Non-allergic rhinitis

Non-allergic rhinitis is inflammation of the inside of the nose that is not caused by an allergy.

Rhinitis caused by an allergen, such as pollen, is a separate condition known as allergic rhinitis.

Symptoms of non-allergic rhinitis can include:

  • a runny or blocked nose
  • sneezing (although this is less severe than in allergic rhinitis)
  • mild irritation or discomfort in and around your nose
  • reduced sense of smell

Rarely, non-allergic rhinitis can also cause a crust to develop inside the nose, which may produce a foul-smelling odour and can cause bleeding if you try to remove it.

When to see your GP

You should see your GP if you have symptoms of non-allergic rhinitis and the condition is affecting your quality of life.

Non-allergic rhinitis can be difficult to diagnose because there is no test to confirm the condition. Your GP will first ask about your symptoms and medical history.

They may then carry out a blood test to check if you have an allergy or they may refer you to a hospital clinic for further investigation which may include more specific tests for allergies (including a ‘skin prick test’). If the test results suggest you do not have an allergy, you may be diagnosed with non-allergic rhinitis.

Read more about diagnosing non-allergic rhinitis.

What causes non-allergic rhinitis?

In non-allergic rhinitis, the inflammation is usually the result of swollen blood vessels and a build-up of fluid in the tissues of the nose.

This swelling blocks the nasal passages and stimulates the mucus glands in the nose, resulting in the typical symptoms of a blocked or runny nose.

There are several possible causes of non-allergic rhinitis which can be divided into ‘external’ or ‘internal’ factors. External factors include viral infections (such as a cold) that attack the lining of the nose and throat, and environmental factors, such as cold weather or exposure to smoke.

Internal factors include hormone imbalances, such as those that occur during pregnancy or puberty, and the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or hormonal contraception.

Read more about the causes of non-allergic rhinitis.

Treating non-allergic rhinitis

Although non-allergic rhinitis is not usually harmful, it can be irritating and affect your quality of life. Treatment will depend on how severe the condition is and what is causing it.

In some cases, avoiding certain triggers and self-care measures, such as rinsing your nasal passages, may help to relieve your symptoms. This can be done using either a home-made solution or a solution made with sachets of ingredients bought from a pharmacy. 

In other cases, medication may be needed, such as a nasal spray containing corticosteroids. These will help to relieve the congestion, but they usually need to be used over a number of weeks to be fully effective.

Before taking any medication for non-allergic rhinitis, always check the leaflet that comes with it because the treatments used are not suitable for everyone. If you are at all uncertain whether you should be using one of these medications, check with your GP or pharmacist.

Read more about treating non-allergic rhinitis.

Further problems

In some cases, non-allergic rhinitis can lead to complications. These include:

  • nasal polyps – abnormal, but benign (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.

Read more about the complications of non-allergic rhinitis.

© Crown Copyright 2009

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse this site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Find out more here.