What is Non-Allergic Rhinitis? (And Why It's Not the Same as Your Allergies)

What is Non-Allergic Rhinitis? (And Why It's Not the Same as Your Allergies)

Nobody likes allergies. If you're not experiencing them now, you can probably imagine those familiar symptoms— nasal congestion, itchy eyes, sneezing, and even fatigue. As many of us know, these symptoms can devastate your day-to-day routine.

Whether you suffer from hay fever, or something like a dust allergy or a pet dander allergy, you likely take heart in knowing the exact cause of your allergies because that makes it much easier to avoid them.

But is it possible to experience allergy symptoms, even without a specific cause?

Unfortunately, it is, thanks to a condition known as non-allergic rhinitis.

19 million Americans suffer from non-allergic rhinitis each year— but what is it? What makes it different from your regular allergy symptoms? 

It has more in common with your seasonal allergies than you may think, but those differences are very important when it comes to diagnosing and treating non-allergic rhinitis.

What is Non-Allergic Rhinitis?

Non-allergic rhinitis, also known as vasomotor rhinitis or nonallergic rhinitis, is essentially allergy symptoms without an apparent cause. Inversely, allergic rhinitis— also known as hay fever— occurs from a specific cause such as pollen or dust. Both occur when the tissue in your nasal passages becomes inflamed or irritated.

With allergic rhinitis, the familiar allergy symptoms are your immune system overreacting to an irritant or trigger, and pulling out all the stops to get rid of what's causing the irritation.

Non-allergic rhinitis symptoms typically include:

  • Stuffy nose (nasal congestion)
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing or coughing
  • Postnasal drip
  • Reduced sense of smell

While these symptoms also accompany allergic rhinitis, there are a few familiar allergy symptoms that you won't experience with nonallergic rhinitis. In particular, you won't get an itchy nose or itchy eyes if you're experiencing non-allergic rhinitis.

What Causes Non-Allergic Rhinitis?

Inflammation from allergic rhinitis is typically caused by a certain airborne irritant, like pollen or dust. However, inflammation for non-allergic rhinitis is caused by various non-allergy related triggers, such as medications, hormones, or even the foods you eat. These can cause your body to produce a sort of allergic reaction, even if you aren’t allergic to the trigger itself.

Some triggers of non-allergic rhinitis can include:

  • Environmental irritants including secondhand smoke, smog, strong odors, chemical fumes, or perfume.
  • Food— particularly spicy food. This is known as gustatory rhinitis.
  • Changes in temperature or humidity. Reduced humidity can be especially troublesome for rhinitis symptoms.
  • Viral infections, including the flu and the common cold.
  • Medications like beta-blockers, aspirin, oral contraceptives, and ibuprofen.
  • Hormonal changes— particularly those due to hypothyroidism, pregnancy, or puberty.

Non-allergic rhinitis may also be connected to conditions like nasal polyps or sinusitis— otherwise known as a sinus infection.

Who is at Risk of Non-Allergic Rhinitis?

Some people are more at risk of non-allergic rhinitis than others. Some of these risk factors can include:

  • Exposure to environmental irritants both inside and outside your home.
  • Age— non-allergic rhinitis can occur at any age, but it's most common after age 20.
  • Gender— women are more likely to experience non-allergic rhinitis because of the hormonal changes associated with menstruation and pregnancy.
  • Prolonged or excessive use of decongestant nasal sprays— also known as rhinitis medicamentosa. [1]
  • Health problems such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, or chronic fatigue syndrome.
  • Occupational rhinitis— exposure to fumes or irritants at your workplace.

If your symptoms last for months or even years, this is known as chronic rhinitis. [2] Both allergic and non-allergic rhinitis can develop into a chronic issue. Additionally, perennial rhinitis occurs when you experience your allergy symptoms for an hour or more for most days during the year.

If you think you may be experiencing non-allergic rhinitis, consult your doctor. They can make a formal diagnosis after allergy testing rules out any allergic causes to your symptoms.

Allergy testing can either involve skin prick tests or blood tests to identify which allergens give you an allergic reaction. This can include typical irritants like dust and animal dander, but also sensitivities to foods like soy or peanuts.

If you don't have a reaction or show sensitivities to any of those potential irritants, then your symptoms are most likely caused by non-allergic rhinitis.

Your doctor may also perform a nasal endoscopy to look inside each nasal cavity for any other potential causes of your symptoms, such as nasal polyps.

What is Idiopathic Rhinitis?

Because there's an overlap in symptoms between allergic and non-allergic rhinitis, it can be difficult to determine an exact diagnosis of your symptoms.

When this is the case, you may be diagnosed with what's known as idiopathic rhinitis— or nasal disease of unknown origin. [3]

Idiopathic rhinitis may potentially be caused by internal factors, such as:

  • Neural dysfunction
  • Changes in your nasal mucosa permeability. Your nasal mucosa are the moist, inner linings of your nose. Increased permeability can increase the risk of potentially harmful substances or bacteria entering your sensitive sinuses.

While there have been significant strides in allergy testing, making it easier to determine the cause of your rhinitis symptoms, more research is still needed to confirm and diagnose non-allergic conditions.

Even if you do experience these symptoms and don’t know the exact cause, don't worry— it's possible to treat them and get some much-needed relief.

How Do You Treat Non-Allergic Rhinitis?

Whether you experience occasional or chronic nonallergic rhinitis, getting relief is easy. Here are our 4 easy tips for treating non-allergic rhinitis and helping yourself breathe easy.

1. Avoid Your Triggers

One of the most effective and easiest ways to prevent your allergy symptoms is to avoid your triggers— like limiting time outside if you have a pollen allergy. If you are attentive to your daily habits and external factors, you may be able to determine the triggers that are causing you so much discomfort. 

Just like with hay fever, avoiding the triggers that cause your non-allergic rhinitis can help prevent those symptoms from driving you crazy. A few ways that you can avoid potential triggers include:

  • Avoid going outside on smoky or smoggy days.
  • Avoid using products that create airborne irritants, such as artificial fragrances, latex, or cleaning products that produce fumes.
  • Talk to your doctor about potential alternatives to any medications that may be causing your symptoms.

Important note: NEVER stop taking any prescribed medications or alter your dosage schedule without consulting your doctor first.

2. Don't Overuse Nasal Decongestants or Sprays

Prolonged use of nasal decongestants or sprays can create a tolerance for those medicines, making them less effective over time.

Remember— overusing nasal decongestants can also cause a form of non-allergic rhinitis called rhinitis medicamentosa. This can even potentially lead to an even bigger problem, a condition called atrophic rhinitis.

Atrophic rhinitis is when your nasal mucosa— the moist, inner lining of your nose— begins to thin or shrink. When this occurs, the tissue hardens and your nasal passages become too dry. This can create a foul-smelling crust on the inside of your nose, as well as bad breath. [4]

Atrophic rhinitis symptoms include:

  • Nasal dryness and crusting
  • Chronic nosebleeds
  • A discharge of pus from your nose
  • Chronic sinusitis

If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your doctor or seek a less invasive solution such as SinuSonic. Your doctor can help you find the right treatment for your symptoms and help determine what may be causing them.

3. Keep Your Nasal Membranes Moist

Dry nasal passages are not only unpleasant, but they can make your rhinitis symptoms worse. Keeping them nice and moist ensures that your mucus grabs any bacteria, viruses, or irritants you inhale, so you can prevent them from wreaking havoc in your body. Here are some easy ways to keep your nasal membranes moist:

  • Use a humidifier to prevent the air in your home from getting too dry.
  • Use a saline solution or a neti pot to moisten your sinuses and rinse away any irritants or potential obstructions.
  • Drink plenty of liquids— especially water. This can help thin the mucus in your nose. When your mucus is thinned out, it's much easier to blow your nose and expel any irritants that could potentially cause allergy-like symptoms.

Just remember to blow your nose gently— blowing your nose too hard can cause nosebleeds or even rupture your eardrum by sending too much pressure from your nose through your eustachian tubes, which connect your nose and ears.

4. Try SinuSonic

SinuSonic is a scientifically proven, all-natural alternative to messy nasal irrigation or drugs that lose effectiveness over time or even worsen your non-allergic rhinitis. SinuSonic's unique device combines acoustic vibrations and positive expiratory pressure (PEP) to encourage nasal drainage and help you breathe more efficiently.

All it takes is two minutes a day to relieve nasal congestion, improve airway functionality, and provide lasting relief from your nasal symptoms. If you're looking for a way to relieve your rhinitis symptoms, why not give yourself some good vibrations?

Non-Allergic Rhinitis: It's Snot Allergies

Non-allergic rhinitis is an annoying, but thankfully temporary condition that typically won't do more than put a damper on your day. While the symptoms may be similar to allergic rhinitis, the causes of it can vary based on your individual circumstances. 

Regardless, it's easy to treat non-allergic rhinitis— especially if you know your triggers. Knowing how to avoid your triggers and treat your symptoms can go a long way in helping you breathe freely.

Looking for a holistic treatment for your non-allergic rhinitis? Give SinuSonic a try!

Shop Now


  1. Fowler, James, et al. "Rhinitis Medicamentosa: A Nationwide Survey of Canadian Otolaryngologists — Journal of Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery." BioMed Central, BioMed Central, 9 Dec. 2019, journalotohns.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40463-019-0392-1.
  2. Cafasso, Jacquelyn. “Chronic Rhinitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 22 Apr. 2019, www.healthline.com/health/chronic-rhinitis. 
  3. Damm, Michael. "Idiopathic Rhinitis." Laryngorhinootologie, U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2006, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16685605/.
  4. "Atrophic Rhinitis: Definition, Causes & Treatment." Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22886-atrophic-rhinitis.