What is vasomotor rhinitis?

Rhinitis is an inflammation of the membranes inside the nose. Irritants or allergens can cause this inflammation. There are also times when there’s no specific cause for the inflammation. Other names for this condition are nonallergic rhinitis and idiopathic rhinitis.

Vasomotor rhinitis isn’t life-threatening. For those affected with the condition, the symptoms can be uncomfortable, but they aren’t serious.

Vasomotor rhinitis occurs when the blood vessels inside your nose dilate, or expand. Dilation of the vessels in the nose produces swelling and can cause congestion. Mucus may also drain from the nose.

It’s not known what causes the blood vessels in the nose to dilate. Some common triggers that may produce this reaction include:

  • irritants in the environment such as perfumes, odors, smog, or secondhand smoke
  • changes in the weather, particularly dry weather
  • viral infections such as those associated with a cold or flu
  • hot or spicy foods or drinks
  • medications such as aspirin (Bayer), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or beta-blockers (Propranolol, Metoprolol, Atenolol), certain sedatives, antidepressants, oral contraceptives, drugs used to treat erectile dysfunction
  • overuse of nasal decongestant sprays
  • hormonal changes associated with pregnancy or menstruation
  • hypothyroidism
  • stress

The symptoms of vasomotor rhinitis may come and go throughout the year. They may be constant or last several weeks. Common symptoms of the condition include:

  • stuffy nose
  • runny nose
  • mucus in the throat, or postnasal drip

If you develop vasomotor rhinitis you typically will not have the following symptoms:

  • itchy nose
  • itchy or watery eyes
  • scratchy throat

These symptoms are common with allergic rhinitis, which is caused by an allergy.

Learn more: Allergic rhinitis »

Your doctor can diagnose vasomotor rhinitis after ruling out other causes of your symptoms.

If you have symptoms of vasomotor rhinitis, your doctor will first perform tests to see if an allergy or other health problem is causing your rhinitis. To determine if you have an allergy, your doctor may order a skin test to identify allergies you have, or a blood test to see if your immune system is functioning normally.

Your doctor may also order tests to see if you have any sinus problems that may be causing your rhinitis. Tests may include a nasal endoscope to look inside your nose or a CT scan of your sinuses.

If your doctor can’t find any underlying cause for your rhinitis, they’ll make a diagnosis of vasomotor rhinitis.

If you have vasomotor rhinitis, there are some remedies that you can use to treat the condition at home. Examples include:

  • over-the-counter (OTC) saline nasal sprays
  • OTC decongestants such as pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine
  • OTC corticosteroid nasal sprays such as fluticasone

If your symptoms are severe or if you have side effects from these OTC medications, your doctor may prescribe other medications to help control your symptoms. Medications prescribed to treat vasomotor rhinitis include:

In rare cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to treat your symptoms. Surgical options may be helpful if you have an underlying health problem that intensifies your symptoms. Examples include nasal polyps or a deviated septum.

Oral antihistamines are not very effective in treating vasomotor rhinitis.

Prevention of vasomotor rhinitis may be difficult if you don’t know what’s causing your symptoms. If you’re able to identify the causes, it may be possible to avoid them.

Contact your doctor if your symptoms are severe. Your doctor may be able to help you find a treatment that can help. Your doctor can also diagnose health problems that may be worsening your symptoms. You may be able to prevent, reduce, or get rid of your symptoms with the right treatment.

You should also avoid overusing nasal decongestants such as oxymetazoline (Afrin). Even though these medications can provide short-term relief for your symptoms, using them for more than three or four days can worsen your symptoms.

If you develop vasomotor rhinitis, your outlook will depend on the severity of your symptoms. Treatment with OTC or prescription medication may help reduce or eliminate your symptoms. Correcting underlying health conditions such as a deviated septum may also help reduce your symptoms and improve your outlook.