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Stop That Drip! The Causes of a Runny Nose

July 26, 2022

Who hasn’t had a runny nose? Getting a dripping or “runny” nose in the cold or when you have a cold, the flu or allergies is common. No matter how many times you blow your nose, the watery mucus continues to drip down from your nose. A runny nose can be triggered by anything that irritates or inflames the nasal tissues. It can be caused by colder outdoor temperatures, cold virus, flu, allergies and even some lesser-known culprits. 

When a cold virus or an allergen such as pollen or dust first enters your body, it irritates the lining of your nose and sinuses causing your nose to start to make a lot of clear mucus. This mucus traps the bacteria, viruses or allergens and helps flush them out of your nose and sinuses. After two or three days, the mucus may change color and become white or yellow. Sometimes the mucus may also turn a greenish color. All of this is normal and does not mean an infection is present. 

A runny nose is not contagious, but it is often a symptom of a condition like the common cold, which can be passed from person to person. A runny nose due to a cold or flu may be accompanied by fatigue, sore throat, cough, facial pressure and sometimes fever. A runny nose due to allergies may be accompanied by sneezing, itchy and watery eyes.

Sinusitis or a sinus infection is a complication of the common cold. It occurs when the cavities around your nasal passage become inflamed. This inflammation also triggers an increase in mucus production in the nose.

Nasal polyps are benign growths on the lining inside the nose due to an inflamed mucous membrane. When the mucous membrane becomes inflamed, excess mucus production can bring on a runny nose and postnasal drip.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus is a virus that causes cold-like symptoms and infections in the lungs and respiratory tract. It can occur in children and adults. An infection in the respiratory tract can lead to inflammation in the nasal passage and a runny nose.

Nonallergic rhinitis is characterized by inflammation in the nasal passage and mimics hay fever. Yet, these symptoms are due to an unknown cause and aren’t triggered by histamine or an allergen.

With a deviated septum, the wall between your nasal passage becomes displaced or crooked on one side. Some people are born with a deviated septum, but it can also result from an injury to the nose. A deviated septum can lead to repeated sinus infections and inflammation around the nasal passage, causing a runny nose.

A hormonal imbalance can also cause inflammation and enlargement of the nasal blood vessels, resulting in nonallergic rhinitis. This can happen during puberty and if you take birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can also lead to excess mucus and trigger a runny nose. 

Dry air doesn’t only dry out the skin, it can also dry out your nasal passages. This disrupts the fluid balance inside the nose, causing an inflammatory response and triggering a runny nose. This can happen in cold weather or when there’s dry air inside your home due to heat.

Spicy foods can also cause a runny nose due to a form of nonallergic rhinitis known as gustatory rhinitis. This isn’t caused by histamine or an allergen, but rather an overstimulation of nerves in the sinuses when you eat or inhale something spicy. 

Believe it or not, nasal sprays can be behind a runny nose. Even though nasal sprays can reduce inflammation in the nose, overuse can have a rebound effect and actually make nasal symptoms worse. Typically, you shouldn’t use an over-the-counter nasal spray for more than five days in a row. 

If your runny nose becomes more than a tissue can manage, an over-the-counter decongestant, antihistamine, allergy medicine and nasal spray may help. Other treatments for a runny nose include drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, and resting as much as possible. You can ease symptoms with a saline nasal spray and place a cool-mist humidifier near your bed to combat congestion aggravated by cold, dry air. 

A runny nose will usually clear up on its own, but if symptoms are severe, last more than ten days, or if you’re taking care of a child whose drainage only comes from one side, gets green or blood or foul-smelling, then you should see a healthcare provider. West Tennessee Healthcare can help, to find a provider click here