Classification and management of allergic rhinitis patients in general practice during pollen season


Prof. Dr P. van Cauwenberge
Department of Otorhinolaryngology
De Pintelaan 185
9000 Gent


Background:  Allergic rhinitis (AR) represents a major challenge in primary care. The Allergic Rhinitis and its Impact on Asthma (ARIA) group proposed a new classification for AR and developed evidence-based guidelines for the management of this disease. We conducted this study to further characterize the classes of AR described by ARIA, and to evaluate whether the management of AR in general practice is in accordance with the ARIA guidelines.

Methods:  During the pollen season of 2003, 95 Belgian general practitioners (GPs) enrolled 804 patients who presented with symptoms of AR. For each patient, a questionnaire comprising the clinical presentation and management was completed.

Results:  In 64% of the patients, AR was classified as intermittent and in 36% as persistent. Persistent rhinitis caused more discomfort than intermittent rhinitis. Only 50% of the patients had ever undergone allergy testing. Among them, 51% were allergic to both seasonal and perennial allergens. Eighty-two per cent of the persistent rhinitics were allergic to at least one seasonal allergen and 72% of the intermittent rhinitics to at least one perennial allergen. When compared strictly with the ARIA recommendations, 49% of the patients with mild and/or intermittent AR were overtreated, whereas about 30% of those with moderate/severe persistent rhinitis were undertreated.

Conclusion:  This study confirms that the previous classification of AR into ‘seasonal’ and ‘perennial’ is not satisfactory and that intermittent and persistent AR are not equivalent to seasonal and perennial AR respectively. Furthermore, persistent rhinitis has been shown to be a distinct disease entity. Further efforts are required to disseminate and implement evidence-based diagnostic and treatment guidelines for AR in primary care practice.