Complications of allergic rhinitis 

If you have allergic rhinitis, there's a risk you could develop further problems.

A blocked or runny nose can result in difficulty sleeping, drowsiness during the daytime, irritability and problems concentrating. Allergic rhinitis can also make symptoms of asthma worse.

The inflammation associated with allergic rhinitis can also sometimes lead to other conditions, such as nasal polypssinusitis and middle ear infections. These are described below.

Nasal polyps

Nasal polyps are swellings that grow in the lining inside your nose or sinuses, the small cavities above and behind your nose.

They're caused by inflammation of the membranes of the nose and sometimes develop as a result of rhinitis.

Nasal polyps are shaped like teardrops when they're growing and look like a grape on a stem when fully grown.

They vary in size and can be yellow, grey or pink. They can grow on their own or in clusters, and usually affect both nostrils.

If nasal polyps grow large enough, or in clusters, they can interfere with your breathing, reduce your sense of smell and block your sinuses, which can lead to sinusitis.

Small nasal polyps can be shrunk using steroid nasal sprays so they don't cause an obstruction in your nose. Large polyps may need to be surgically removed.

Read more about treating nasal polyps.

Sinusitis

Sinusitis is a common complication of rhinitis. It's where the sinuses become inflamed or infected.

The sinuses naturally produce mucus, which usually drains into your nose through small channels.

However, if the drainage channels are inflamed or blocked – for example, because of rhinitis or nasal polyps – the mucus can't drain away and it may become infected.

Common symptoms of sinusitis include:

  • a blocked nose, making it difficult to breathe through your nose
  • a runny nose
  • mucus that drips from the back of your nose down your throat (post-nasal drip)
  • reduced sense of smell or taste
  • a feeling of fullness, pressure or pain in the face 
  • snoring
  • obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) – your airways become temporarily blocked while you're asleep, which can disturb your sleep

Over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin, can be used to help reduce any pain and discomfort in your face.

However, these medications aren't suitable for everyone, so check the leaflet that comes with them before using them.

For example, children under the age of 16 shouldn't take aspirin, and ibuprofen isn't recommended for people with asthma or a history of stomach ulcers. Speak to your GP or pharmacist if you're unsure.

Antibiotics may also be recommended if your sinuses become infected with bacteria. If you have long-term (chronic) sinusitis, surgery may be needed to improve the drainage of your sinuses.

Read more about treating sinusitis.

Middle ear infections

Middle ear infections (otitis media) can also develop as a complication of nasal problems, including allergic rhinitis.

These infections can occur if rhinitis causes a problem with the Eustachian tube, which connects the back of the nose and middle ear, at the back of the nose.

If this tube doesn't function properly, fluid can build up in the middle ear behind the ear drum and can become infected.

There's also the possibility of infection at the back of the nose spreading to the ear through the Eustachian tube.

The main symptoms of a middle ear infection include:

Ear infections often clear up within a couple of days, but paracetamol or ibuprofen can be used to help relieve fever and pain. Antibiotics may also be prescribed if the symptoms persist or are particularly severe.

Read more about treating middle ear infections.

Page last reviewed: 15/02/2016

Next review due: 15/02/2018