Runny Nose


How to turn off a leaky faucet

We all know what it's like to have the sniffles. Most of us have had a runny nose a lot of times. You may have had one every time you've had a cold or flu. Since sinus irritation is a common allergic reaction, if you have an allergy, you're even more familiar with the constant drip, drip, drip of excess nasal secretions.

In some cases, a dripping nose is due to a more serious underlying condition, but this is rare. Although a runny nose can be bothersome, it is rarely more than a sign of a viral infection or an allergy. Once the underlying infection or irritation goes away, the runny nose disappears.

In any case, if you develop a runny nose and are tired of reaching for the tissues, rest assured that you don't have to just suffer through the discomfort. Excess nasal drainage can be eased with over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants. Certain simple home remedies can also help.

Detailed Description

Mucus is usually a thin secretion composed of water, antibodies, and proteins. Nasal secretions are your body's way of trying to clear out the nasal passages. Even when you are healthy, the body produces a quart of mucus every day to help keep the respiratory tract clean and moist. As you inhale air, the glands lining your nasal passages and sinus cavities release mucus. It then helps to humidify the inhaled air flowing over the delicate tissues of the airways and lungs. Mucus also helps trap dust, pollen, viruses or other impurities in the air. As it does its job, mucus is moved down to the back of the throat by tiny fingerlike projections called cilia: once it reaches the back of the throat, it is swallowed unconsciously.

The amount increases when you're exposed to an irritant, causing some to run out your nose. When you catch a cold, your nose may run until your body fights off the infection, for a few days to a few weeks. When you are sick, mucus may become thicker and may change color, often taking on a yellow or greenish shade.

If your runny nose persists for more than a few weeks, you likely have an allergy. Sinus infections can be another common culprit. In general, however, a runny nose is not something to worry about.

Conventional Treatment

The goal of treatment is to identify the cause of nasal discharge and treat it. A secondary goal is to minimize annoyance and discomfort.

Drugs most commonly prescribed
  • Oral antihistamines such as diphenhydramine hydrochloride (Benadryl)
  • Oral decongestants such as phenylpropanolamine and pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
  • Steroid nasal sprays such as beclomethasone dipropionate (Beconase AQ Nasal Spray, Vancenase Nasal Inhaler) and fluticasone (Flonase) for allergies
  • Decongestant sprays such as Afrin nasal spray, or salt-water sprays
  • Antihistamine sprays such as azelastine hydrochloride (Astelin)

Self care & Prevention

Preventing Runny Nose

No matter what kinds of preventive measures you take, it is unlikely you will be able to prevent a runny nose altogether. Avoiding others that have a cold or other respiratory infection can help, as well as avoiding any irritants that cause allergic reactions.

If you have allergies, the following tips can help reduce your exposure to allergens:

  • Remove pets from your home to avoid animal dander.
  • Use air filters in your home and office to decrease airborne pollens and dust.
  • Keep your home and office thoroughly clean to minimize dust mites and mold.
  • Wear a filter mask when cutting grass, pulling weeds, or raking leaves.
  • Keep your windows closed in your home, office, and car to stop pollens from drifting inside.
  • Monitor local air quality by keeping up with newspaper, radio, television, and online reports.
  • Try to stay indoors early in the day — pollen levels fall after 10 a.m.
  • Quit smoking and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.

Self-Care Measures

  • Blow your nose gently. Excessively hard blowing can cause irritation and nosebleeds.
  • Try irrigating your nasal passages with salt water. Tilt your head back over a sink. Gently introduce sterile saline solution, then let it drip out.
  • Use a humidifier or run the shower in your bathroom to help keep nasal passages moist.
  • Gargle with salt water to soothe a throat irritated from postnasal drip.
  • If you smoke, stop. If not, avoid secondhand smoke.
  • If you have allergies, see Learn More: Hayfever for more suggestions.
  • If you are ill, see Common Cold, Flu, and Sneezing for more suggestions.
  • Drink plenty of nonalcoholic fluids to replace fluid lost from a runny nose.
  • Experiment with eliminating milk and dairy items. Some people find they thicken mucus.
  • Several herbs and vitamins listed previously in the Alternative Care section of this article, may be helpful if your runny nose is caused by allergies or a cold.

When to Call Your Doctor

While most runny noses do not require medical attention, call your doctor if:

  • Symptoms persist longer than three weeks
  • Nasal discharge is foul smelling or any color besides white or yellow
  • Nasal discharge comes only from one nostril
  • Nasal discharge follows an injury to the head
Runny Nose

Last updated 4 November 2011


  • Nasal discharge
  • Rhinorrhea


Possible Underlying Causes

When viruses (like the common cold) or allergens irritate the nose, mucus production increases to help wash out offending particles. Instead of swallowing all the mucus, some of it is released by running out of the nose. Excess mucus can also drip into your throat (postnasal drip), causing coughing and a sore throat. In some cases, the secretions can plug up the sinus cavities or the ear's eustachian tubes, causing infection and pain.

Triggers of Runny Nose

While most runny noses are due to allergies, colds, or other upper respiratory infections, the following factors may also trigger a runny nose:

  • Hot or spicy foods
  • Side effects from drugs such as beta-blockers (used for high blood pressure and heart disease)
  • Head injury
  • Foreign body stuck in nostril
  • Cold temperatures
  • Low ambient humidity
  • Structural abnormalities, such as a deviated septum
  • Pregnancy or hormonal changes
  • Environmental irritants — tobacco smoke or smog
  • Allergens, including dust mites, pollen, and animal dander

Other possible causes include:

  • Nasal polyps or tumors
  • Measles
  • Diphtheria (a bacterial throat infection)
  • Rubella (also called German measles)
  • Vasomotor rhinitis (a rare nasal abnormality)
  • Wegener's granulomatosis (a rare condition affecting multiple organ systems)
  • Rhinoscleroma (a rare degenerative condition)

Alternative care

Many alternative care remedies are said to offer relief from allergies and colds, the most common causes of runny noses.

Herbal remedies

  • Angelica (Dong Quai)
  • Borage
  • Chamomile
  • Cinnamon
  • Echinacea
  • Elderflower
  • Garlic
  • Ginseng powder
  • Peppermint
  • Pollen supplements
  • Red clover
  • Wild yam
  • Yarrow

Vitamins and minerals

  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B complex
  • Vitamin C
  • Zinc