Rhinitis is inflammation of the mucous lining of the nose.

Rhinitis is a nonspecific term that covers nasal congestion due to infections, allergies, and other disorders. In rhinitis, the mucous membranes of the nose become infected or irritated, producing a discharge, congestion, and swelling of the tissues.

The most widespread form of infectious rhinitis is the common cold. The common cold is the most frequent viral infection in the general population. Colds are self-limited, lasting about three to 10 days, although they are sometimes followed by a bacterial infection.

Causes and symptoms

Colds can be caused by as many as 200 different viruses which are transmitted by sneezing and coughing, by contact with soiled tissues or handkerchiefs, or by close contact with an infected person.

The onset of a cold is usually sudden. The virus causes the lining of the nose to become inflamed and produce large quantities of thin, watery mucus. The inflammation spreads from the nasal passages to the throat and upper airway, producing a dry cough, headache, and watery eyes.

After several days, the nasal tissues become less inflamed and the watery discharge is replaced by a thick, sticky mucus. This change in the appearance of the nasal discharge helps to distinguish rhinitis caused by a viral infection from allergic rhinitis.

Allergies are another frequent cause of rhinitis which is called allergic rhinitis. Allergies occur when a person’s immune system overreacts to a substance called an allergen. Airborne allergens can be just about anything but are commonly mold, pollen, dust mites, and pet dander. Symptoms of allergy include watery eyes, nasal discharge, sneezing, and headache.


Viral rhinitis is diagnosed based on symptoms. Symptoms that last longer than a week may require further testing to rule out a secondary bacterial infection, or an allergy. Allergies can be evaluated by blood tests, skin testing for specific substances, or nasal smears.


The many alternative treatments for colds and allergies will not be addressed here. Treatments specifically for rhinitis, regardless of the cause, are described.

Herbal remedies

Flavonoids have anti-inflammatory activities and can be found in many plants including licorice, parsley, legumes (beans), onions, garlic, berries, and citrus fruits.

Herbals which may help lessen the symptoms of rhinitis include:
  • astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous) root
  • baical skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) decoction
  • echinacea (Echinacea spp.)
  • elderflower (Sambucus nigra) tea
  • garlic, which contains anti-inflammatory compounds
  • goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
  • horehound (Marrubium vulgare) tea relieves congestion
  • licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has anti- inflammatory activity
  • mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is a decongestant and soothes mucous membranes
  • nettle (Urtica dioica) tea stops nasal discharge
  • onion, which contains anti-inflammatory compounds
  • thyme (Thymus vulgaris) tea, which is anti- inflammatory and soothes sore nasal tissues
  • walnut (Juglans nigra or regia) leaf tea, which stops nasal discharge

Other remedies

Other natural remedies for rhinitis include those from traditional Chinese medicine. Chronic rhinitis is treated with acupuncture, ear acupuncture, and herbals taken internally or used externally.

The most common rhinitis remedy is Bi Yan Pian (Bi is for nose.) There are many others, depending on the specific pattern of the patient. Magnolia flower and xanthium are commonly used herbs for rhinitis.

Less common Chinese remedies include Huo Dan Wan (Agastache and Pig’s Gall Bladder Pill) taken three times daily. A decoction of Yu Xing Cao (Herba houttuyniae) may be taken internally.

The patient can apply 30% Huang Lian Shui (Coptis Fluid), Huang Bai Shui (Phellodendron Fluid), Yu Xing Cao (Herba houttuyniae) juice, E Bu Shi Cao (Herba centipedae) decoction, or 1% ephedrine solution directly to the nose.

Colored light therapy is based upon the theory that an unhealthy body is lacking a specific color frequency. Green colored light therapy may relieve chronic rhinitis.

Homeopathic physicians prescribe any of 10 different remedies, depending on the appearance of the nasal discharge, the patient’s emotional state, and the stage of infection.

Vitamin C is a natural antihistamine. Vitamin A and zinc may also be helpful.

Allopathic treatment

There is no cure for the common cold; treatment is given for symptom relief. Medications include aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for headache and muscle pain, and decongestants to relieve stuffiness or runny nose. Antibiotics are ineffective against viral infections. Allergies are treated with antihistamines (Benadryl).

Expected results

Most colds resolve completely in about a week. Complications are unusual but may include sinusitis (inflammation of the nasal sinuses), bacterial infections, or infections of the middle ear. Allergies may resolve or may be lifelong.


There is no vaccine effective against colds, and infection does not prevent one from getting colds. Prevention depends on washing hands often, minimizing contact with persons already infected, and not sharing hand towels, eating utensils, or water glasses.

In 2002, researchers discovered a new antiseptic skin cleanser that may prevent hand-to-hand transmission of the rhinovirus that causes colds. The cleaner’s active ingredient is salicylic or pyroglutamic acid, and each showed promising results for killing the virus on subject’s hands.

Allergies may be prevented by avoiding the cause of the allergy, although this is not always possible or practical. Patients may become desensitized to the offending allergen by receiving a series of injections.

In 2002, Australian researchers discovered a new potential vaccine that might boost immune response to allergens without the risk of side effects that come with some desensitizing vaccines available today.