Sixty-nine outpatients with symptomatic perennial rhinitis were recruited to this double-blind, parallel-group study to compare budesonide nasal spray with oral astemizole. Following a 1-week run-in on placebo, 67 patients achieved a mean daily total symptom score of at least 4 (scoring for each symptom was 0 = none, 1 = mild, 2 = moderate, 3 = severe), and were randomized to study treatments - 33 to budesonide, 100 micrograms in each nostril morning and evening, and 34 to astemizole, one 10-mg tablet each morning, for a period of 4 weeks. No antihistamine preparations other than eye drops and no corticosteroids were permitted during the active treatment period. Patients recorded symptoms of blocked nose, runny nose, sneezing, itchy nose, sore eyes or runny eyes in diary cards each evening before retiring. Diary card data showed that there was significantly greater improvement in blocked nose, runny nose and runny eyes during the first 2 weeks of budesonide treatment than during the same period on astemizole. A similar, although non-significant, trend was observed for sneezing and itchy nose, but there was no apparent difference in the reporting of sore eyes. After 4 weeks, blocked nose and runny nose remained significantly less troublesome in the budesonide group. Both treatments were well-tolerated and no major adverse effects were reported. Patient ratings for treatment efficacy were significantly higher for budesonide than astemizole at both 2 weeks and 4 weeks.