Complications of non-allergic rhinitis 

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

These can include problems caused by having a blocked or runny nose, such as:

  • difficulty sleeping
  • drowsiness during the daytime
  • irritability or problems concentrating

The inflammation associated with non-allergic rhinitis can also lead to further conditions, such as:

  • nasal polyps
  • sinusitis
  • middle ear infections

These are described below.

Nasal polyps

Nasal polyps are fleshy swellings that grow from the lining of your nose or sinuses (the small cavities above and behind your nose), which are caused by inflammation of the membranes of the nose, and sometimes as a result of rhinitis.

They've also been linked with an increased risk of other conditions, such as asthma, that develop later in life.

Nasal polyps are shaped like teardrops when they're growing and they look like a grape on a stem when fully grown. They vary in size and can be a 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
  • block your sinuses, leading to sinusitis (see below)

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

The sinuses naturally produce mucus, which usually drains into your nose through small channels. However, if these 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 include:

  • severe facial pain around your cheeks, eyes or forehead
  • toothache
  • a blocked nose
  • a runny nose  your nose may produce a green or yellow mucus either through the nostrils or down the back of the nose (catarrh)
  • a high temperature (fever)

Symptoms of sinusitis can be relieved using over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin. These will help to reduce the pain and fever.

However, these medications aren't suitable for everyone, so make sure you check the leaflet before you take them. For example:

  • children under 16 years of age shouldn't take aspirin
  • ibuprofen isn't recommended for people with asthma or a history of certain stomach conditions, such as stomach ulcers

Speak to your GP or pharmacist if you're unsure.

Antibiotics may also be recommended if your sinuses become infected with bacteria. In cases of 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 non-allergic rhinitis.

These infections may occur because rhinitis can cause a problem with the Eustachian tube at the back of the nose. If this tube (which connects the back of the nose and the middle ear) doesn't function properly, then fluid may accumulate in the middle ear (behind the ear drum) and become infected.

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

Symptoms of a middle ear infection can include:

Most ear infections clear up within a couple of days, although paracetamol or ibuprofen can be used to relieve pain and a high temperature. Antibiotics may also be used if the symptoms persist or are particularly severe.

Read more about treating middle ear infections.

Page last reviewed: 29/03/2016

Next review due: 29/03/2018