10 Reasons You Have a Runny Nose

Sniff, blow, wipe…sniff, blow, wipe…It's the seemingly endless cycle of a runny nose.
Sniff, blow, wipe…sniff, blow, wipe…It's the seemingly endless cycle of a runny nose.
Pixland/Thinkstock

It's quite common, yet highly annoying -- a runny nose. Your nose drips when your nasal tissues and blood vessels produce excess fluid or mucus, according to the Mayo Clinic. This excess fluid also runs down the back of your throat in the dreaded post-nasal drip. Sometimes you'll have nasal congestion along with your runny nose, but not always.

Dozens of things can cause your nose to run, from a variety of allergies and illnesses to more serious conditions like a deviated septum. Certain medications, stress and even pregnancy can also cause a runny nose. Sometimes the condition indicates a life-threatening problem, especially if you've suffered a head injury or trauma to the brain.

So, how do you know if your runny nose means you've got a problem? In the past, it was thought that thin, clear mucus meant you weren't too sick, while thick, greenish-yellow mucus meant you should haul it to the doctor. That's not necessarily true. You can have clear mucus and be quite ill and colored mucus when you have a viral infection for which antibiotics won't help a bit. In general though, runny noses are a temporary condition and will clear up on their own.

Read on to learn about why your nose may be mimicking a leaky faucet.

10
Foreign Object in the Nose

This is mainly an issue with young children between 1 and 8 years old who jam something up a nostril, such as a bean, pea, pebble or paper, according to eMedicine Health. Luckily, it's relatively easy to diagnose -- either the child will tell you what he did, or you may notice a discharge (often foul-smelling) from one nostril.

If you suspect your child has something in his nose, see if he can blow it out. If not, it's best to get him to the doctor immediately. Don't try to pull the object out yourself or push it down into his throat; that can do more harm than good. If it's nighttime when you notice the object, it might be OK to wait until morning to call your physician since most cases aren't life-threatening. However, if your child put a battery in his nose -- or food, which will swell in the nostril's moist environment -- call right away.

While most cases of foreign bodies occur in little kids, older children and adults can get objects lodged in their nasal cavities, too, if they fall or are struck in the face.

9
Environmental Irritants
Among its other harmful properties, tobacco smoke is a common nasal irritant.
Among its other harmful properties, tobacco smoke is a common nasal irritant.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Your nose will run if it's irritated, and some noses are more susceptible to some irritants than others. Environmental irritants such as pollution, dust and tobacco smoke -- even chemicals and perfumes -- are common causes of a runny nose. Unfortunately, you can't always avoid these things, especially if you live in a smoggy city or with a smoker. Still, there are things you can do to help.

Keep your nasal passages moist with saline spray or by using a Neti pot. Running a humidifier can help, too, although you need to make sure it's clean so it's not pumping irritants into the air along with its soothing mist. And drinking plenty of fluids will ensure your sinuses stay moist, among other benefits.

If you know something irritates your nose, avoid it altogether if possible.

8
Nonallergic Rhinitis

Some people have chronically drippy noses, yet there's nothing wrong with them. Well, other than the fact that they have what's called nonallergic rhinitis. This means your nose runs a lot for no good reason. Sufferers also typically sneeze a lot and may have nasal congestion (when their nose isn't dripping). The symptoms are similar to hay fever, except the person isn't allergic to anything.

Both kids and adults can have nonallergic rhinitis, although it's more common after age 20, according to the Mayo Clinic. To be properly diagnosed, you may have to first go through allergy testing or blood work. If you are diagnosed with it, try to identify triggers that make your symptoms worse, and then avoid them. While they vary among sufferers, triggers are often certain odors, medications, foods or changes in the weather. Keeping your nasal passages moist by rinsing them out may also help.

7
Cold Temperatures
A runny nose pretty much goes hand in hand with cold temperatures.
A runny nose pretty much goes hand in hand with cold temperatures.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Whose nose doesn't drip when you're out in the cold? This common situation occurs when cold, dry air irritates your nasal lining. Your nose's glands respond by pumping out more mucus than normal to keep it moist so the lining doesn't dry out.

But don't assume the chilly temps are the sole reason your nose is drippy. Colds and upper respiratory infections are common in winter. In fact, it's a person can have multiple colds in a row. So it might be the cold, or you might have a cold -- or both.

6
Measles and Rubella

Measles, also called rubeola, is an infection caused by a virus. It mostly strikes children. By 2000, according to the Mayo Clinic, measles were pretty much eliminated in the U.S., thanks to the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. But measles is on the rise again, as increasing numbers of parents are choosing not to vaccinate their kids.

If you or your child has contracted measles, your initial symptoms will likely be a mild to moderate fever along with a cough, runny nose, inflamed eyes and sore throat. Then the rash, consisting of small, red spots, appears, and it's easy to see what's going on.

Rubella, once called German measles, is also a contagious viral infection that causes a spotty, red rash. Luckily, it's not as infectious or as serious as measles, which can be fatal for small children. Symptoms also include a mild to moderate fever, runny nose and inflamed eyes, as well as enlarged lymph nodes and aching joints. The rash is much finer than the spots you get with measles.

The MMR vaccine is highly effective in preventing rubella and measles, but if you do contract one or the other, there is no cure; you must let the infections run their course. You can alleviate some of the symptoms through over-the-counter medicines, mainly fever reducers.

5
Influenza (Flu)
Poor guy -- his first sign of the flu probably was a runny nose.
Poor guy -- his first sign of the flu probably was a runny nose.
©iStockphoto.com/Stacey Newman

Influenza, or the flu, can be a serious illness, especially in the young, old and those with compromised immune systems. A runny nose can seem like the least of your worries; yet, a runny nose can be the first sign that you're ill.

The flu is a viral infection that attacks your respiratory system, which includes your nose, throat and lungs. Often, your first symptoms are a runny nose, lots of sneezing and maybe a sore throat. But the difference is that with a minor cold, these symptoms will develop slowly over a few days and never amount to much more. With influenza, these symptoms will generally start abruptly and quickly escalate to include a high fever, headache, muscle soreness, fatigue and weakness.

As with most viral infections, influenza has to run its course. But you may be able to make yourself more comfortable through some over-the-counter fever reducers. Your doctor may also prescribe an antiviral medication that may shorten the illness by a day or two.

4
Sinusitis

Roughly 37 million Americans have at least one sinusitis attack annually, according to WebMD. And they're not fun. Sinusitis is an irritation, swelling or infection of the tissue lining the sinuses. The illness typically causes facial pain and pressure; nasal stuffiness or discharge, often coupled with post-nasal drip; loss of smell; and a cough. Sometimes patients develop a fever and their teeth ache, due to the pressure in the sinus cavities above.

When infection is present, you'll often have a thick, yellow or green nasal discharge along with some of the other symptoms mentioned above. Head to the doctor; you'll need an antibiotic to get rid of the infection. Besides prescribing an antibiotic to take care of the bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe nasal sprays, nose drops or an oral decongestant medicine to relieve the symptoms.

3
Pet Allergies
If you have pet allergies, frequent bathing can help lessen your exposure to their dander.
If you have pet allergies, frequent bathing can help lessen your exposure to their dander.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Unfortunately, pet allergies are among the most common types of allergies. When you're allergic to a particular pet -- say, a dog or cat -- you're not allergic to its fur. Your body is most likely reacting to its dander, or the tiny skin scales animals continually shed. If you own a pet, these scales will be everywhere, but especially in carpeting and upholstery. Some people don't have a problem with dander, but instead are allergic to an animal's saliva, particularly cat saliva.

Typical allergic reactions to a pet are a runny nose, sneezing and watering eyes, a rash, coughing or breathing difficulties, hives, and itching in the nose, eyes, throat or skin. To avoid setting off your allergies, don't own the type of pet you're allergic to, or keep the pet outside, if possible. If the pet is allowed inside, try to keep him out of your bedroom and off upholstered furniture and carpets. Installing wood, tile or vinyl flooring instead of carpet also helps. Frequent bathing and grooming of the pet may help keep dander under control. Having a pet dander allergy may also mean you can't wear wool.

If your allergy is severe, you may need allergy shots to keep it under control.

2
Hay Fever

Seemingly more prevalent than pet allergies are pollen allergies, typically known as hay fever. Hay fever is in play from spring through fall, as trees, weeds and grasses emit miniscule pollen grains into the air. Everyone breathes in some of these grains, and for most people it's no big deal. But if you're allergic to a particular type of pollen, you'll have an allergic reaction.

As with pet allergies, symptoms include a runny nose, sneezing, coughing and itching in the eyes, nose and throat. Post-nasal drip is also common, as are dark circles under the eyes.

Try to relieve your symptoms by rinsing out your nasal passages and taking over-the-counter medicines recommended by your doctor. Allergy shots also may be helpful. Sidebar: Are Nasal Sprays Really Addictive?

The short answer is no, but they're not harmless either. You candevelop what's called a rebound effect: If you use the spray too many days in a row, your body panics and begins to work against it, which means it soon takes more sprays, or more frequent sprays, to clear your nose. It could take a few weeks to a month or so of not using the spray to return to normal.

1
Common Cold
Frequent hand-washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs.
Frequent hand-washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs.
©iStockphoto.com/Evelyn Peyton

Ah, the common cold. That minor, yet annoying, ailment for which there is no cure. The common cold is by far the main cause of a runny nose. No wonder; there are more than 1 billion colds in the U.S. each year, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The most common symptoms of a cold, besides a runny nose, are nasal congestion, a scratchy throat, sneezing and, occasionally, a low fever.

The common cold is technically a viral respiratory infection, meaning antibiotics won't get rid of it. To alleviate symptoms, get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids. Chicken soup isn't a bad idea, either; its heat, fluid and salt may help you fight the virus. While vitamin C doesn't prevent colds, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, research shows people who consume it regularly seem to have slightly shorter colds and milder symptoms.

Protect yourself from getting a cold in the first place by washing your hands frequently and steering clear of sick people who are coughing and sneezing a lot. It's also not a bad idea to regularly clean surfaces such as doorknobs, computer keyboards and phone earpieces with antibacterial wipes.

UP NEXT

The 1918 Spanish Flu Killed Millions — and Experts Fear It Could Happen Again

The 1918 Spanish Flu Killed Millions — and Experts Fear It Could Happen Again

HowStuffWorks finds out about the history and lessons of the Spanish flu pandemic, 100 years later.


Related Articles

Sources

  • Better Medicine. "Runny Nose." (June 13, 2011) http://www.bettermedicine.com/article/runny-nose
  • Buccino, Dr. Kenneth. "Foreign Body, Nose." (June 15, 2011) http://www.emedicinehealth.com/foreign_body_nose/article_em.htm
  • Centers for Disease Control. "Runny Nose Q&As." (June 13, 2011) http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/campaign-materials/print-materials/FactSheet-RunnyNose.html
  • Harris, Dr. Norman J. "Stuffy Nose, Runny Nose, How the Nose Works." Oto Hns. (June 13, 2011) http://www.otohns.net/default.asp?id=13085
  • Highlights Kids. "Why Does Crying Make Your Nose Run?" (June 13, 2011) http://www.highlightskids.com/science/sciencequestions/h1sciqcrynoserun.asp
  • Kids Health. "Why Does My Nose Run?" (June 13, 2011) http://kidshealth.org/kid/talk/qa/nose_run.html
  • Li, Dr. James T. "Question: Nasal spray addiction: Is it real?" Mayo Clinic. (June 13, 2011) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/nasal-spray-addiction/AN01241
  • Mayo Clinic. "Nonallergic rhinitis." (June 15, 2011) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/nonallergic-rhinitis/DS00809
  • Mayo Clinic. "Runny Nose." (June 13, 2011) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/runny-nose/MY00177
  • Medical News Today. "Millions Suffer from Addiction to OTC Nasal Sprays." July 13, 2005. (June 13, 2011) http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/27323.php
  • Medicine Net. "Runny Nose Symptoms." (June 13, 2011) http://www.medicinenet.com/runny_nose/symptoms.htm
  • Mother Nature. "Nose, Runny." (June 13, 2011) http://www.mothernature.com/l/Symptoms-Their-Causes-Cures/Nose-Runny_2243.html
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse. "NIDA InfoFacts: Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction." (June 15, 2011) http://www.nida.nih.gov/infofacts/understand.html
  • NCEMI. "Nasal Foreign Bodies." (June 15, 2011) http://www.ncemi.org/cse/cse0309.htm
  • Real Age. "Relieving Symptoms: Self-Care." (June 15, 2011) http://www.realage.com/check-your-health/clear-your-sinuses/congestion-runny-nose-remedies
  • Thompson, Dr. James. "Nasal Spray Addiction: Know the Facts and Avoid the Danger." Health Central. (June 13, 2011) http://www.healthcentral.com/allergy/medications-253494-5.html
  • University of Illinois at Chicago. "FYI About Your Eyes." (June 13, 2011) http://www.uic.edu/com/eye/LearningAboutVision/EyeFacts/FYIAboutEyes.shtml
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine Medline Plus. "Allergy to mold – animal dander – dust." (June 16, 2011) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000814.htm
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine Medline Plus. "Common cold." (June 16, 2011) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000678.htm
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine Medline Plus. "Hay fever." (June 16, 2011) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/hayfever.html
  • Watson, Stephanie. "The Truth About Mucus." Web MD. (June 15, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/allergies/features/the-truth-about-mucus
  • Web MD. "An Overview of Sinusitis." (June 16, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/allergies/guide/allergies-sinusitis
  • Web MD. "Nasal Saline Irrigation and Neti Pots." (June 13, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/allergies/sinus-pain-pressure-9/neti-pots
  • Wise Geek. "Why Do Spicy Foods Cause Runny Noses?" (June 13, 2011) http://www.wisegeek.com/why-do-spicy-foods-cause-runny-noses.htm
  • Your ER Doc. "Spicy Food and Runny Noses." Oct. 16, 2008. (June 13, 2011) http://www.yourerdoc.com/spicy-food-and-runny-noses/
  • Zoc Doc. "What Causes A Runny Nose?" (June 13, 2011) http://www.zocdoc.com/answers/3969/what-causes-a-runny-nose