Rhinitis, allergic 


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

How common is allergic rhinitis?

Allergic rhinitis is one of the most common conditions in the UK. Studies estimate that more than 30% of people experience the condition at some point in their life.

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.

Read more about non-allergic rhinitis.

Allergic rhinitis is inflammation of the inside of the nose caused by an allergen, such as pollen, dust, mould or certain animal danders.

Allergic rhinitis often 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.

Read more about the symptoms of allergic rhinitis.

What causes allergic rhinitis?

Allergic rhinitis is caused by the immune system reacting to an allergen as if it were harmful. The immune system is the body's natural defence against infection and illness.

If your immune system is oversensitive, it will react by attacking allergens in the same way it attacks viruses and infections.

Known allergens include pollen (this type of allergic rhinitis is known as hay fever), house dust mites and certain animals.

Read more about the causes of allergic rhinitis.

Diagnosing allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis is usually straightforward to diagnose based on your symptoms.

Your GP may also examine the inside of your nose for fleshy swellings known as nasal polyps, which can result from allergic rhinitis.  

If the exact cause of your allergic rhinitis is uncertain, you may be referred for allergy testing.

Read more about diagnosing allergic rhinitis.

Treating allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis is not usually harmful but it can be irritating and affect your quality of life.

Identifying the allergen and avoiding it is the first step in managing the condition. Although this is not always easy.

If your symptoms are mild, you should be able to treat them yourself by:

  • taking over-the-counter medication -such as non-sedating antihistamines and decongestants to help relieve congestion and a runny nose
  • nasal douching - regularly rinsing your nasal passages with saline solution to keep your nose free of irritants

Visit your GP if your symptoms are affecting your quality of life. They may prescribe stronger medication, such as a nasal spray that contains corticosteroids.

Read more about treating allergic rhinitis and preventing allergic rhinitis.


Sinus infection (sinusitis) is a common complication of rhinitis. Fluid that builds up in the sinuses usually drains away. However, if it is unable to drain away, due to excess mucus or nasal polyps, for example, it can become infected with bacteria.

Read more about the complications of allergic rhinitis.

Page last reviewed: 02/05/2012

Next review due: 02/05/2014


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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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