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Learn about your clear runny nose, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your clear runny nose from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Your Clear Runny Nose May Also be Known as:
Runny nose with clear fluid
Watery runny nose

Clear Runny Nose Symptoms

A runny nose with clear mucus is a very common symptom and usually is not serious. The clear discharge most often happens when the nose is trying to clear out irritating substances due to an allergy or an illness and is actually a normal process. However, in rare cases this clear nasal discharge can be a sign of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak through a break in the lining of the brain. This would constitute a medical emergency. A "runny nose" of any kind is also called rhinorrhea.

With a viral infection or an allergy:

  • Clear, watery discharge that is usually from both nostrils.
  • There may be low-grade fever (100 degrees Fahrenheit or less) or no fever at all.
  • May start rather abruptly, within one day.
  • Nasal congestion.
  • Coughing.
  • Watery eyes.
  • Sneezing.
  • Itching in nose, throat, and eyes.

With a foreign body in the nose:

  • Clear, watery discharge only from one nostril.
  • Traces of blood from the same nostril as the discharge.
  • A foul odor from the nose.
  • A whistling sound as breath passes through the nose.

With a cerebrospinal fluid leak:

  • Clear, watery discharge that is often from one nostril only.
  • Metallic or salty taste in the mouth.
  • Reduced sense of smell.
  • Ringing in the ears.
  • Postural headache, a headache that comes and goes depending on whether the person is sitting up, lying down, etc.

Clear runny nose symptom duration:

  • A common cold will last for about 10 to 14 days.
  • Allergies last as long as the allergen is present.
  • A cerebrospinal fluid leak must be treated right away.

Who is most often affected by clear runny nose symptoms?

  • Anyone who suffers from a common cold or from seasonal allergies is quite likely to have a clear runny nose at some point.
  • A traumatic CSF leak can happen to anyone who has had a head injury, an epidural steroid injection for pain management, or brain surgery.
  • A spontaneous CSF leak most often occurs in someone over the age of 30 who also has a malformation of the skull, recurrent episodes of meningitis, or a brain tumor.

Are clear runny nose symptoms serious?

  • A clear nasal discharge due to the common cold or an allergy is rarely ever serious.
  • If there are symptoms of influenza along with the clear discharge, the person may need to see a medical provider for supportive care.
  • If there are symptoms of cerebrospinal fluid leak, that is a medical emergency and the person must have immediate emergency care.

Clear Runny Nose Causes Overview

Many conditions can cause a clear runny nose as a symptom. We've listed several different causes here, in approximate order from most to least common:

Infection:

  • Viral infections are the most common cause of a clear runny nose.
  • Bacterial infections can also cause the clear discharge, but it will often turn to yellow or green after a few days.

Allergy:

  • An allergic reaction to any sort of inhaled substance, such as pollen or dust, will cause a clear nasal discharge as the body tries to clear the substance out.
  • An allergy will also cause irritated, itchy eyes and throat along with the clear runny nose but does not cause fever nor headache.

Foreign body or substance:

  • A small object may be pushed into the nostril. Children will sometimes do this.
  • Nasal spray may run back out if the person sits up too soon after using it.

Rare and unusual cause types:

  • In cases of severe head injury – even in a closed head injury, meaning there is no visible external wound – there can be a tear in the covering of the brain that allows cerebrospinal fluid to leak into the sinuses and out through the nose.

  • Brain, head, or neck surgery, or epidural steroid injection, can also result in a CSF leak.

  • It's possible to have a CSF leak even when there has been no trauma. Spontaneous CSF leak is caused by a fistula – an abnormal opening –between the lining of the brain and the base of the skull. The reason for this formation is not entirely known.

Top 9 Clear Runny Nose Causes

  1. 1.New - Onset Seasonal Allergies

    Allergic rhinitis, is an overreaction by the immune system to allergens in the air. While pollen often causes allergies, other culprits include dust, animal dander, and mold.

    Despite being quite bothersome, allergies are a benign condition that can be treated at home. Symptoms include runny nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes. If possible, avoid the triggering allergen. Over-the-counter antihistamines like loratidine (Claritin), or diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may be helpful.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    sore throat, congestion, cough with dry or watery sputum, mucous dripping in the back of the throat, fatigue
    Symptoms that never occur with new-onset seasonal allergies:
    fever, chills, muscle aches
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Bronchitis

    Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to your lungs. It causes a cough that often brings up mucus, as well as shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness. It is typically caused by a virus.

    You can safely treat this condition on your own by resting, drinking fluids and taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to alleviate fever and discomfort. If the condition lasts longer than a few weeks, or if your symptoms are worsening, you may want to see a doctor who may prescribe an inhaler or pursue other treatment options.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    cough, productive cough, sore throat, wheezing, coughing up green or yellow phlegm
    Symptoms that always occur with bronchitis:
    cough
    Symptoms that never occur with bronchitis:
    nausea or vomiting
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Chronic Allergies

    Allergies are an overreaction by the immune system to something that does not bother most other people. Many people who have allergies are sensitive to pollen, but other things such as dust mites, animal dander, cockroaches, and mold can also cause a reaction.

    Allergies are a benign (but annoying!) condition, that can cause symptoms like a runny nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes. Treat by avoiding what you're allergic to, or with an over-the-counter medication such as loratidine (Claritin), or diphenhydramine (Benadryl).

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, irritability, trouble sleeping, runny nose, cough with dry or watery sputum
    Symptoms that never occur with chronic allergies:
    fever, chills, muscle aches
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  4. 4.Cluster Headache

    A cluster headache is a type of recurring headache that is moderate to severe in intensity. It is often one-sided head pain that may involve tearing of the eyes and a stuffy nose. Attacks can occur regularly for 1 week and up to 1 year. Each period of attacks (i.e. each cluster) is separated by pain-free periods that last at least 1 month or longer. Other common headaches may also occur during these cluster-free periods.

    You should visit your primary care physician to discuss symptoms, especially if the headaches are worsening or happening more frequently. Cluster headaches are diagnosed purely by history. Treatment options include extra oxygen and prescription medications.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    severe headache, nausea, sensitivity to light, throbbing headache, history of headaches
    Symptoms that always occur with cluster headache:
    severe headache
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  5. 5.Cluster Headache (New Onset)

    A cluster headache is a type of headache that is moderate to severe in intensity. It is often one-sided head pain that may involve tearing of the eyes and a stuffy nose. Attacks occur regularly for 1 week to 1 year. The attacks are separated by pain-free periods that last at least 1 month or longer. Cluster headaches may be confused with other common types of headaches such as migraines, sinus headache, and tension headache.

    You should visit your primary care physician to discuss symptoms, especially if the headaches are worsening or happening more frequently. Cluster headaches are diagnosed purely by history. Treatment options include extra oxygen and prescription medications.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, new headache, severe headache, throbbing headache, sensitivity to light
    Symptoms that always occur with cluster headache (new onset):
    severe headache, new headache
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Recurrent Cluster Headache

    A cluster headache is a type of recurring headache that is moderate to severe in intensity. It is often one-sided head pain that may involve tearing of the eyes and a stuffy nose. Attacks can occur regularly for 1 week and up to 1 year. Each period of attacks (i.e. each cluster) is separated by pain-free periods that last at least 1 month or longer. Other common headaches may also occur during these cluster-free periods.

    You should visit your primary care physician to discuss symptoms, especially if the headaches are worsening or happening more frequently. Cluster headaches are diagnosed purely by history. Treatment options include extra oxygen and prescription medications.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, severe headache, throbbing headache, congestion, sensitivity to light
    Symptoms that always occur with recurrent cluster headache:
    severe headache
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Post - Infectious Cough

    Post-infectious upper airway cough is a condition that can develop as a direct result of a previous infection of the airways. In adults, this is the most common cause of chronic (persistent) cough.

    You should go to a retail clinic to be treated, as the first line of treatment for this disease is over-the-counter medication. You should try taking a combination of antihistamine such as chlorpheniramine (Chlorphen) and nasal decongestant such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed).

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    cough, congestion, mucous dripping in the back of the throat, clear runny nose, hoarse voice
    Symptoms that always occur with post-infectious cough:
    cough
    Symptoms that never occur with post-infectious cough:
    fever
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  8. 8.Traumatic Brain Injury

    Traumatic brain injury (TBI) happens when a bump, blow, jolt, or other head injury causes damage to the brain.

    You should go to the hospital immediately. More than half of Traumatic Brain Injuries are bad enough that people must go to the hospital. The worst injuries can lead to permanent brain damage or death. There, doctors will examine you and take images of your brain to see if there's any bleeding.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    new headache, irritability, clear runny nose, vision changes, general numbness
    Symptoms that always occur with traumatic brain injury:
    head injury
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  9. 9.Anaphylaxis

    Anaphylaxis is the sudden onset of breathing or heart rate changes that are caused by a whole-body allergic reaction. This can be a deadly situation.

    Call 911 immediately for an ambulance. If you have been prescribed an epinephrine pen, use it. Don't do this if you have never been prescribed one!

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea or vomiting, stomach bloating, headache, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service

Clear Runny Nose Treatments and Relief

Seek immediate clear runny nose treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if:

  • The person has a severe headache with clear drainage from one nostril, especially if this follows a head injury, head surgery, or epidural steroid injection. The drainage may or may not show signs of blood.

Schedule an appointment for:

  • Nasal drainage that becomes thick, yellow to green, and/or foul smelling, especially if there are other symptoms such as headache, sore throat, or fever.
  • Ear pain, sinus pain, sore throat, and/or persistent cough along with clear mucus discharge from the nose. The mucus may be too thick to drain properly and causing irritation, which can lead to further infection.

Clear runny nose remedies that you can try at home:

  • Drink extra fluids.
  • Use a humidifier. This will help keep the mucus thin rather than thick and sticky, so that it can drain out and help take the illness-causing agents with it.
  • Use saline nasal sprays for soothing moisture, which may provide a little extra comfort.
  • Over-the-counter antihistamines may be helpful for allergies, though some can cause drowsiness.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Clear Runny Nose

  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Are you experiencing a headache?
  • Q.Do you have a rash?
  • Q.Do you have a sore throat?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, check our clear runny nose symptom checker.

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Clear Runny Nose Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced clear runny nose have also experienced:

    • 13% Cough
    • 6% Sore Throat
    • 5% Runny Nose
  • People who have experienced clear runny nose had symptoms persist for:

    • 45% Less Than a Week
    • 21% Less Than a Day
    • 13% One to Two Weeks
  • People who have experienced clear runny nose were most often matched with:

    • 15% Bronchitis
    • 4% New - Onset Seasonal Allergies
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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