My nose runs whenever I eat…do I have food allergies?

By: Ross I. Palis, MD

Ross I. Palis, MD

Here we go again.  I’m having a nice dinner with friends, eating nothing out of the ordinary, and suddenly it happens.  A trickle of clear snot creeping out of my nostrils, getting tough to breathe out of my nose, and now the incessant throat clearing kicks in.  What a delight this is while trying to enjoy a meal and contribute to dinner conversation!  But could this be a sign of something more serious?  Could I have food allergies?

Thankfully, the answer is no.  I have a condition called gustatory rhinitis (GR), which is a form of non-allergic rhinitis that may affect nearly one million Americans including yourself.  GR is characterized by sudden-onset watery or mucoid rhinorrhea (“runny nose”), sometimes associated with nasal congestion, postnasal drip and watery eyes, that is triggered by the act of eating.  Gustation is our sense of taste, and tasting food activates our autonomic nervous system to produce saliva and begin the digestive process.  While the exact science behind GR is still debatable, most agree that autonomic nerves in the nasal area are mistakenly activated while tasting food, causing the proverbial floodgates to open.

In my case, any food can trigger these lovely symptoms.  However, in most GR sufferers spicy and sour foods (i.e. hot peppers, garlic, ginger, horseradish, mustard, vinegar) are the most common culprits.  These foods all contain capsaicin and related compounds, which are very potent activators of sensory nerves in the mouth and nose.

So, aside from avoidance of Buffalo wings and jalapeno poppers, what else can be done to manage GR?  Depending on your most annoying symptom, using a prescription nasal spray prior to meals can dramatically reduce your tissue usage and improve your quality of life at the dinner table.  Ipratropium bromide (Atrovent®) can be very effective in managing the runny nose, while azelastine hydrochloride (Astelin®, Astepro®) may be more effective for the nasal congestion and postnasal drip.  Contact your friendly allergy team at CAAC to discuss these treatment options!

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