  The fact that the pollen is heavy and not wind-dispersed means that individuals do not inhale the pollen and therefore do not become sensitized or allergic to these pollens.  Unlike flowering trees and plants, the non-flowering tree pollens are light in weight and are wind-dispersed, thus able to cause sensitization and allergy symptoms to allergic-prone individuals.  This translates into the fact that eating local honey (which is composed of flowering tree pollens) will not reduce one’s allergies in the Spring because it does not contain the correct types of pollens that cause hay fever.

In addition, the amount of pollen in local honey is not consistent between different bottles of honey from the same beekeeper yet from different beekeepers.  It is not standardized.  The idea of allergen desensitization (i.e., allergy immunotherapy, allergy hyposensitization) is to give a very low tolerable dose and increase the amount slowly over time, so that an individual can become tolerant to that allergen (e.g., tree pollen).

Another major flaw in this theory is that there have been no good scientific studies showing any advantage in using local honey to treat allergies.  There are a few studies that are flawed in the manner the studies were done as well as the number of participants are too small to make a general correlation between consuming local honey and its effects on allergies.  The use of honey to treat allergies is also not endorsed by either the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology or the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

Honey does have some advantages however.  It is not uncommonly used to help alleviate coughs and of course, it tastes good!  It is also interesting to point out that honey does not spoil.  This is thought to occur because organisms cannot survive long enough within a jar of honey due to the very low moisture that exists in a jar of honey and thus does not have the chance to spoil.

All in all, honey has its merits, but treating allergies is not one of them.  If you suffer from allergies, please contact Black & Kletz Allergy so that you can see one of our board certified allergists in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area.  After a comprehensive history and physical examination, allergy testing may be done and the appropriate avoidance measures will be discussed.  Depending upon each individual’s results, medications and/or allergy shots (i.e., allergy immunotherapy) may be prescribed.  Allergy shots have been prove to be effective in 80-85% of patients undergoing injections and they have been given in the United States for over 100 years.  Unlike consuming local honey, there are numerous studies demonstrating the efficacy and benefits of allergy immunotherapy when administered in the proper way.

The allergy doctors at Black & Kletz Allergy treat both adult and pediatric patients.  We have offices in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA.  All of the offices have on-site parking.  The Washington, DC and McLean, VA offices are Metro accessible and the McLean, VA office has a free shuttle that runs between our office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line.  You may also click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours by the next business day.  Black & Kletz Allergy has been a fixture in the greater Washington, DC and Northern Virginia community for over 50 years for our exceptional services for the diagnosis and treatment of allergic, asthmatic, and immunological conditions.