Non-allergic rhinitis is a condition that causes symptoms similar to those of an allergic reaction such as hay fever, but it’s not due to an allergy. Instead, it’s caused by various other factors and, therefore, does not involve the immune system.
Causes of non-allergic rhinitis
Non-allergic rhinitis can be triggered by certain odors, foods, weather changes, certain medications, alcohol, or other irritants such as smoke. Some types of non-allergic rhinitis include:
- Vasomotor rhinitis
The result of changes in temperature or humidity, strong odors, or smoke.
- Medication-induced rhinitis
Some medications have rhinitis-type side effects. Drugs for erectile dysfunction and hypertension (high blood pressure) are two examples.
- Hormonal rhinitis
Pregnant women, people with hypothyroidism, and those going through hormonal changes are most at risk of this type.
- Atrophic rhinitis
This type is less common and is typically caused by an infection or after a surgical procedure on the nose.
“The major difference between individuals that have allergic rhinitis and individuals with non-allergic rhinitis is that patients with non-allergic rhinitis don’t react to your typical allergic triggers like dust mites, cat dander, mold spores, or tree, grass, or ragweed pollens. Rather, rhinitis patients will react to irritants such as strong smells, pollution, particulate matter in the air, smoke, or other irritants.”
Signs and symptoms
The signs symptoms are similar to those of allergic reactions, and may include:
- Runny nose.
- Stuffy nose or nasal congestion.
- Post-nasal drip.
However, unlike allergies, non-allergic rhinitis does not usually cause itchy eyes, ears, or throat.
Diagnosis of non-allergic rhinitis
You doctor will discuss your signs and symptoms with you and your medical history, and will then carry out a physical examination. They may order a blood test and prick test to rule out allergies.
In some cases, a nasal endoscopy (looking inside the nose with a special camera) or a CT scan might be performed.
Treatment options focus on managing the patient’s symptoms, and may include:
- Antihistamines – even though this condition is not caused by an allergy, antihistamines can still sometimes be useful for reducing symptoms.
- Decongestants – these can help to reduce swelling and congestion in the nasal passageways.
- Capsaicin (the compound that makes chili peppers spicy) and a spray containing a chemical called ipratropium can also be useful.
- You should avoid known triggers of non-allergic rhinitis symptoms whenever possible.
- Nasal sprays – including OTC saline sprays or corticosteroid sprays. The letters OTC stand for over-the-counter and refer to drugs that we can buy without a doctor’s prescription.
Regarding OTC nasal sprays, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) says the following:
“You can buy nasal sprays without a prescription, but they should not be used for more than a week. Using them for longer than this can make the problem worse.”
Complications of non-allergic rhinitis
While it is not a life-threatening condition, this condition can interfere with quality of life. It can cause difficulty sleeping, lead to sinusitis (an infection or inflammation of the sinuses), and interfere with daily activities, especially if symptoms are persistent.
Preventing non-allergic rhinitis involves avoiding the triggers that cause the symptoms. This can include avoiding certain foods, drinks, or odors that have triggered the condition in the past, and keeping your home clean and free from irritants such as smoke, dust, and strong odors.
If you have some of the signs and symptoms described in this article and you are concerned about your health, talk to your doctor.