Treating non-allergic rhinitis 

Treatment for non-allergic rhinitis often depends on the cause of the condition.

In some cases, such as when rhinitis is caused by a viral infection, treatment may not be necessary. This is because the infection responsible for the condition normally clears up within a week or two.

Avoiding triggers

If something specific seems to be triggering your symptoms, you may be advised to avoid possible triggers. For example, it may help to avoid exposure to smoky or polluted environments.

If your rhinitis is believed to be caused by a medication you're taking, such as beta-blockers, your GP may be able to prescribe an alternative medication to see if it helps to reduce your symptoms. Don't stop taking any prescribed medication unless advised to by a doctor.

Some cases of non-allergic rhinitis are caused by overusing nasal decongestant sprays. In these cases, the best treatment is to stop using these sprays. However, this can be difficult, particularly if you've been using them for some time.

Try not using the spray in your least congested nostril first. After seven days this nostril should open up, at which point you should try to stop using the spray in your other nostril.

It may also help to rinse your nose using a salt water solution (see below) and take antihistamine tablets that cause drowsiness to reduce night-time congestion and help you sleep.

Some specialists try to gradually switch your spray from a decongestant (which is harmful in the long term) to a steroid spray (which generally can be used for longer periods).

Cleaning the nasal passages

In many cases of non-allergic rhinitis, rinsing your nasal passages with a salt water solution can be helpful. This is known as nasal irrigation or nasal douching.

Rinsing your nasal passages helps wash away any excess mucus or irritants inside your nose, which can reduce inflammation and relieve your symptoms.

Nasal irrigation can be done using either a home-made solution or a solution made with sachets of ingredients bought from a pharmacy. Small syringes or pots (which often look like small horns or teapots) are also available to help flush the solution around the inside of your nose.

To make the solution at home, mix a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda into a pint of boiled water that's been left to cool to around body temperature (don't attempt to rinse your nose while the water is still hot). To rinse your nose:

  • standing over a sink, cup the palm of one hand and pour a small amount of the solution into it
  • sniff the water into one nostril at a time – an alternative is to use a syringe to insert the solution into the nose
  • repeat this until your nose feels comfortable (you may not need to use all of the solution)

While you do this, some solution may pass into the throat through the back of the nose. Although the solution is harmless if swallowed, try to spit out as much of it as possible.

Nasal irrigation can be carried out several times a day and a fresh solution should be made each time.

Nasal sprays

Various types of nasal spray are available to help relieve the symptoms of non-allergic rhinitis. These include:

  • antihistamine nasal sprays – these help to relieve congestion and a runny nose by reducing inflammation
  • corticosteroid nasal sprays – like antihistamines, these work by reducing inflammation
  • anticholinergic nasal sprays – these reduce the amount of mucus your nose produces, which helps to relieve a runny nose
  • decongestant nasal sprays – these relieve congestion by reducing swelling of the blood vessels inside your nose

Many of these sprays can be bought over the counter in pharmacies without a prescription. Therefore, it's important to check the leaflet that comes with them before use, because they're not suitable for everyone. If you're at all uncertain whether you should be using one of these medications, check with your GP or pharmacist.

You should also make sure you check the manufacturer's instructions to see how to correctly use these sprays.

If you use a decongestant spray, make sure you don't use it for longer than five to seven days at a time. This is because overusing decongestants can make congestion worse.


Page last reviewed: 29/03/2016

Next review due: 29/03/2018