Allergic rhinitis 


Hay fever

An allergy specialist explains who's most likely to be affected by hay fever and how you can prevent and relieve the symptoms.

Media last reviewed: 20/08/2013

Next review due: 20/08/2015

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.

Allergic rhinitis is inflammation of the inside of the nose caused by an allergen, such as pollen, dust, mould or flakes of skin from certain animals.

It's a very common condition, estimated to affect around one in every five people in the UK.

Signs and symptoms

Allergic rhinitis typically causes cold-like symptoms, such as sneezing, itchiness and 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 are sensitive to seasonal allergens, such as tree or grass pollen. Other people get allergic rhinitis all year round.

Most people with allergic rhinitis have mild symptoms that can be easily and effectively treated. However, for some, symptoms can be severe and persistent, causing sleep problems and interfering with everyday life.

The symptoms of allergic rhinitis do occasionally improve with time, but this can take many years and it is unlikely that the condition will ever disappear completely.

When to see your GP

You should visit your GP if the symptoms of allergic rhinitis are disrupting your sleep, impairing your ability to carry out everyday activities or adversely affecting your performance at work or school.

Your GP will usually be able to diagnose allergic rhinitis based on your symptoms and any possible triggers you may have noticed. If the exact cause of your allergic rhinitis is uncertain, you may be referred for allergy testing.

Read more about diagnosing allergic rhinitis.

What causes 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 mucus membrane (the inside layer of your nose) 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 and flakes of skin or droplets of urine or saliva from certain animals.

Read more about the causes of allergic rhinitis.

Treating and preventing allergic rhinitis

Although it is difficult to completely avoid potential allergens, taking steps to reduce your exposure to a particular allergen that you know or suspect is triggering your allergic rhinitis can help improve your symptoms.

If your condition is mild, you can also help reduce the symptoms yourself by taking over-the-counter medications – such as non-sedating antihistamines or decongestants – and by regularly rinsing your nasal passages with salt water solution to keep your nose free of irritants.

See your GP for advice if you have tried these self-help measures and they haven't helped. Your GP may choose to prescribe a stronger medication, such as a nasal spray containing corticosteroids.

Read more about treating allergic rhinitis and preventing allergic rhinitis.

Further problems

In some cases, 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 allergic rhinitis.

Page last reviewed: 19/03/2014

Next review due: 19/03/2016


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The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

PandaRiia said on 06 February 2013

I really did not realise how much this affects my life, after being with my partner for nearly 4 years he still can't believe how much I sneeze and blow my nose.

I have a constant cold almost! I struggle to pronounce words properly and to breath properly (especially when i'm drinking water I need to catch my breath) my doctor basically told me to keep taking anti histamines, replacing my pillows frequently and use nose spray.

Not really helping effectively but I plod through my days! I know for a fact i'm mainly allergic to dust/dust mites, and then cat/dog hair, and cold draughts or breeze sets my nose off sneezing :-(

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SparklyB said on 08 June 2011

Saw a third doctor today. Wouldn't send me for a skin prick test. Did say they'd take some blood and test that, but unless I'm actually showing signs of a reaction that day then it will probably come back negative.

Last time my doctors took blood it was never even tested.

Manage the symptoms that's all they want to do. They won't bother trying to find out what it is you're allergic to!

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SparklyB said on 07 June 2011

"Identifying the allergen that causes your rhinitis and, if possible, avoiding it is an important first step in managing the condition effectively."

Interesting, because when I was told I had allergic rhinitis by my doctor, they wouldn't send me for testing to find out what I was allergic to.

I tried to get a second doctor to send me but he just said that there are so many allergens about that it's impossible to avoid them all. That all they can do is treat the symptoms.

That was nearly two years ago and I still get symptoms. I'm trying another doctor tomorrow. Maybe this time I'll get a skin prick test!

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