What is rhinitis?
Rhinitis is a common condition that causes symptoms of sneezing, itchy or runny nose, or stuffy nose. These symptoms can mimic or accompany other respiratory illnesses (such as the common cold or allergies). It can also worsen such illnesses, contributing to additional symptoms such as sinus pain, congestion, ear problems, sleeping difficulties, and concentration problems. It can also aggravate the wheezing and breathing difficulties of asthma.
There are two main types of rhinitis: allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and non-allergic rhinitis. This handout focuses on non-allergic rhinitis.
What is non-allergic rhinitis?
Non-allergic rhinitis is a form of the illness that doesn't involve the allergic response of the immune system (in other words, there are no allergens involved). Symptoms tend to be chronic rather than the seasonal changes of allergic rhinitis, although some people suffer from both forms of rhinitis.
What are the symptoms of non-allergic rhinitis?
The symptoms of both forms of non-allergic rhinitis are similar and include:
- Runny nose
- Stuffy nose
- Itchy nose
- Redness and inflammation in or around the nose
- Sinus problems, such as post-nasal drip
People with more severe forms of non-allergic rhinitis may also suffer from nasal polyps. These growths may keep air from moving freely in and out of the nose or impair the person's sense of smell.
What triggers non-allergic rhinitis?
Not every person with non-allergic rhinitis suffers every symptom. Similarly, triggers vary from person to person. Common triggers include:
- Side effects of certain medications, such as oral contraceptives, blood pressure medications, drugs used to treat erectile dysfunction
- Long-term use of nasal decongestants
- Strong smells, such as from cooking or perfumes and scented cosmetics
- Pollutants in the air
How is non-allergic rhinitis treated?
Most cases of non-allergic rhinitis are mild enough to be treated by avoiding triggers and waiting for symptoms to subside. However, for persistent or more bothersome symptoms, your doctor may recommend medications, including:
- Nasal corticosteroids (Flonase®, Nasonex®) for inflammation of the nose
- Decongestants, available in prescription or over-the-counter forms (Sudafed®, Actifed®, Neo-Synephrine®); if you use a nasal spray form (Afrin®, Nostrilla®), don't use it for longer than a few days because sprays can worsen symptoms over time
- Saline nasal sprays to wash the nose free of irritants, thin the mucus, and soothe irritated nasal tissues
- Antihistamine nasal sprays, such as Astelin® or Optivar® (oral antihistamines don't seem to relieve non-allergic rhinitis)
- Ipratropium nasal spray for runny nose
You may also be able to prevent or diminish symptoms by staying well hydrated, keeping your home humid, and rinsing your nasal passages with specially designed squeeze bottles (this remedy is called nasal lavage).
Reference: National Institutes of Health