Read below about runny nose, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your 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.

This symptom can also be referred to as:
Nasal discharge

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Runny Nose Symptoms

Drip. Drip. Drip. That's your runny nose, and it's determined to keep you up all night. Nearly everyone has experienced a runny nose, also called rhinorrhea. It may be the calling card of the flu or seasonal allergies that you get from time to time. While the problem usually resolves by itself, for some it can be a more lasting concern that seriously impacts quality of life. The constant chafing against tissues and the long sleepless nights of congestion can certainly take a toll. [9]

A runny nose is often accompanied by other cold- or flu-like symptoms, including:

Runny Nose Causes Overview

The inside of the nose is rich with blood vessels and capable of producing large amounts of mucus. This lubricant serves the natural purpose of warming and moistening inhaled air. In some cases, though, this natural function gets out of hand and the excess mucus has to go somewhere – out the nostrils or down your throat. A runny nose is often the result of an infection, which mucus helps spread to other people. In other cases, an irritant or mediation are to blame. [1]

Infectious causes:

  • Common cold: Caused by a virus, a cold comes with runny nose, sore throat, sneezing and cough that last about a week. [2]
  • Flu (Influenza): This more serious viral infection lasts longer than the cold and usually accompanied by fever, fatigue and muscle aches. [2]
  • Sinus infection: The air-filled areas behind your forehead and cheeks can fill with mucus and become infected. [3]

Irritants:

  • Allergies: Sensitivity to common allergens like pollen or pet dander can cause chronic runny nose as well as itchy eyes and throat. [3]
  • Cold temperature: Winter weather is often dry and cold, and mucus production is your body's natural protection again this harsh air. [4]
  • Spicy food: That five-alarm chili won't just make your mouth burn. It's also likely to make your eyes tear and your nose run. [5]
  • Nasal decongestant sprays: Overuse of over-the-counter nasal sprays like Afrin can sometimes make nasal congestion worse when suddenly stopped. [6]
  • Illicit drugs: Drugs that are inhaled through the nose, especially cocaine, can cause irritation and runny nose among many other problems. [7]
  • Occupational exposures: Exposure to harsh chemicals or irritants like smoke may notice a runny nose on workdays that resolves when away from work. [8]

Other causes:

  • Prescription drugs: A wide range of medications for conditions like high blood pressure or erectile dysfunction can cause runny nose. [6]
  • Foreign body: Children often place objects into their nostrils, and mucus is the body's way of trying to clear out the nasal passages. [9]
  • Crying: Excess tears produced during an emotional moment run through the inner corner of the eyes into the nose, where they drop out of the nostrils. [10]
  • Masses or polyps: In rare cases, a mass hiding in the nasal passages may be the underlying cause of a runny nose. [11]
  • Sleep apnea masks: Positive-pressure breathing machines, such as those used for sleep apnea, can cause runny nose with routine use. [12]

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Runny Nose

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced runny nose. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Common Cold

    The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract.

    The common cold resolves within 7 to 10 days.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, sore throat, congestion
    Symptoms that never occur with common cold:
    being severely ill, severe muscle aches, rash, severe headache, sinus pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.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.

    Allergies are often seasonal.

    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, yellow-green runny nose, chills, muscle aches
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Non - Allergic Rhinitis

    Nonallergic rhinitis is a medical condition which involves chronic (persistent) sneezing and having a runny, congested nose without any apparent cause. While the symptoms of nonallergic rhinitis are similar to those of allergic rhinitis (hay fever), there is no allergic reaction. Nonallergic rhinitis can be triggered by certain odors, weather changes, medications, or foods.

    Long-term condition but may go away without treatment.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    congestion, mucous dripping in the back of the throat, runny nose, frequent sneezing, eye itch
    Symptoms that never occur with non-allergic rhinitis:
    fever, sinus pain, facial fullness or pressure
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  4. 4.Chronic Sinusitis

    Chronic sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinuses (hollow cavities behind the nose & cheeks) that lasts more than 12 weeks and can continue for months or years.

    Longer than 3 months.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, trouble sleeping, congestion, runny nose
    Symptoms that always occur with chronic sinusitis:
    chronic sinusitis symptoms
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.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.

    Seasonal

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, irritability, trouble sleeping, runny nose, congestion
    Symptoms that never occur with chronic allergies:
    fever, yellow-green runny nose, chills, muscle aches
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

    Runny Nose Checker

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  6. 6.Acute Viral Sinusitis

    Sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinus spaces behind the nose and cheeks. These spaces produce mucus, which drains into the nose. If the nose is swollen or if the mucus does not drain, this can block the sinuses and cause pain or infection.

    Symptoms should subside within 7-10 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, cough, sinusitis symptoms, sore throat, congestion
    Symptoms that always occur with acute viral sinusitis:
    sinusitis symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with acute viral sinusitis:
    being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  7. 7.Mononucleosis Infection

    EBV Mononucleosis is a clinical syndrome characterized by fever, sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes.

    2-3 weeks

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, abdominal pain (stomach ache), cough
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Condition Causing Abnormal, High - Pitched Breathing

    High-pitched inhaling is called stridor, and requires urgent referral to the ER to see why it's happening

    MISSING

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    high-pitched breathing, severe pelvis pain, arm weakness, loss of vision, chest pain
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  9. 9.Chronic 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.

    Likely a lifelong condition

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, cough, productive cough, wheezing, congestion
    Symptoms that always occur with chronic bronchitis:
    cough
    Symptoms that never occur with chronic bronchitis:
    nausea or vomiting
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  10. 10.Influenza

    Influenza, or Flu, is an infection of the airway caused by the flu virus, which passes through the air and enters the body through the nose or mouth. The symptoms are similar to those of a cold, but the flu is usually more serious.

    Most recover within 1 week but cough and malaise can persist for 2 weeks.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, cough, muscle aches
    Symptoms that never occur with influenza:
    headache resulting from a head injury
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit

Runny Nose Treatments and Relief

Mucus production is often the body's natural way of protecting the nasal passages and clearing out any irritants. Many at-home treatments capitalize on this fact and work to help the body's natural cleaning process. There are also many over-the-counter remedies so that most people only need to visit the doctor if a runny nose persists for a very long time or is especially severe. The good news is that, in most cases, a runny nose will simply resolve on its own with time and patience. [1,14]

At-home treatments:

  • Elevate your head: Sleeping on several pillows at night is a simple technique that can help mucus drain naturally and allow for a better night's sleep. [15]
  • Avoid irritants: If you have a sensitive nose, it's best to avoid certain harsh chemicals like household cleaners or smoky environments. [8]
  • Cover up in the winter: Loosely covering your nose and mouth with a scarf helps warm outside air and reduces the body's need to produce mucus. [4]

Over-the-counter options:

  • Nasal flush: With special bottles like the Neti Pot, you can use boiled or distilled water to flush out the nose. This very effective method is growing in popularity and does not require the use of any medications. [6]
  • Nasal decongestant spray: Sprays like Afrin help to constrict the blood vessels in the nose, which can limit mucus production. However, these sprays should only be used for a limited time to avoid rebound runny nose. [6]
  • Decongestant pills: Over-the-counter pills like Sudafed contain decongestants. [15]
  • Steroid nasal sprays: Medications like Flonase help to relieve inflammation in the nose, which can reduce mucus production caused by allergies. [13]
  • Allergy pills: Zyrtec or Claritin treat the underlying cause of runny nose caused by allergies and help with other allergic symptoms such as itchy, watery eyes. Benadryl also works but may make some people sleepy. [13]

Professional treatments:

  • Antibiotics: Rarely, a doctor may suspect a bacterial infection like sinusitis along with your runny nose that will respond to antibiotic treatment. [13]
  • Nasopharyngolaryngoscopy: In this procedure, an ear, nose and throat specialist places a small camera in a scope in your nose to determine if there is a mass or structural abnormality causing your symptoms. [16]

You should see a doctor right away if you have:

FAQs About Runny Nose

Here are some frequently asked questions about runny nose.

Why is my nose runny in the morning?

A runny nose (rhinorrhea) in the morning is often caused by allergic rhinitis. Allergic rhinitis is swelling of the mucus membranes and production of mucus because of exposure to some sort of allergen while you are sleeping. This could be anything from dust to dust mites to pollen to the waste of rodents or roaches. [18]

Why is my nose runny in cold weather?

The nose's job is to add moisture to incoming air so that it is less harsh on the sensitive tissues at the back of the throat (humidification). As the nose humidifies air, it produces more liquid or moisture the drier the air is. In sub-freezing temperatures, there is very little moisture in the air. [4]

Can a runny nose cause nose bleeds?

No, not on its own. A runny nose (rhinorrhea) by itself does not cause nose bleeds. Repeated blowing of a runny nose, however, can be irritating to swollen and sensitive mucous membranes and can cause nose bleeds quite commonly. If you develop a nosebleed, you should pinch the nose and hold the head back. [19]

When is a runny nose contagious?

Runny noses (rhinorrhea) are contagious when they are associated with a cold, that is to say when they are not allergic or the product of cold weather. This means that if you have other signs of a cold or a flu including a fever, chills, or a sore throat your runny nose may be contagious.

What does it mean when your nose runs clear liquid?

This is a sign of a runny nose (rhinorrhea) and is the normal drainage. Clear nasal fluid is common in cold weather. Other types of runny noses caused by allergy or infection may also run clear or be colored depending on the specific cause of the nasal discharge. [1]

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Runny Nose

  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Do you have a stuffy nose?
  • Q.Are you experiencing a headache?
  • Q.Do you have a cough?

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

Runny Nose Quiz

Runny Nose Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced runny nose have also experienced:

    • 15% Cough
    • 8% Congestion
    • 7% Sore Throat
  • People who have experienced runny nose had symptoms persist for:

    • 46% Less Than a Week
    • 21% Less Than a Day
    • 12% One to Two Weeks
  • People who have experienced runny nose were most often matched with:

    • 33% Common Cold
    • 33% New - Onset Seasonal Allergies
    • 33% Non - Allergic Rhinitis
  • 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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References

  1. LaFee S. Nose-Colored Glasses: See What's Wet and Runny, Kind of Funny, Except When It's Not. UC San Diego Health. Published August 31, 2017. UC San Diego Health Link.
  2. Flu? Cold? or Allergies? Know the Symptoms. The University of Tennessee Medical Center. Published February 28, 2012. UT Medical Center Link.
  3. Bishop S. Pay Close Attention to Symptoms to Determine if Cause is Sinus Infection or Allergies. Mayo Clinic. Published April 12, 2013. Mayo Clinic Link.
  4. Clements DS. Quick Dose: Why Does the Cold Weather Make My Nose Run? Northwestern Medicine Health Library. NM Health Library Link.
  5. Why Do I Get a Runny Nose When Drinking Water or Other Liquids? American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. ACAAI Link.
  6. Non-Allergic Rhinitis: Treatment. NHS. Updated March 29, 2016. NHS Link.
  7. Non-Allergic Rhinitis: Causes. NHS. Updated March 29, 2016. NHS Link.
  8. Hisinger-Molkanen H, Piirla P, Haahtela T, Sovijarvi A, Pallasaho P. Smoking, Environmental Tobacco Smoke and Occupational Irritants Increase the Risk of Chronic Rhinitis. World Allergy Organization Journal. 2018;11(1):6. NCBI Link.
  9. Nasal Obstruction. Stanford Children's Health. Stanford Children's Health Link.
  10. Breau A. Why Does Crying Make Your Nose Run? Moment of Science. Published February 4, 2013. Indiana Public Media Link.
  11. Nasal Polyps: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Management. American International Medical University. Published June 10, 2018. AIMU Link.
  12. When Things Go Wrong with CPAP. Kalispell Regional Healthcare. KRH Link.
  13. Allergic and Non-Allergic Rhinitis: Frequently Asked Questions. Marshfield Clinic. Marshfield Clinic Link.
  14. Runny Nose: Care and Treatment. Cleveland Clinic. Updated December 6, 2017. Cleveland Clinic Link.
  15. Vorvick LJ, eds. Stuffy or Runny Nose - Adult. Mount Sinai. Updated August 26, 2017. Mount Sinai Link.
  16. Nasopharygolaryngoscopy (NPL). NHS. NHS Link.
  17. Symptoms of Nasal and Sinus Cancers. Northwestern Medicine. NM Link.
  18. Why Do My Allergies Only Seem to Bother Me in the Morning? American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. ACAAI Link.
  19. Nosebleeds/Epistaxis. Mount Sinai. Mount Sinai Link.