Allergic Rhinitis

Learn about symptoms and causes of allergic rhinitis, self help treatment options, medication and when to seek medical help.

What is Allergic Rhinitis?

Allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever, occurs when a person breathes in particles which they are allergic to. This makes the inside of their nose, eyes, and airway very sensitive and cause cold-like symptoms.

What are the possible causes of Allergic Rhinitis? 

You may be more likely to develop allergic rhinitis if you:

  • Have parents or siblings who have allergic rhinitis
  • Have other allergy-related illnesses such as eczema (a skin condition which causes dry and itchy patches on the skin) and asthma
  • Used antibiotics early in your life
  • Had exposure to cigarette smoke before birth and in the first year of life
  • Have frequent exposure to allergens (particles that can cause allergic reactions) such as dust mites

While each person who suffers from allergic rhinitis may be allergic to different particles, some common allergens include:

  • Dust mites
  • Animal/Pet dander (tiny flakes of skin)
  • Insect droppings
  • Mould
  • Pollen

What are the symptoms of Allergic Rhinitis?

Symptoms of allergic rhinitis may be similar to that of a common cold and include:

  • Uncontrollable sneezing
  • Runny nose with clear mucus
  • Itchy nose
  • Blocked nose
  • Postnasal drip (and cough due to postnasal drip)
  • Itchy red eyes with frequent tearing
  • Cough 
  • Tiredness

Unlike colds, allergic rhinitis:

  • Typically occurs suddenly when you encounter an allergen and can end abruptly. The common cold takes 3 to 14 days to resolve.
  • Produces mucus from the nose and tears from the eyes that will be clear. For colds, mucus may be thicker, and appear greenish or yellowish.
  • Does not cause fever or muscle ache.
  • Rarely causes sore throat.

What can I do to treat Allergic Rhinitis?

Allergic rhinitis can be self-treated using the following medications which are mostly over the counter except cough suppressants and nasal steroid sprays. You can ask your pharmacist to recommend a suitable treatment.



Cough suppressants (
  • Cough suppressants do not resolve allergic rhinitis but may be taken to reduce cough caused by allergic rhinitis



  • May be given to reduce runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing
  • They are also commonly used to treat allergies or itch
  • Relieve blocked nose
  • They may be found in nasal spray, nasal drops and tablet forms
  • While decongestant sprays and drops can take effect quickly, they should not be used for more than 3 – 5 days as they may cause a rebound blocked nose (constant blocked nose caused by overuse of nasal decongestants).
Nasal steroid sprays
  • Help to relieve inflammation and swelling in the nose caused by the allergens
  • Useful for those with more severe symptoms or symptoms that do not go away
  • They take a longer time to have effect but can be useful in preventing future symptoms from occurring when used appropriately
  • They work best when used continuously and the maximum effect of symptom relief is usually seen in two weeks
Eye drops containing antihistamine and/or decongestant or other anti-allergy medication 
  • Reduce itch, redness and tearing in the eye caused by allergens
  • Eye drops containing a decongestant should not be used for more than 3 – 5 days as they may cause rebound eye redness (constant eye redness caused by overuse of decongestant eye drops)


Some products contain a combination of the above groups of medication to treat 2 – 3 symptoms at the same time.

  • This means you may end up taking medication which you do not need. 
  • If you take another medication with the combination product, you may also be taking double the dose of the same medication.
  • Please check the ingredients of the products you are using to avoid overdosing and speak to      your pharmacist to be sure. 

When do I need to see a doctor?

Although allergic rhinitis can be treated without consulting a doctor, there are times when it might be more serious. You should see a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Cough with thick yellow or green mucus or phlegm from the nose, throat or ears
  • Fever of more than 37.5°C that does not go away
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Allergies continue to worsen despite treating it yourself
  • No improvement in symptoms after using nasal steroid sprays regularly for more than 2 weeks
  • Allergy symptoms which are so severe that they affect your sleep and activities

What else can I do to manage this condition?

Allergic rhinitis can also be managed by finding out the source of your allergies and avoiding them as far as possible.

Some methods which you can use to avoid allergens include:

  • Vacuum and mop frequently to get rid of the dust mites and insect droppings in your house.
  • Use air purifiers containing High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters to remove allergens from your living environment
  • Wash bed sheets with hot water (55-60 °C) frequently to remove dust mites. You can also consider using allergen-proof sheets. 
  • Keep pets out of the bedroom and off the furniture.

Some non-medication methods which may reduce symptoms include:

  • Steam inhalation 
  • Using saline nasal spray or nasal irrigation
  • Applying natural oils, sprays or ointments containing eucalyptus, menthol or camphor onto your chest, neck and back to help you to breathe better 
  • Stay hydrated with plenty of water unless your doctor has advised you to limit your fluid intake




This article is jointly developed by members of the National Medication Information workgroup. The workgroup consists of cluster partners (National Healthcare Group, National University Health System and SingHealth), community pharmacies (Guardian, Unity and Watsons) and Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore. The content does not reflect drug availability and supply information in pharmacies and healthcare institutions. You are advised to check with the respective institutions for such information.

The content above is solely for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician, pharmacist or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. Always speak with your physician, pharmacist or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or supplement, or adopting any treatment for a health problem.

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