Runny Nose

  • A "runny nose" is a defense mechanism of your nose and immune system that occurs when your nasal passages are attempting to clear away viruses, bacteria or particles. A runny nose can lead to rhinitis. Rhinitis is a swelling and irritation of your nasal passages, resulting from symptoms of a runny nose, itching of the nose, throat or eyes; sneezing, and congestion. Many people associate rhinitis and a runny nose with the common cold, or allergy symptoms.
  • How does a runny nose develop? 
  • Your nose is made up of two nasal passages, and is covered by a mucus membrane. Mucus is a thin, clear, watery substance that works to "clean out" your nose, by trapping small particles and bacteria, before washing them away. 
  • If you become congested, or there is a "blockage" of one of your nasal passages, the other will compensate to help you breathe. 
  • If there is constant irritation of mucous in your nasal passages, your nose will start to "run", or drain mucus down the back of your throat (called postnasal drip), or out your nose. This will lead you to develop the common cold symptoms of rhinitis.
  • There are many types of rhinitis, all of which have the common cold symptom of a runny nose. These include:
  • Allergic rhinitis - this is an irritation of your nasal passages, caused by allergies. This includes season allergies (such as pollen, hay fever), or animal allergies (from a cat or a dog). This is a very common form of rhinitis, with a runny nose being the foremost common cold symptom.
  • Non-Allergic rhinitis - Many things may cause you to develop a non-allergic rhinitis with nasal discharge. This includes:
  • Overuse of nasal sprays to clear your nasal passages, such as Afrin, can cause a "rebound" effect, with worsening symptoms of congestion, and runny nose. This is called rhinitis medicamentosa. Therefore, if you are ordered a nasal spray, you must use it no longer than 3 to 5 days in a row.
  • Certain medications and diseases have rhinitis and a runny nose as a side effect. 
  • Congestion and irritation may occur due to irritants, such as smoke and pollution can cause your nose to run
  • As you age, your nasal passages may dry out over time. This usually happens in the elderly population. Your nose may secrete small amounts of mucus, but a runny nose is less common, as dry nasal passages are common.
  • Blockage due to polyps or foreign objects in the nasal passages may lead to rhinitis, with common cold symptoms of a runny nose. Treatment includes removing the cause. 
  • Infectious rhinitis - is caused by a virus, bacteria or a fungus
  • If you have symptoms of a cold for less than 6 weeks (including runny nose, itching, sneezing and congestion), you are considered to have an acute rhinitis. 
  • If your common cold symptoms last longer than 6 weeks, you may have a chronic rhinitis, caused by allergies, or structural problems in your nose.


  •  You may have a sore throat, fever or chills. You may feel "achy". The sore throat is usually a result of postnasal drip. (Postnasal drip is a term used to describe drainage from your nose that runs down the back of your throat).
  • You have a runny nose, with sneezing and an "itchy" nose. Your nose may feel "congested", or "blocked."
  • You may be tired, or very weak (fatigued), if you have an illness, such as the cold or influenza (the flu).

How to Alleviate Runny Nose Symptoms:

  • If you have a runny nose, or allergic rhinitis, using decongestants (such as antihistamines) and topical nose sprays may help.
  • Avoiding what has caused the runny nose and allergy symptoms is the best way to treat your symptoms. This includes:
  • Ridding your house of common, allergy-causing substances, or decrease the amount, by keeping it clean. Dust mites, pet dander, cockroaches and mold spores all cause allergy symptoms, and may be found in the home.
  • Outside ragweed, tree pollen, grasses and mold spores often cause allergies. Ragweed causes an allergic rhinitis in about 75% of allergy sufferers. If you have severe allergies, avoid spending unnecessary time outside during the months of mid-August, until the first frost (known as, the "peak months"), without first taking an antihistamine.  
  • Also, wear a particulate respirator, or a high-efficiency mask, when working outside or gardening during the peak months.
  • Dusting furniture and floors with damp mop routinely. Vacuum at least weekly. Many electric vacuums actually spread dust mites - so make sure to clean your vacuum periodically. 
  • Eliminate exposure to household pets. Washing them won't necessarily help, as with cats, the allergen is found in their saliva, not their hair. 
  • Prevent dampness in your home. Keep the air humidity at less than 50%.
  • Remove carpets that may trap dust. If your carpets are on concrete, they may build up mold spores. Remove them, too. 
  • Discuss with your healthcare provider the common cold symptoms you are experiencing. Keep a diary to help determine what it is that you are allergic to. You may live your whole life without allergies, and they may develop as you age. Nasal antihistamines, steroids and decongestants may help to control your common cold symptoms.
  • Your doctor or healthcare provider may suggest that you see an allergy specialist for skin testing, if your runny nose or allergic rhinitis is severe, or if it does not respond to treatment.
  • A skin test is a relatively painless procedure, where an allergy specialist will place a small amount of an allergy-causing substance either on top of, or under your skin.
  • After about 20 minutes, the allergist will see if there is a reaction at the site that the test was placed.
  • Avoid crowds or people with common cold symptoms, especially if chemotherapy or your disease has weakened your immune system. Report fever, chills, or any other signs of infection immediately to your healthcare provider. 
  • If you are still smoking, STOP. Smoking will further irritate your throat, and the mucus membranes in your nose. Discuss ways to quit smoking with your healthcare provider.
  • Wash your hands often when you have symptoms of a cold. Do not share food, drinks, or towels with anyone. 
  • If you have inflammation in the back of your throat, or a sore throat (pharyngitis), it is most likely a result of your postnasal drip. However, depending on your overall health status, and other common cold symptoms, your doctor or healthcare provider may swab the back of your throat, and send it for culture. This is to see if your pharyngitis is caused by a bacterial infection. Follow the instructions given to you by your healthcare provider until the throat culture results are available. 
  • Keep your mouth clean with baking soda and salt rinses. You can mix 1/4 tsp. of baking soda and 1/4 tsp. salt in 8 ounces of water, and use as a mouthwash, as often as you like. Most people gargle with this solution 4 times a day.
  • Use a vaporizer or a humidifier to moisten the air. Avoid dry air. This will help liquefy your mucus secretions when you are congested. Although you may have a runny nose, it is important that these secretions continue to drain, to prevent overgrowth of bacteria in your sinuses from congestion. 
  • Drink 2 to 3 liters of fluid every 24 hours, unless you were told to restrict your fluid intake, and maintain good nutrition. Keeping well hydrated will prevent congestion, and also liquefy your secretions.
  • If you have pain in your joints, muscles, or throat caused by common cold symptoms, you may take acetaminophen (Tylenol) up to 4000 mg per day (two extra-strength tablets every 6 hours). If you have a bleeding disorder, you should avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs, as well as aspirin, because these drugs may interfere with blood platelets, or prolong bleeding.  
  • If you have swollen glands, you may place a warm washcloth or compress to the area, 4 times a day, for 20 minutes at a time. This may help relieve some discomfort.
  • Use hard candy, or lozenges to soothe your throat. 
  • If your healthcare provider thinks that you have a strep pharyngitis in addition to your runny nose or rhinitis, you should not return to school or work unless you have been on antibiotics for at least 24 hours. 
  • Make sure you tell your doctor, as well as all healthcare providers, about any other medications you are taking (including over-the-counter, vitamins, or herbal remedies). Do not take aspirin or products containing aspirin for symptoms of the common cold unless your healthcare provider permits this. 
  • Remind your doctor or healthcare provider if you have a history of diabetes, liver, kidney, or heart disease. 
  • In general, eating a well -balanced meal, limiting salt intake, high fat and high cholesterol foods is recommended. However, if you have a sore throat and loss of appetite due to your symptoms, avoid foods with a high acid content (spaghetti sauces, tomatoes), and deep fried foods (fried chicken or pork). If you have pain swallowing solid food, try thinner soups, or foods until your throat pain improves. 
  • Try to exercise or move around, as tolerated, to maintain your optimal level of functioning.
  • After you recover from your common cold symptoms, discuss with your healthcare provider how you can create a specific exercise program to suit your needs. Make sure to exercise, under the supervision of your healthcare provider. Walking, swimming, or light aerobic activity may help promote the flow of oxygen in your lungs and blood. Exercise may also help your immune system.
  • You should avoid alcohol. If you are still smoking, STOP. Smoking will further irritate the mucus membranes in your sinuses, and nose, accentuating yoru common cold symptoms. Discuss ways to quit smoking with your healthcare provider. 
  • If you are ordered a medication to treat this disorder, do not stop taking the medication unless your healthcare provider tells you to. Take the medication exactly as directed. Do not share your pills or inhalers with anyone. If you miss a dose of your medication, discuss with your healthcare provider what you should do. 
  • If you experience symptoms or side effects, especially if severe, be sure to discuss them with your health care team. They can prescribe medications and/or offer other suggestions that are effective in managing such problems.
  • Keep all your appointments for your treatments.

Related Side Effects

Runny Nose has related side effects:

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