If your allergic rhinitis is mild, you can treat the symptoms yourself:
- with over-the-counter medications - such as long-acting, non-sedating antihistamines and decongestants to relieve congestion and a runny nose (see below).
- by avoiding the particular allergen that triggers the condition (read more about preventing allergic rhinitis)
- using nasal douching - regularly rinsing your nasal passages with saline solution to keep your nose free of irritants
You should visit your GP if your symptoms are more severe and are affecting your quality of life, and self-help measures have not been effective. Treatment options are described below.
Medication will not cure your allergy, but it can be used to treat the common symptoms, such as a runny nose, itchy mouth and sneezing.
If your symptoms are caused by seasonal allergens, such as pollen, you should be able to stop taking your medication after the risk of exposure has passed.
Visit your GP if your symptoms do not respond to medication after two weeks.
Antihistamines relieve symptoms of allergic rhinitis by blocking the action of a chemical called histamine, which the body releases when it thinks it is under attack from an allergen.
You can buy antihistamine tablets over-the-counter from your pharmacist without a prescription, but antihistamine nasal sprays are only available with a prescription.
Antihistamines can sometimes cause drowsiness. If ou are taking them for the first time, see how you react to them before driving or operating heavy machinery.
In particular, antihistamines can cause drowsiness if you drink alcohol while tking them.
If you have frequent or persistent symptoms, and you have a nasal blockage or nasal polyps, your GP may recommend a nasal spray or drops that contain corticosteroids.
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 can include nasal dryness, irritation and nosebleeds.
If you have a particularly severe bout of symptoms and need rapid relief, your GP may prescribe a short course of corticosteroid tablets lasting 5-10 days.
Nasal decongestants help relieve a blocked nose and are usually available over-the-counter. They can be taken as tablets, capsules, nasal sprays or liquids.
Nasal decongestants should not be used to treat allergic rhinitis for more than 5-7 days. Using them for longer may make your congestion worse.
You should not use nasal decongestants if you are taking a type of antidepressant known as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), .
If your allergic rhinitis does not respond to treatment, your GP may choose to add to your original treatment. They may suggest that you:
- increase the dose of your corticosteroid nasal spray
- use a short-term course of a decongestant nasal spray to take with your other medication
- combine the use of antihistamine tablets with corticosteroid nasal sprays and possibly decongestants
- use a nasal spray that contains a medicine called ipratropium, which will help reduce excessive nasal discharge
- add a leukotriene receptor antagonist medication
If you do not respond to the add-on treatments, you will be referred to a specialist for further assessment and treatment.
Hyposensitisation, also known as immunotherapy, is another type of treatment used for some allergies. It is only suitable for people with certain types of allergies, such as hay fever, and is usually only considered if your symptoms are severe.
Hyposensitisation gradually introduces more and more of the allergen into your body to make it less sensitive to the allergen.
The allergen is usually injected under the skin of your upper arm. You will initially be given injections at weekly intervals, with the allergen doses being gradually increased.
As well as using injections, immunotherapy can also be carried out using tablets that contain an allergen, such as grass pollen, which are placed under your tongue.
When you reach a dose that is effective in reducing your allergic reaction (the maintenance dose), you will need to continue with the injections or tablets for up to three years.
Immunotherapy must only be carried out under the close supervision of a specially trained doctor because there is a risk it may cause a serious allergic reaction.