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Runny nose - Causes and Prevention

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The discharge of mucus from the nose is known as a runny nose. It can happen due to cold, flu, and allergies. Read the article to learn in detail about it.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Malvika Rao

Published At May 6, 2022
Reviewed AtMarch 11, 2023

What Is a Runny Nose?

When the mucus drips from the nose continuously, it is known as a runny nose. It can occur in any age group, including babies, children, adults, and the elderly. It occurs when the mucus is produced excessively in the nasal cavity. This mucus flows down as a watery discharge from the nose, and the condition is known as a runny nose. The main causes of the runny nose are flu, allergies, and cold outdoor temperatures. Some people might experience nasal congestion along with a runny nose. However, nasal congestion occurs due to an inflammation of the inner lining of the nasal cavity.

The nasal passages are pathways that allow the air to enter and exit the nasal cavity freely. Due to inflammation, these passages swell, making it difficult for the air to flow. As a result, the person experiences difficulty in breathing and feels that his nose is stuffed up. So, nasal congestion is also known as a stuffy nose.

How Does a Runny Nose Occur?

The nose is one of the most important organs of the body because it helps the person breathe. It serves as a link between the lungs and the outside world. Air enters and exits the lungs through the nose. The problem arises when an allergen or a virus enters the nose along with air. These allergies irritate the linings of the nasal cavity and the sinuses (air-filled spaces present in the nasal cavity). As a result, the nose starts making mucus that traps bacteria, viruses, and foreign bodies. This mucus helps to remove the irritants from the nose and sinuses. The nose makes a clear mucus, but it might turn green, white, or yellow after a few days.

How Does the Nose Work?

The nose is a part of the respiratory passage and helps the person breathe. The lungs are present in direct connection with the nose. They help to filter and humidify the air that enters the nasal cavity. The mechanism by which the nose works to remove the allergens and the foreign bodies from the air is described below:

  1. This fresh air reaches the organs of the body in the form of oxygen and helps them to carry out their activities.

  2. The inner lining of the nose is moist and contains several glands that secrete mucus.

  3. The function of the mucus is to trap the bacteria, allergens, and foreign bodies that enter along with air and irritate the respiratory system.

  4. As the mucus contains antibodies, it fights with these bacteria or the enzymes and kills them to make the air passages clear.

  5. The nasal lining or the mucosa also contains numerous hair-like structures known as cilia.

  6. The cilia move continuously and remove the mucus and other harmful particles present in the nose to the throat.

  7. Next, the particles travel down the throat and reach the stomach. They are destroyed by the hydrochloric acid produced from the stomach.

  8. During winters, when the temperature outside is cold, the mechanism by which the nose clears the allergens is slowed down, and the mucus either stays in the nose or flows down.

What Are the Causes of a Runny Nose?

There are several causes of mucus discharge from the nose or a runny nose. The causes of the runny nose are listed below:

  • Upper Respiratory Tract Infection - Common cold or upper respiratory tract infections are mainly caused by viruses, the rhinovirus being the major culprit. The fluids enter the blood vessels of the nose and leak outside through the nasal passages. Sometimes, the patient has a runny nose on only one side, or there is a constant discharge of mucus from the nose. Initially, the mucus is clear but turns white, green, and yellow after a few days.

  • Cold Temperatures - During winters, the atmosphere is cold, and people living in hilly areas experience snowfall the most. Also, cold air blows a lot during the winters, and people love to travel in this air. The cold air is harmful to the nasal cavity because it causes dryness of the nasal membrane. As a result, inflammation of the nasal system occurs, resulting in the discharge of fluids from the nose or runny nose.

  • Allergic Rhinitis - Hay fever or allergic rhinitis is one of the causes of a runny nose. It is because the allergens, mainly dust and pollen from the flowering plants, enter the nose and trigger an inflammatory response. As a result, the nasal secretions or mucus start flowing out of the nose.

  • Spicy Food Items - Some people experience a runny nose while eating spicy food. The exact mechanism of this phenomenon is still unknown. However, some researchers believe that it is due to the stimulation of the nervous system.

  • Hormonal Rhinitis - As the name suggests, this type of rhinitis is caused due to hormones. The hormones like growth and female sex hormones enter the membranes of the nasal cavity and affect the working of the mucous glands. The hormone levels undergo a rapid change during pregnancy, and one such hormone known as progesterone affects the nasal blood vessels resulting in a runny nose.

  • Medicinal Rhinitis - The medications used as birth control pills are also responsible for a runny nose. Also, the medications used to treat the following conditions cause runny nose:

  • Crying - When a person cries, the tears flow down the eyes. Lacrimal puncta are tiny openings present in the eyes that allow the tears to flow through them. A runny nose occurs while crying because the tears from the lacrimal puncta also flow to the nasolacrimal duct.

  • Chronic Sinusitis - Sinuses or air pockets are present near the nose or in the nasal cavity. The sinuses work to form the mucus, which traps the bacteria and allergens. This mucus reaches the stomach, and the bacteria are killed by the acid produced from the stomach. So, the sinuses do not allow the nose to become stuffed with bacteria and allergens. However, the problem arises when these sinuses fail to function. As a result, the bacteria multiply in the nasal cavity and irritate the sinuses resulting in a condition known as sinusitis. If the patient is suffering from sinusitis for a prolonged period, it is known as chronic sinusitis. A runny nose is one of the symptoms of chronic sinusitis.

  • Deviated Septum - Nasal septum is a part of the nose that divides the nasal cavity into two parts, right, and left. When the nasal cavity deviates to one side, it is known as a deviated septum. Runny nose and breathing difficulties are commonly seen in the deviated septum.

  • Coronavirus (COVID-19) - COVID-19 is a type of infectious disease caused by the coronavirus. It enters the lungs and other body organs and damages them. Headache, fever, fatigue, shortness of breath, runny nose, cough, diarrhea, and fatigue are some of the symptoms of coronavirus disease.

How to Get Rid of a Runny Nose?

A runny nose resolves after some time and does not require any medication or surgical intervention. The medications are only helpful when the patient is suffering from a common cold, rhinorrhea, and allergies. However, home remedies work better than medicines and help stop a runny nose. The home remedies used to treat a runny nose are listed below:

  1. Fluids - If the person is experiencing a runny nose, they must drink a sufficient quantity of fluids daily. It is because the fluids make the mucus thin, and it gets drained from the nose easily. In the absence of fluids, the mucus becomes thick and sticky and makes the nose congested.

  2. Hot Drinks - Herbal tea and medicated drinks help a lot during a common cold. Herbal teas mainly contain antihistamine and anti-inflammatory substances like ginger, mint, clove, cardamom, and nettle. Along with these substances, the heat and the steam released from herbal teas help to open up the congested nasal passages.

  3. Humidifier - Humidifier is used in dry atmospheres. It is because the air is too dry and makes the mucus thick. As a result, the mucus remains in the nose and does not flow out. A humidifier helps to moisten the air. When the person breathes this moist air, the mucus becomes thin and flows out of the nose.

  4. Steam - Facial steam also works as a humidifier and helps to widen the air passages. For taking the steam, just heat water in a clean vessel for a few minutes. Make sure the water is heated till the steam starts coming out. The patient needs to bring his face near the steam and inhale it. Repeat this process three to four times a day to get the best results. Eucalyptus, menthol, essential oils, peppermint, rosemary, and tea tree oils can be added to water to enhance the effects.

  5. Neti Pot - A neti pot is like a teapot that is used for nasal irrigation. Add saltwater solution to the neti pot and place the spout of the pot into the nostril. The solution enters through one nostril and drains out through the other. This helps to remove the mucus from the nose.

  6. Nasal Spray - Medicated nasal sprays help to solve the problem of a runny nose. They clear the pollens, bacteria, and other irritants from the nose and widen the air passages.

  7. Warm Compress - A warm compress should be applied to the nose several times a day. It is because it increases the circulation in the sinus area and helps prevent the buildup of mucus.

How to Prevent a Runny Nose?

A runny nose is not a condition; rather, it is a symptom of respiratory diseases. The following methods help prevent runny nose:

  • The patient must stay at home and avoid traveling to areas where the pollen count is high.

  • Avoid shaking hands or meeting people who are suffering from allergies or the common cold.

  • Discard the napkins or the tissues used for wiping or blowing the nose to prevent infections.

  • The patient must wash their hands each time they cough, sneeze or blow their nose.

  • Disinfect the surfaces that have been touched after sneezing or coughing.

  • Take rest and plenty of sleep to allow the body to heal.


A runny nose or the discharge of mucus from the nose is one of the most common symptoms of respiratory diseases. The mucus formed by the nasal sinuses help trap the bacteria, pollens, and other irritants that enter along with air. When the sinuses get blocked due to bacterial infection, the mucus builds up in the nose, and the patient experiences nasal congestion. The mucus glands and cilia present in the nasal cavity continuously work to eliminate the bacteria from the nose. However, the problem arises during winters when the activities of the nasal cavity slow down. As a result, the mucus drips from the nose continuously, and the condition is known as a runny nose. The patient need not worry about a runny nose as it can be treated at home without any surgical intervention. Staying hydrated, taking warm baths, facial steam, drinking herbal tea, and using a nasal spray help to prevent and treat a runny nose.

Frequently Asked Questions


How Can a Patient Get Rid of a Runny Nose?

The continuous discharge of mucus from the nose is known as a runny nose. The following methods help to stop or get rid of a runny nose:
- Drink a sufficient quantity of water daily because water helps in mucus drainage.
- Herbal tea and medicated drinks are of great help if the runny nose is due to a common cold.
- Use a humidifier as it moistens the air and reduces nasal congestion.
- Take steam for 10 to 15 minutes daily as it helps to widen the air passages.
- Use a neti pot for nasal irrigation. When the mucus gets drained through a neti pot, breathing becomes easier.
- Medicated nasal sprays are beneficial and help to stop the runny nose instantly.
- Apply a warm compress to the nose repeatedly.


Is a Runny Nose a Symptom of COVID?

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is a virus responsible for COVID-19. Studies have reported that people suffering from COVID experience sore throat, fever, and runny nose. However, a runny nose is not the main symptom of COVID, but patients having a runny nose must get tested for COVID.


How to Stop a Runny Nose Instantly?

A runny nose is a common symptom of several respiratory diseases and is irritating at times. The following methods help to stop a runny nose instantly:
- Blow your nose, keeping one nostril closed to remove the mucus.
- Put a warm wet cloth over your face as it helps relieve the sinus.
- A nasal saline rinse helps clean the nose and removes bacteria, viruses, and allergens.
- Keep your head elevated while sleeping as it allows nasal drainage.


Is There Any Medicine Available for Runny Nose?

A runny nose is not a condition but a symptom of several respiratory diseases. For example, decongestants like Pseudoephedrine can be used for patients suffering from runny noses due to sinus congestion. Similarly, antihistamines like Chlorpheniramine and Diphenhydramine are used when people experience a runny nose and watery eyes due to a cold. If the runny nose is due to a cough, Dextromethorphan, and expectorants like Guaifenesin are of great help.


Will a Runny Nose Last Long?

Some studies have reported that a runny nose due to a cold lasts for seven to ten days and not more than that. However, the patient might experience a runny nose for as long as two weeks in some cases. Usually, the symptoms of a cold begin in 10 to 12 hours and reach their peak in two to three days. If the patient takes all the required measures, the symptoms subside in 7 to 10 days.


Does Paracetamol Help to Prevent a Runny Nose?

Paracetamol or Acetaminophen is one of the most commonly used drugs for various medical conditions. It relieves fever, rhinorrhoea, and nasal congestion but is ineffective against other symptoms like sore throat, malaise, and cough. A combination of Paracetamol, Levocetirizine, and Pseudoephedrine is used to treat the symptoms of a common cold like watery eyes, sneezing, and runny nose.


What Are Some Natural Methods to Stop a Baby’s Runny Nose?

It has been commonly seen that babies get sick during the first two years of life. Runny nose, sneezing, and watery eyes are common symptoms seen in babies. The following natural remedies help the babies get rid of the runny nose:
- Give them plenty of fluids to help mucus drainage.
- Use a bulb syringe to clear the mucus from the baby’s nose.
- Mix a half-teaspoon of table salt with a cup of warm water and put two to three drops of this mixture into the baby’s nose. It works as a natural nasal rinse and clears out the nasal debris.
- Use a humidifier or make your steam room. It helps the babies breathe, and they sleep peacefully.
- If the baby is more than a year old, give him a spoonful of honey as it helps to relieve the cough.


Does a Runny Nose Last Long in Babies?

Babies usually experience seven to eight bouts of cold and fall sick. The mucus might appear green or yellow during the first three to four days, but the symptoms subside within seven to ten days.


Does a Runny Nose Indicate That the Person Is Sick?

A runny nose is when the mucus drips out from the nose continuously. It does not always mean that the person is sick. The mucus might change color after a few days, but that does not indicate something serious. A runny nose can be due to pollen allergy, seasonal variations, sinusitis, and other causes.


Should I Be Worried About a Runny Nose?

A runny nose is not something serious. However, the patient must consult the doctor under the following circumstances:
- If the symptoms persist for more than ten days and there is no improvement.
- If the symptoms are severe.
- If the drainage is only from one side of the nose and is bloody, foul-smelling, or green.
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Dr. Malvika Rao
Dr. Malvika Rao

General Practitioner


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