A runny nose can be uncomfortable, inconvenient, and can seem like it lasts forever. Understanding its cause and symptoms is the key to treating it effectively. This article will discuss the causes of a runny nose, key signs to look out for, and how to get relief.
Can Allergic Rhinitis Cause a Runny Nose?
In virtually all cases, a runny nose results from the body's efforts to remove something from its system. This defense mechanism, which is medically termed "rhinorrhea," aims to flush out any irritants, allergens, bacteria, or viruses that may be present in the nasal cavity.
It is a very common response to airborne allergens. When inhaled, these irritants inflame the inner nasal tissue, provoke the release of histamines, and kickstart the body's defense response. The result is an overproduction of mucus along with other typical symptoms such as sneezing, itching, and watery eyes.
What Else Causes a Runny Nose?
As a broader form of the immune response, a runny nose can be caused by various environmental factors. All it takes is something to irritate the nasal passages for the body to launch a defense. Common causes of a runny nose outside of allergic rhinitis include the following.
The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract and can cause symptoms such as sneezing, cough, sore throat, headache, nasal congestion, and runny nose. Similarly to allergies, colds cause the nasal passages to produce mucus in response to a virus.
Sinus infections, or sinusitis, are another common cause of a runny nose. It occurs when the nasal passages become inflamed and filled with fluid, leading to mucus discharge. Sinus infections are common and can lead to fever, headaches, facial pain, and a runny nose.
The nasal tissue is fairly sensitive to smoke, which can cause inflammation and result in a runny nose. This is especially true for those with preexisting allergies or asthma.
Chemicals and Odors
An array of odors, fragrances, and chemicals can also cause a runny nose. This includes perfumes, cleaning products, gasoline fumes, paint, and other contaminants.
Changes in Temperature
When the air gets colder or drier, it can cause rhinorrhea. This is common during winter months when temperatures drop and humidity levels decrease.
Although the symptoms of a runny nose seem pretty straightforward, some variations can be helpful to keep an eye out for.
In many cases, the mucus discharge is clear and watery - a sign of an allergic reaction. If the mucus is thick and greenish, however, it could be a sign of an infection. Other symptoms like sneezing, fatigue, coughing, or fever may accompany the runny nose and provide more clues as to its cause.
Some people who experience a runny nose will also develop post-nasal drip, a secondary effect that occurs when excess mucus drips down the back of the throat. This can lead to a sore throat, coughing, and difficulty swallowing.
Home Remedies For a Runny Nose
There are several home remedies for a runny nose that can help alleviate the symptoms and provide some relief:
Drink Plenty of Fluids
The body must stay hydrated to keep the nasal passages and mucus membranes moist and healthy. Drinking plenty of fluids will help thin out the mucus and make it easier to clear the nose.
Steam inhalations are a simple and effective way to help clear the nasal passages of built-up mucus. Boil a pot of water, pour it into a bowl, and add some essential oils or herbs if you wish. Then, lean over the bowl with a towel over your head and inhale the steam for a few minutes.
Use a Neti Pot
A neti pot is an ancient tool to rinse the nasal passages with a saline solution. Fill up the pot with water and a teaspoon of salt, tilt your head to the side, and let the water flow through your nose. It's an effective way to flush out mucus and eliminate any built-up allergens.
Use a Humidifier
Humidifiers can help keep the nasal passages moist and reduce inflammation. Look for one with a built-in air filter, and make sure to change the filter regularly.
A variety of homeopathic remedies can help alleviate runny nose symptoms. These include herbs such as eucalyptus, peppermint, and ginger and essential oils like lavender, tea tree, or rosemary.
Best Allergy Medicine For Runny Nose
If home remedies don't work, several over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are available to help relieve the symptoms of a runny nose.
Nasal sprays are a great way to clear nasal passages quickly. They reduce inflammation in the nose and can be used multiple times a day. Common brands include Flonase, Nasacort, and Rhinocort.
Antihistamines are designed to block histamine, a chemical released by the body in response to an allergen. Popular antihistamines such as Claritin, Zyrtec, and Benadryl can help reduce the symptoms of a runny nose and any associated sneezing and itching.
Decongestants reduce the swelling in the nasal passages and can help reduce the amount of mucus produced. Popular decongestants such as Sudafed and Actifed are available over-the-counter and can provide relief within a few hours.
When to See a Doctor
A runny nose is very common and rarely indicates a serious problem. In most cases, it can be easily treated at home with home remedies or OTC medication. However, it is important to keep an eye on the symptoms and consult a doctor if they worsen or if any other concerning symptoms develop. Additionally, those with a weakened immune system, severe allergies, asthma, or chronic sinus infections should seek medical advice if their runny nose does not improve within a few days.
Pinpointing what allergies are causing your runny nose will require taking an allergy test. This can be done either through a skin prick regimen at the doctor's office or on your own with an at-home kit.
The first option, skin prick testing, involves poking the skin with several allergen-laced needles to observe how it reacts in real time. A positive result will present as a red, itchy bump on the skin.
At-home allergy kits are a convenient alternative to skin prick tests. These kits allow you to test for a wide range of allergens in the comfort of your own home with a quick finger prick. After collecting a small blood sample, send it off to our labs and wait for your results to come in online. This is a much more accessible alternative for those who want to avoid a trip to their doctor or uncomfortable needles and hives.
If it turns out that allergies are the cause of your runny nose, you'll have several treatment routes to explore:
Limiting exposure to the allergen you're sensitive to will ultimately have the fastest impact in reducing your symptoms.
- Look at the pollen count: If you're allergic to pollen, try to stay indoors when the pollen count is high.
- Wear a mask: On days when you must go outside despite a high pollen count, wear an N95 face mask to keep pollen out of your nose and eyes.
- Limit outdoor time to evening hours: Pollen counts are highest during the day, so limiting your outdoor activity to the evening can help reduce your exposure.
- Shower more frequently: Showering immediately after coming home from outdoors can help reduce the amount of pollen collected on your skin and hair.
- Wash clothes more frequently: Pollen can stick to clothes, so washing them frequently can help keep your exposure to a minimum.
- Keep windows closed: When possible, keep windows closed to help stop the wind from blowing allergens into your home. Running your A/C and installing a HEPA filter can also help keep allergies at bay.
- Keep your home clean: Dust and vacuum frequently to keep dust mites, pet dander, and other allergens from lingering.
In cases where exposure isn't enough to curb your runny nose, you may need to consider medication. Below are a few of the most popular types used by those with allergies.
- Antihistamines: Antihistamines are the most common type of OTC medication used to treat allergies. They temporarily block histamine, a chemical your body produces when it responds to an allergen, and help reduce symptoms such as sneezing and a runny nose.
- Nasal sprays: Nasal sprays are applied directly within the nose and help reduce inflammation, swelling, and other allergic symptoms.
- Prescription medications: In more severe cases of allergies, a doctor may prescribe a stronger dose than those available OTC.
Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) is a newer and long-term alternative to conventional allergy treatments. It involves taking allergen-extract drops or tablets daily, slowly building tolerance. This can be an effective treatment for those who suffer from seasonal or year-round allergies and is much less invasive than regular allergy shots.
Take Our Allergy Assessment
If allergies are causing your runny nose, expensive trips to the doctor or uncomfortable needles don't need to be your only recourse. Wyndly's at-home allergy test kit can help you narrow down the cause of your symptoms. Our doctors will identify your allergies and create a personalized treatment plan for your allergies. Take our allergy assessment today to start your journey toward a life free of frustrating symptoms.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I stop my runny nose?
You'll need to assess your specific situation to identify and mitigate whichever factors are causing your runny nose. Allergies are to blame in many cases, although other conditions like infections, environmental factors, and certain medications can also cause one.
What helps a runny nose from allergies fast?
If allergies are causing your runny nose, the fastest way to reduce symptoms is to limit your exposure to that allergen through lifestyle changes and preventative measures. Many OTC medications and nasal sprays can also help reduce inflammation and provide effective, although short-term, relief.
How long do allergy runny noses last?
The duration of a runny nose depends on the severity of your allergies and whether or not you're taking appropriate measures to reduce exposure. If not treated, symptoms can persist for weeks or even months. However, you can expect relief relatively quickly with proper medication and lifestyle changes.