Allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis is inflammation of the inside of the nose. It’s caused by an allergic reaction to an allergen, such as pollen, dust and the hair of certain animals. It’s a common condition. See your GP if your symptoms, see below, are stopping you from doing everyday activities.

Symptoms of allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis typically causes cold-like symptoms, such as:

  • sneezing
  • itchiness
  • a blocked or runny nose

These symptoms usually start soon after being exposed to an allergen.

Some people only get allergic rhinitis for a few months at a time because they're sensitive to seasonal allergens, such as tree or grass pollen (hay fever). Other people get allergic rhinitis all year round.

Most people with allergic rhinitis have mild symptoms that can be easily treated. For some symptoms can be severe and persistent. They can cause sleep problems and interfere with everyday life.

The symptoms of allergic rhinitis occasionally improve with time. This can take many years and it's unlikely that the condition will disappear completely.

Non-allergic rhinitis

Not all cases of rhinitis are caused by an allergic reaction. Some cases are the result of:

  • an infection, such as the common cold
  • oversensitive blood vessels in the nose
  • overuse of nasal decongestants

This type of rhinitis is known as non-allergic rhinitis.

When to see your GP

Visit your GP if the symptoms of allergic rhinitis are:

  • disrupting your sleep
  • preventing you carrying out everyday activities
  • adversely affecting your performance at work or school

A diagnosis of allergic rhinitis will usually be based on:

  • your symptoms
  • any possible triggers you may have noticed

If the cause of your condition is uncertain, you may be referred for allergy testing (see below).

Further problems

Allergic rhinitis can lead to complications in some cases. These include:

  • nasal polyps – non-cancerous sacs of fluid that grow inside the nasal passages and sinuses
  • sinusitis – an infection caused by nasal inflammation and swelling that prevents mucus draining from the sinuses
  • middle ear infections – infection of part of the ear located directly behind the eardrum

These problems can often be treated with medication, although surgery is sometimes needed in severe or long-term cases.

Allergy testing

If the exact cause of allergic rhinitis is uncertain, your GP may refer you to a hospital allergy clinic for allergy testing.

Commercial allergy testing kits aren't recommended. It's important that the test results are interpreted by a healthcare professional with knowledge of your symptoms and medical history.

Causes of allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis is caused by the immune system reacting to an allergen as if it were harmful.

This results in cells releasing a number of chemicals that cause the inside layer of your nose (the mucous membrane) to become swollen and excessive levels of mucus to be produced.

Common allergens that cause allergic rhinitis include:

  • pollen – this type of allergic rhinitis is known as hay fever
  • mould spores
  • house dust mites
  • flakes of skin or droplets of urine or saliva from certain animals

Treating and preventing allergic rhinitis

It's difficult to completely avoid potential allergens. You can take steps to reduce exposure to a particular allergen you know or suspect is triggering your allergic rhinitis.

You can also help reduce the symptoms by taking over-the-counter medications. Your pharmacist can advise you. Regularly rinsing your nasal passages with a salt water to keep it free of irritants can also help.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published January 2018

This page is due for review May 2019

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