What causes a runny nose due to nasal allergies

Allergic rhinitis is caused by the immune system reacting to an allergen as if it were harmful.

This results in cells releasing a number of chemicals that cause the inside layer of your nose (the mucous membrane) to become swollen and too much mucus to be produced.

Common allergens that cause allergic rhinitis include pollen (this type of allergic rhinitis is known as hay fever), as well as mould spores, home dust mites, and flakes of skin or droplets of urine or saliva from certain animals.

Find out more about the causes of allergic rhinitis

Further problems

Allergic rhinitis can lead to complications in some cases.

These include:

  1. nasal polyps – abnormal but non-cancerous (benign) sacs of fluid that grow inside the nasal passages and sinuses
  2. sinusitis – an infection caused by nasal inflammation and swelling that prevents mucus draining from the sinuses
  3. middle ear infections – infection of part of the ear located directly behind the eardrum

These problems can often be treated with medication, although surgery is sometimes needed in severe or long-term cases.

Find out more about the complications of allergic rhinitis

Non-allergic rhinitis

Not every cases of rhinitis are caused by an allergic reaction.

Some cases are the result of:

  1. an infection, such as the common cold
  2. oversensitive blood vessels in the nose
  3. overuse of nasal decongestants

This type of rhinitis is known as non-allergic rhinitis.

Sheet final reviewed: 29 April 2019
Next review due: 29 April 2022

When does allergic rhinitis develop?

Allergic rhinitis typically develops in childhood. It is part of what we call the Allergic March, where children first develop eczema in infancy, sometimes followed by food allergy, and then go on to develop allergic rhinitis and then asthma.

The onset of dust mite allergy occurs often by the age of two, with grass pollen allergy beginning around three to four years of age.

Tree pollen allergy develops from about seven years of age.

It is not unusual to develop hay fever during adulthood. It can take as few as two to three seasons to become sensitised to pollen, but it depends on the individual.

Infective rhinitis

Infective rhinitis is often associated with the common freezing or sometimes the ’flu, and is generally caused by a virus. Common symptoms can include coloured nasal discharge, cough and/or sore throat, but these generally clear up within a few days.

Non-allergic rhinitis

Not every cases of rhinitis are caused by an allergic reaction.

Some cases are the result of:

  1. an infection, such as the common cold
  2. oversensitive blood vessels in the nose
  3. overuse of nasal decongestants

This type of rhinitis is known as non-allergic rhinitis.

Sheet final reviewed: 29 April 2019
Next review due: 29 April 2022

What is allergic rhinitis?

Hay fever is the common name to describe allergic rhinitis and involves a recurrent runny, stuffy, itchy nose, and frequent sneezing.

It can also affect your eyes, sinuses, throat and ears.

Love any other allergy, allergic rhinitis is an inappropriate immune system response to an allergen – most commonly home dust mite, pet, pollen and mould.

What causes a runny nose due to nasal allergies

The allergen comes into contact with the sensitive, moist lining in your nose and sinuses and sets off the allergic response.

Hay fever is often considered a nuisance rather than a major disease and most people will self-treat. However, recent studies own revealed that hay fever has a huge impact on quality of life.

What causes allergic rhinitis?

The most common triggers for people with allergic rhinitis are pollen, dust mite, pet and mould allergens.

Seasonal allergic rhinitis (hay fever) is generally triggered by wind-borne pollen from trees, grass and weeds.

Early spring symptoms point to tree pollen, while nasal allergy in tardy spring and summer indicates that grass and weed pollens are the culprits. And overlapping the grass season is the weed pollen season, which generally starts in tardy spring and extends through to the finish of summer.

In New Zealand the seasons are not extremely distinct and they vary throughout the country because of the diverse climates. The season starts about one month earlier at the top of the North Island than the bottom of the South Island. Thus the hay fever season is not extremely well defined.

Allergic rhinitis that persists year-round (perennial allergic rhinitis) is generally caused by home dust mites, pets, or mould.

People with allergic rhinitis are often allergic to more than one allergen, such as dust mite and pollen, so may suffer from symptoms for months on finish or every year round.

Irritants such as strong perfumes and tobacco smoke can aggravate this condition.

Foods do not frolic as large a role as had been thought in the past.

What is the impact?

About 20 per cent of the general population suffers from rhinitis. Of these people, about one third develops problems before the age of 10.

The overall burden of allergic rhinitis is better understood when you consider that 50 per cent of patients experience symptoms for more than four months per year and that 20 per cent own symptoms for at least nine months per year.

Those affected by hay fever suffer more frequent and prolonged sinus infection, and for those who also own red, itchy eyes, there is the risk of developing infective conjunctivitis due to frequent rubbing.

Persistent symptoms and poor quality sleep can result in lethargy, poor concentration and behavioural changes and impact on learning in young children.
Allergic rhinitis may predispose people to obstructive sleep apnoea, due to the upper airways collapsing during sleep.

This results in reduced airflow, a drop in oxygen levels and disturbed sleep.

Patients with allergic rhinitis also suffer from more frequent and prolonged respiratory infections, and asthma has been shown to be more hard to control unless allergic rhinitis is also managed.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of allergic rhinitis can be any combination of itching in the back of the throat, eyes or nose, sneezing, runny eyes or nose, and blocked nose.

A person may own any or every of the following:

  1. snoring
  2. frequent earaches, fullness in the ear, ear infections or hearing loss
  3. watery discharge from the nose every the time, occasionally or during certain seasons of the year
  4. frequent throat-clearing
  5. stuffy nose every the time or during specific seasons
  6. breathing through the mouth
  7. nasal voice because of blocked nasal passages
  8. rabbit-like movements of the nose
  9. dizziness or nausea related to ear problems
  10. reddened, pebbly lining in the lower eyelids
  11. headaches because of pressure from inside the nose
  12. a horizontal crease across the nose as a result of constant rubbing
  13. chronic freezing without much fever
  14. bouts of sneezing, especially in the morning
  15. repeated nosebleeds
  16. dark circles under the eyes as a result of pressure from blocked nasal passages on the little blood vessels.

    What causes a runny nose due to nasal allergies

    Also known as "allergic shiners".

Nasal foreign bodies

Anybody with an object trapped up their nose should see a doctor if the object cannot be dislodged easily. For parents, sometimes the first sign in young children is a smelly discharge leaking from one nostril. If you suspect that something may be up there that you are unaware of, always see a doctor rather than attempting to remove it yourself. Hold toys with little parts, or other items (such as beads) out of reach of young children at every times.

What is the link between allergic rhinitis and asthma?

Allergic rhinitis has been found to be an extremely common trigger for asthma in both children and adults.

Allergic rhinitis can also exacerbate asthma, and it can make the diagnosis of asthma more difficult.

Around 80 per cent of people with asthma suffer from allergic rhinitis, and around one in four with allergic rhinitis has asthma.

There is now extremely excellent evidence to support the thought that asthmatics who glance after their upper airways well need less asthma medication and fewer hospital or GP visits.

When treating both asthma and allergic rhinitis, the first step is to discover out the cause of your problem.

Once the causes own been identified, management regimes can be put into put to minimise the impact of the allergy, and this then reduces the need for medication.

Allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis is when the lining of the nose becomes inflamed, due to an allergy. Allergic rhinitis can be either seasonal (known as hayfever or intermittent allergic rhinitis), occupational (from using certain chemicals at work that trigger symptoms) or persistent (perennial). In persistent allergic rhinitis, symptoms happen continuously throughout the year rather than during a specific season, but they may be worse during the pollen season.

Allergic rhinitis is also classified according to the frequency and severity of symptoms. If troublesome symptoms that affect normal daily functioning happen more than four times a week, it is classified as persistent rhinitis.

Apart from the length of time symptoms persist, most other symptoms of intermittent and persistent allergic rhinitis are similar. Nasal congestion and sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, itchy roof of the mouth, tickly cough and husky voice are common to both.

People with seasonal allergic rhinitis are more likely to experience eye involvement (sore, red and itchy eyes), while people with persistent allergic rhinitis commonly develop sinusitis (painful swelling of the sinuses) and are less likely to own sneezing episodes.

People with persistent allergic rhinitis are typically allergic to allergens which are constantly present such as home dust mite faeces, mould spores, or animal dander.

How do you diagnose allergic rhinitis?

Your doctor will confirm the specific allergens causing your rhinitis by taking a finish symptom history, doing a physical examination, and performing skin prick tests.

Vasomotor rhinitis

Symptoms of vasomotor rhinitis are similar to those of allergic rhinitis (though there is generally less sneezing or itching), and it often get worse with seasonal changes; allergy testing will, however, give a negative result.

Certain odours (such as perfume, cigarette smoke and paint fumes), alcohol, spicy foods, emotions and environmental factors such as temperature, barometric pressure changes and bright lights may also exacerbate or trigger the symptoms.

The nose can be either extremely runny or dry and congested. Vasomotor rhinitis is believed to be caused by oversensitive blood vessels, or an overabundance of blood vessels, within the nose.

Topical treatment products are generally effective at reducing the symptoms of vasomotor rhinitis.

How is allergic rhinitis treated?

It is useful to identify your triggers and attempt and avoid them. This can be difficult.

Pets: Make certain you hold it exterior and never let it in the bedroom. It is never simple trying to decide on a new home for a pet, but in some cases this might be the best option. Even after you own removed your pet from your home, the allergens remain in furnishings for endless periods afterwards and can cause symptoms.

You will need to thoroughly clean your walls, floors and carpets to remove the allergen.

Dust mites: Home dust mite reduction measures include mite-proof covers for the mattress, duvet and pillows. Removing items that collect dust from the bedroom will assist. A excellent quality vacuum cleaner with HEPA filter for the exhaust air is essential to ensure that allergen is not disseminated in the atmosphere.

What causes a runny nose due to nasal allergies

Bedding should be washed frequently in water hotter than 55ºC. If you own soft toys, freeze them overnight and air in the sun.

Pollen: It is hard to avoid pollen, however you can avoid going exterior when pollen counts are high. The quantity of pollen in the air is highest:
• In the morning
• Outside
• On windy days
• After a thunderstorm

See our pollen calendar for more information.


Non-sedating antihistamine tablets or liquid are useful in alleviating some of the symptoms of rhinitis.

What causes a runny nose due to nasal allergies

They are helpful in controlling sneezing, itching and a runny nose, but are ineffective in relieving nasal blockage. They can be used alone or in combination with other medications, such as nasal sprays.

Corticosteroid (anti-inflammatory) nasal sprays reduce the inflammation in the lining of the nose. They work best when used in a preventative manner, just love preventers for asthma. For example, they may be used for weeks or months at a time during an allergy season. Enquire your doctor about the appropriate medication for your condition.

Decongestant nasal sprays can be used to unblock the nose, but should not be used for more than a few days at a time.

Prolonged use may result in worsening of the nasal congestion.

Eye drops: The eye problems that sometimes happen with allergic rhinitis may not always reply to the above medications. Eye drops containing decongestants alone or in combination with antihistamine are available for mild to moderate eye problems. Eye irritation is one side effect. Prolonged use of decongestant eye drops can also cause rebound worsening when stopped. Some brands of eye drops can be used preventatively and are safe to use for prolonged periods — enquire your doctor for more specific information.

Saline washes may assist to clear your nose and soothe the lining of your nose.

These are available from most pharmacies.

Desensitisation, or immunotherapy, is used to 'turn off' the abnormal response of the immune system to an allergen if medication does not work. It is mainly used to relieve the symptoms of hay fever and allergic asthma to pollen, mould, home dust mite and pet allergen, as well as to control severe reactions to insect stings.

To start, a extremely dilute dose of the substance you are allergic to is istered by injection once or twice a week. This dose is gradually built up over three to four months on average, until a maintenance dose is achieved.

Shots are then given monthly for at least three years.

This method of treatment is the only one that deals with the underlying cause of allergic rhinitis. Not everyone benefits from treatment, however the vast majority of patients show at least some degree of improvement. Enquire your allergy specialist about whether you are a excellent candidate for immunotherapy.

Sublingual immunotherapy is another method, where drops of the allergen solution are taken under the tongue.

It is not widely used exterior of Europe.

This information is available as a fact sheet.

December 2008

This fact sheet is based on information available at the time of going to print but may be subject to change. It is significant to remember that we are every diverse and individual cases require individual medical attention. Please be guided by your GP or specialist.

Acknowledgments: We would love to Associate Professor Rohan Ameratunga, Clinical Immunologist, Auckland Hospital, for assistance in writing this information.

This fact sheet is also based on information provided by the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy and the National Asthma Council Australia.

General Information

Many people experience problems with their nasal passages or sinuses (the air cavities within the skull which open up into the nasal passages).

What causes a runny nose due to nasal allergies

These problems may happen temporarily or persist endless term. Most problems are due to an allergy, an infection, or as a result of a foreign substance being inhaled up the nose.

Other problems

In addition to the most common sinus and nasal problems listed above, pregnant women may also develop rhinitis (inflammation of the lining of the nose) due to hormonal changes, and persistent nasal congestion can happen due to over-use of topical decongestant medicines, e.g. nose sprays or eye drops.

What causes a runny nose due to nasal allergies

Certain medicines can also contribute to rhinitis, so it is significant to let your medical professional know what medicines you take.

Treating and preventing allergic rhinitis

It’s hard to completely avoid potential allergens, but you can take steps to reduce exposure to a specific allergen you know or suspect is triggering your allergic rhinitis. This will assist improve your symptoms.

If your condition is mild, you can also assist reduce the symptoms by taking over-the-counter medications, such as non-sedating antihistamines, and by regularly rinsing your nasal passages with a salt water solution to hold your nose free of irritants.

See a GP for advice if you own tried taking these steps and they own not helped.

They may prescribe a stronger medication, such as a nasal spray containing corticosteroids.

Symptoms of allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis typically 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’re sensitive to seasonal allergens, such as tree or grass pollen. Other people get allergic rhinitis every year round.

Most people with allergic rhinitis own mild symptoms that can be easily and effectively treated.

But for some people symptoms can be severe and persistent, causing sleep problems and interfering with everyday life.

The symptoms of allergic rhinitis occasionally improve with time, but this can take numerous years and it’s unlikely that the condition will vanish completely.

When to see a GP

Visit a GP if the symptoms of allergic rhinitis are disrupting your sleep, preventing you carrying out everyday activities, or adversely affecting your performance at work or school.

A diagnosis of allergic rhinitis will generally be based on your symptoms and any possible triggers you may own noticed.

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

Find out more about diagnosing allergic rhinitis