This study compares the effects of two topical nasal treatments for allergic rhinitis, budesonide and levocabastine, on symptom development during seasonal pollen exposure. Additionally, the protective effects of drug treatments on allergen-challenge-induced responses (symptoms and microvascular exudation of plasma) are examined late into the pollen season. Forty-four patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis to birch pollen participated in this single-blind, randomized, and placebo-controlled study. Topical nasal treatment with either levocabastine (200 p.g b.i.d.: n = 16), budesonide (200 μg b.i.d.; n = 16), or placebo (n= 12) was instituted before the start of the pollen season and continued for 5 weeks until the end of the birch pollen season. The participants kept diaries for scores of nasal and ocular symptoms. Nasal allergen challenges with increasing doses of a birch pollen extract (102, 103 and lC SQ-U) were carried out both before, when patients were asymptomatic and without treatment, and late into the pollen season. A nasal lavage followed each challenge, and the lavage fluid levels of albumin were measured as an index of the acute inflammatory response of the allergic mucosa. The birch pollen season was rather mild, producing only small increases in nasal symptoms. Budesonide treatment reduced the total nasal symptoms compared to placebo (P<0.01) and to levocabastine (P<0.05), while levocabastine treatment did not differ significantly from placebo. Ocular symptoms and use of rescue medication did not differ between placebo and the active treatments. At the end of the pollen season, both treatments reduced allergen-challenge-induced nasal symptoms compared to placebo (P<0.01). Only budesonide reduced allergen-challenge- induced increments of albumin levels in postchallenge nasal lavage fluids (P<0.05, in comparison with placebo). The results suggest that budesonide reduces both seasonal and allergen-challenge-induced nasal symptoms, while levocabastine is effective against allergen-challenge-induced symptoms also during the season. In addition, the topical steroid treatment, but not the antihistamine, inhibits the inflammatory exudation evoked by allergen challenge in patients with active seasonal disease.