An Overview of Gustatory Rhinitis

This condition may be why your nose runs when you eat

Woman eating a taco
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Gustatory rhinitis is a form of nonallergic rhinitis that causes a runny nose when you eat certain foods. Though there are several possible causes of this reaction, gustatory rhinitis is suspected when you experience thin nasal discharge (the "sniffles") almost immediately after eating the trigger food and, in some cases, sneezing and water eyes, but no itching or other symptoms. Just about any kind of food can cause the condition, but spicy foods are common culprits. The symptoms usually go away within a few minutes once you stop eating the trigger food.

It tends to be more common in older adults and often goes hand-in-hand with senile rhinitis, another form of nonallergic rhinitis.

Causes and Symptoms

Rhinitis is a term used to describe several conditions that cause inflammation and swelling in your nose (specifically, of the mucous membrane). While many associate rhinitis with allergies, there are also types that are due to an entirely different immune response. Nonallergic rhinitis is often due to an infection, but it can also be owed to exposure to irritants.

In the case of gustatory rhinitis, a particular food (or foods) serves as the irritant. While any food can be to blame, spicy foods such as the following are usually involved:

  • Black pepper
  • Curry
  • Hot sauce
  • Chili powder
  • Hot peppers
  • Horseradish
  • Onions

Different people with gustatory rhinitis may have different trigger foods. When the body responds to them, which usually happens right after consumption of the food, individuals will experience one or both of the following:

  • A watery, runny nose
  • Postnasal drip during

Gustatory rhinitis may be a nuisance, but is rarely serious.

Diagnosis

Since there are several conditions that can cause nasal discharge, your doctor will ask about your symptoms (what they are, frequency, etc.) and any history of allergies.

Allergic rhinitis—rather than nonallergic forms, like gustatory—may be suspected if your symptoms come and go, but are generally worse during certain times of the year. Allergic rhinitis can occur due to pollen, mold, dust, and ragweed, among other things.

It’s also possible that a food allergy is the cause of your runny nose. The symptoms of food allergies can range from mild to severe, but typically involve more than nasal congestion. Common food allergies and intolerances include: peanuts and tree nuts, shellfish, lactose (in dairy products), gluten, and eggs.

It's common to jump to the conclusion that your runny nose after eating is due to a food allergy, but food allergies also involve symptoms such as the following, which gustatory rhinitis does not:

  • Hives
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Wheezing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Swelling of the tongue
  • Dizziness

Your doctor will take whether or not these circumstances apply to you under consideration when narrowing down a diagnosis. But in order to formally diagnose you with nonallergic rhinitis—gustatory or another type—your doctor must first rule out an allergic form with testing.

To do this, she may perform:

  • Skin prick test: Also called a puncture or scratch test, this involves your doctor introducing small amounts of allergens into your system to see if/how you react.
  • Immunoglobulin E (IgE) test: This blood test can measure your immune response to allergens.

Nonallergic rhinitis does not involve the immune response to these tests that is seen with an allergic form (skin reaction to the puncture test; elevated IgE levels). If your results are as such, your doctor will move on to a nonallergic rhinitis diagnosis.

When the only symptoms you have after eating a food are a running nose and, perhaps, watery eyes and sneezing, your doctor will likely diagnose you with gustatory rhinitis.

Vasomotor rhinitis—another form of nonallergic rhinitis that can be triggered by foods, but also alcohol, weather changes, hormonal changes, and more—may instead be diagnosed if you also have congestion, sinus pressure, and a cough.

Note, however, that it is possible for someone to have both allergic and nonallergic rhinitis—what's known as mixed rhinitis.

Treatment

Because gustatory rhinitis is nonallergic, it cannot be treated with antihistamines, such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Claritin (loratadine). Rather, most symptoms of can be alleviated by simply avoiding your food trigger(s).

If you are bothered by symptoms of gustatory rhinitis, Nasal Atrovent (ipratropium bromide nasal spray) can help to prevent and treat the symptoms. One or two sprays in each nostril about an hour before eating spicy foods should do the trick.

For immediate runny-nose relief, try a decongestant such as Sudafed (pseudoephedrine). Be sure to talk to your doctor about possible drug interactions before taking it, however.

It might take a few weeks to find the most effective treatment method for you. It may also take time to figure out exactly which foods trigger symptoms, especially if they're common ingredients found in a variety of dishes.

View Article Sources
  • Waibal KH, Chang C. Prevalence and Food Avoidance Behaviors for Gustatory Rhinitis. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2008; 100:200-5.