Runny Nose

Dr. Abhishek GuptaMBBS

October 28, 2017

June 04, 2022

Runny Nose
Runny Nose


Runny nose is a common and irritating condition. The medical term often used for a runny nose is "Rhinorrhea". However, accurately speaking, Rhinorrhea refers to the thin and clear discharge from the nose, and not the condition itself.

This condition arises due to excessive mucus formation which accumulates in the sinus (eye sockets, cheekbones, and forehead) or the air passage. Sinus region is a cave-like structure present behind the bones of the face and is connected to the nasal passage where mucus is gets accumulated. Mucus is formed in the body because of the invasion and presence of a colony of viruses of common cold or flu. The main symptom of a runny nose is the production of white liquid mucus usually (transparent or translucent in nature) runs down the nasal passage along with some sneezing and redness in the nose area. This condition is cured on its own and mostly does not require medical intervention.

What is a Runny Nose?

Runny nose may be caused due to an allergy or infection present in the body causing mucus production as a form of body's natural defense mechanism. It has been observed that excess mucus formation may also cause throat pain, throat inflammation, and cough. A runny nose often gets cured on its own requiring minimal medical intervention but it can also be an indicator of some undiagnosed underlying medical condition. Read on to find out more.

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Runny Nose Symptoms

The main striking symptom of a runny nose is free-flowing mucus falling out from the nasal passage.

If you are experiencing the following symptoms along with Runny Nose, you should consult an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist:

  • feeling cold, mild to moderate chest pain, fever, severe pain in the head, blisters, difficulty in normal, drowsiness along with a Runny nose.
  • swelling under the eyes, inflammation in the cheeks or blurred and distorted vision.
  • intense pain in the throat or developing white yellow spots appearing in the inner area (tonsils).
  • foul-smelling substance coming out of the nose having an unpleasant odor running from one side of the nose and having a distinctively different color other than yellow or white.
  • continuous cough that continues for 7-10 days and produces a yellow, green or dirty white colored phlegm (mucus).

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Runny Nose Causes and Risk Factors

A runny nose could be caused due to a number of reasons. The common causes for a runny nose are as follows:

  • Common cold or flu -  
    Medical studies confirm that common cold mostly occur with a runny nose as a very common symptom. When you are affected by one of these ( common cold and flu) body produces excessive mucus so that the bacteria can be trapped in it and stopped. Some of the mucus gets released through the nose.

  • Allergy -
    Studies are suggestive that people may get a Runny Nose if they touch, smell or eat something that they are allergic to. Health specialist hints that animal hair, fur, and grass are very common allergens (allergy-causing agents). Your body reacts to allergic agents the same way that it does to harmful bacterias and thus it causes a runny nose as its defense mechanism.

  • Sinusitis -
    Strong evidence claim that if there is swelling, inflammation or pain in the sinus or nasal passage, it is called Sinusitis. This causes the nasal passage to collapse, causing breathing difficulty and excessive mucus formation.

If you have the above-mentioned problems, then it is most likely that the mucus will come out through the nose. In some cases, mucus goes into the throat instead of the nose. The mucus caused due to sinusitis is thicker and usually yellow or green spots may be seen in it.

Other possible causes -

These are some other scientifically proven causes of a runny nose.

  • deviated septum ( change of position in the nasal septum).
  • headache
  • addiction to certain drugs.
  • consuming tobacco products or smoking.
  • lack of moisture in the air you are inhaling (dry air).
  • sudden change of climate, weather or altitude.
  • long-term use of using nasal sprays.
  • hormonal changes
  • if you have the flu.
  • certain medications.
  • nasal polyps (growth of tissues on the surface of the nose or sinus).

Risk Factors

The following increases the chances of getting a runny nose:

  • Weak immune system -
    Research is suggestive of contracting Runny Nose because of the weakened immune system arising due to any long-term illness or chronic diseases.

  • Time and weather -  
    It is a known fact that winters and monsoon season are famous for general cold and flu-like conditions. However, Runny Nose may happen at any time of the year irrespective of time and weather. But studies confirm that monsoon and winter season increases the chances of getting Runny Nose.

  • Contact/ Proximity -
    Public places such as schools, railway-metro stations, marketplaces in short anywhere where a lot of people are present increases the chances of contact with any common cold virus by manifolds.

  • Smoking -
    Scientists claim that smoking tobacco risks the smokers to various invasions by pathogens and viruses. You will be surprised to know that passive smokers also are at a risk of contracting Runny Nose.

Prevention of Runny Nose

You can prevent getting a runny nose to a certain extent by taking the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands frequently, this will protect you from a number of viruses and other pathogens (germs). 
  • Wipe your nose with a tissue or cloth and dispose of it immediately after use. This will help reduce disease spread & rebound.
  • Wash your hands immediately after wiping the runny nose and use a sanitizer.
  • You can also take supplements such as Vitamin C to keep away the common cold and cough.
  • Do not smoke or consume any other harmful substances which may cause irritation and inflammation in the airway passage.

If you are suffering from recurrent allergies then you must keep yourself away from allergens (allergic elements). Doing this will prevent the symptoms of allergies, which also includes a runny nose. Identify possible allergens such as certain food items, animal fur, pollen, and dust etc. and try to stay away from them as much as you can.

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Diagnosis of Runny Nose

One can self-diagnose Runny Nose without having to go to a doctor. However, you may need to see a doctor if the color of your mucus changes to yellow, green or brown. Your doctor may recommend some tests to investigate the severity and they type of infection. In addition to this, the doctor also makes a note of your previous and present medications. Your doctor may also prescribe body related tests to rule out other underlying medical conditions. An (ENT) specialist may also physically examine your ear, throat, and nose to check for any physical outgrowths or deformities.

Your doctor may recommend you the following tests.

  • Allergy panel test -
    This is an exclusive test which is performed for the detection of various allergies such as food allergy, animal dander allergy, pollen allergy etc. This test is extremely beneficial for people who suffer from recurrent allergies. With the help of this test, the doctor identifies the allergen (allergy-causing agent) and you are able to take measures to protect and prevent yourself from that specific allergen. (Consult a doctor with Doctor app)

  • Blood test -
    A simple blood analysis such as CBC can actually help determine an underlying medical condition and the presence of pathogens. Eosinophil count when found elevated often indicates presence an infection. It can also act as an indicator and tell us about a constant allergy.

  • Sputum test -
    Sputum test is done to detect various pathogens (germs) such as bacterias and viruses.  

  • X-ray - 
    X-ray of the Sinus and chest is done to determine inflammations (swellings) and fluids (if any) which determines infections and diseases of the chest and sinus region.

  • CT Scan of nose and paranasal Sinus -
    CT Scan or Computed Tomography of nose and parasinus is done to determine if the person has sinus problems.

  • MRI of nose and paranasal sinus -
    This test is usually done when all the above technique fails to determine the cause of a constant runny nose. This test also rules out serious complications such as cancers in the nasal cavity and sinus cavity.

Runny Nose Treatment

Runny Nose is initially treated at home by simple remedies. Quite often, it gets cured without any medical intervention. In certain cases when the condition gets severe then medication is required to control the flow of mucus.

  • Usually, runny nose occurs due to a common cold. The symptom subsides as soon as the common cold is cured. The treatment of the common cold is quite limited and doctors suggest ample rest along with the consumption of lots of fluids and a healthy diet. Common cold takes 6 - 7 days to cure on its own.
  • Your doctor may recommend certain antibiotic medicines. However, conditions such as Common cold and flu are caused due to viruses, and therefore, antibiotics only help in bringing symptom relief when bacterial infections are also accompanied along with flu and common cold. If you have severe flu, then the doctor may prescribe some antiviral medicine. Antiviral medicines quicken the process of recovery, but research hints that the majority of people do not require it. Antiviral medications are only given to patients with severe conditions.

Medicinal Treatment

You are highly recommended not to take medicines without consulting a doctor. Because certain medicines have unpleasant side effects including rebound and worsening of the condition.

  • Research suggests sneezing and runny nose caused due to an allergy can be effectively treated with Anticholinergic Nasal Allergy Sprays.
  • Doctors prescribe certain antihistamines (anti-allergy) medicines, such as diphenhydramine and chlorpheniramine medicines to control symptoms like sneezing and runny nose. However, these medicines induce sleep and drowsiness.
  • Decongestant nasal sprays like pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine, oxymetazoline etc. are medicines which are also taken to improve nose and ear blockages. However, they come with a bag of side effects which includes increased heart rate and high blood pressure. Do not consume the above medications beyond 3 days and without consulting the doctor.


  • Saline water -
    You are recommended to clean your nose with saline water. By doing this you may get rid of the nasal blockage and will be able to breathe properly. Also, it is believed that cleaning your nasal passages with saline water causes the virus to come out. One thing to be kept in mind that is that before using saline water. the water must be boiled and brought to a normal temperature before cleaning the nose.

  • Steam -
    Taking steam is very helpful to clear blocked nose; it helps to cure a runny nose. To get a better dose of the steam, put the hot water in a vessel and then bring your face close to the vessel, then put a towel or thick cloth all around your head and the vessel. You can also take a good amount of steam by switching on a hot shower in the bathroom and closing the windows and doors.

  • Vitamin C -
    Common cold and flu can also be cured through the intake of vitamin C, for which oranges and lemons can be consumed.

  • Eucalyptus Oil -
    Take hot water in a big vessel and add a few drops of eucalyptus oil. After that, as explained above, cover with a towel. Eucalyptus oil also helps to relieve blocked and running nose.

  • Bed Rest -
    Proper sleep and complete rest significantly reduce the recovery time.

Runny Nose Complications

Though there are a lot of possible ways through which a runny nose can develop, allergy and infection are the most common causes. The problem of a runny nose can be caused due to a substance or an object, that triggers the tissues of the nose. A blocked nose gets cured on its own, gradually over a few days. If it is not treated on time, it may cause a cough, pain in the ears, headache and many other types of problems.

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  1. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, Illinois, United States. Runny Nose, Stuffy Nose, Sneezing
  2. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Stuffy or runny nose - adult
  3. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Common Cold and Runny Nose
  4. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Common Colds: Protect Yourself and Others
  5. National Health Service [internet]. UK; Cold, Flu, or Allergy?

Medicines for Runny Nose

Medicines listed below are available for Runny Nose. Please note that you should not take any medicines without doctor consultation. Taking any medicine without doctor's consultation can cause serious problems.

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