Treatment - Allergic Rhinitis

Treatment for allergic rhinitis depends on your symptoms and how they affect your life.

In most cases treatment aims to relieve symptoms, such as sneezing and a blocked or runny nose.

If you have mild allergic rhinitis, you can often treat the symptoms yourself.

See your GP if self-help treatments do not work or your symptoms are severe and affect your quality of life.

Self-help

You can treat the symptoms of mild allergic rhinitis with over-the-counter medicines. These include long-acting non-sedating antihistamines.

If possible, try to reduce exposure to the allergen that triggers the condition.

Read more about preventing allergic rhinitis

Cleaning your nasal passages

Cleaning your nasal passages often with a salt water solution can also help. This is called nasal douching or irrigation. It helps keep your nose free of irritants.

You can buy sachets for rinsing your nose at a pharmacy.

Small syringes or pots that often look like small horns or teapots are also available. They help flush the solution around the inside of your nose.

How to rinse your nose:

  1. Follow the instructions on the sachet to make a salt water solution.
  2. Standing over a sink, cup the palm of 1 hand and pour a small amount of the solution into it.
  3. Sniff the water into 1 nostril at a time.
  4. Repeat this until your nose feels comfortable. You may not need to use all the solution.

Some solution may pass into your throat through the back of your nose. The solution is harmless if swallowed. But try to spit out as much of it as possible.

Rinse your nose as often as you need to. Make a fresh solution each time.

Medication

Medication will not cure your allergy, but it can treat the common symptoms.

If seasonal allergens cause your symptoms, you can stop taking your medication after the season is over.

Visit your GP if the medication does not improve your symptoms after 2 weeks.

Antihistamines

Antihistamines relieve symptoms of allergic rhinitis. They block the action of a chemical called histamine. Your body releases histamine when it thinks it's under attack from an allergen.

You can buy antihistamine tablets without a prescription from your pharmacist. Antihistamine nasal sprays are only available with a prescription.

Antihistamines can cause drowsiness. See how you react to them before driving or operating heavy machinery.

Antihistamines can cause drowsiness if you drink alcohol while taking them.

Corticosteroids

For more serious cases, your GP may prescribe a corticosteroid nasal spray or drops. For example, if you have frequent or persistent symptoms and a nasal blockage or nasal polyps.

Corticosteroids help reduce inflammation and swelling. They take longer to work than antihistamines, but their effects last longer.

Side effects from inhaled corticosteroids are rare. But they can include nasal dryness, irritation and nosebleeds.

If your symptoms are very severe and you need rapid relief, your GP may prescribe a course of corticosteroid tablets for 5 to 10 days.

Add-on treatments

If allergic rhinitis does not improve with treatment, your GP may add to your treatment.

They may recommend:

  • increasing the dose of your corticosteroid nasal spray
  • a short-term course of a decongestant nasal spray
  • combining antihistamine tablets with corticosteroid nasal sprays, and sometimes decongestants
  • a nasal spray that contains a medicine called ipratropium to reduce nasal discharge and make breathing easier
  • a leukotriene receptor antagonist medication to block the effects of chemicals called leukotrienes that release during an allergic reaction

If add-on treatments do not work, your GP may refer you to a specialist for assessment and treatment.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is another type of treatment used for some allergies. It's also known as hyposensitisation or desensitisation.

It's only suitable for people with certain types of allergies, such as hay fever. It's only considered if your symptoms are severe.

Immunotherapy involves introducing more and more of the allergen into your body over time. This makes your immune system less sensitive to it.

The allergen is often injected under the skin of your upper arm. You have the injections at weekly intervals. The dose increases a small amount each time.

Immunotherapy can also use tablets that contain an allergen, such as grass pollen. You place the tablets under your tongue.

The dose increases until it reduces your allergic reaction (the maintenance dose). You'll need to continue with the injections or tablets for up to 3 years.

There's a risk of a serious allergic reaction. You should only have immunotherapy under the supervision of s specialist doctor.


Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

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