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Treatment - Non-allergic rhinitis

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

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 rhinitis normally clears up within a week or 2.

Otherwise treatment options include:

  • avoiding triggers
  • changing your medicines
  • nasal rinses
  • nasal sprays
  • stopping overused nasal sprays

Avoiding triggers

You may be advised to avoid possible triggers. For example, it may help to avoid smoky or polluted environments.

Changing your medicines

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

Nasal rinses

Sometimes, 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 homemade salt water 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 (do not attempt to rinse your nose while the water is still hot).

You will probably only use a small amount of the solution. Throw away whatever is left.

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 your throat through the back of your nose. Although the solution is harmless if swallowed, try to spit out as much of it as possible.

You can carry out nasal irrigation several times a day. Make a fresh salt water solution each time.

Nasal sprays

Various types of nasal spray relieve the symptoms of non-allergic rhinitis. They include:

  • antihistamine nasal sprays – these help to relieve congestion and a runny nose by reducing inflammation
  • steroid 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

You can buy many of these sprays from pharmacies without a prescription.

It's important to check the leaflet that comes with them before you use the nasal spray, because they're not suitable for everyone. If you're uncertain whether you should be using one of these medicines, 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, do not use it for longer than 5 to 7 days at a time. Overusing decongestants can make congestion worse.

Stopping overused nasal decongestant sprays

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 7 days this nostril should open up, at which point try to stop using the spray in your other nostril.

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).

Page last reviewed: 03 May 2019
Next review due: 03 May 2022