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Runny Nose: Definition, Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Team AckoJun 23, 2024

One of the worst parts of getting a cold is having a Runny Nose (RN) and constant sniffling and cleaning. It is a very commonly encountered symptom amongst people of all age groups and could easily be the outcome of crying or cold weather. However, having a RN constantly could indicate some other nasal pathology as well. Thus, timely intervention is crucial.




What is a Runny Nose?

Runny Nose refers to the condition where there is excess production of clear, thin, mucus from the nose. Clinically this condition is called rhinorrhoea. 

The inner lining of the nose has many glands that produce mucus. We often wonder what could be the use of this sticky, dirty liquid. This mucus actually helps to lubricate the passage, filter out dust, pollen, harmful viruses, and bacteria, and humidify the air we breathe in. 

When someone has a Runny Nose the membranes covering the nasal passages produce too much mucus probably because they are inflamed. This causes more mucus to build up and fill up the cavity, and this can leak out of the nose, causing rhinorrhoea or RN.

What are the symptoms of a Runny Nose?

Here’s an overview of the symptoms. 

  • Excessive build-up of mucus in the nose can restrict the free flow of air, resulting in nasal blockage or congestion (that feeling of stuffiness and being unable to breathe through your nose).

  • Blockage of sinus cavities causes headaches and pain over the face. 

  • A blocked sinus cavity may get infected resulting in sinusitis.

  • The nasal passage is connected to the ear via a small narrow tube called the Eustachian tube. This tube can get blocked, resulting in ear pain and ear infection.

  • As the nasal passage continues into the throat, you may experience mucus spilling over through the back of your throat. This is called postnasal drip. 

  • Irritation of the nasal passage can cause sneezing. 

  • If there is an infection, you may get discharge from the nose that is yellowish-green in colour. 

  • Severe blowing of the nose and frequent clearing can sometimes cause nose bleeds. 

What are the causes of a Runny Nose?

Here’s a list of the common causes of a Runny Nose. 

  1. Cold weather: One of the main functions of the mucus in the nasal passage is also to warm the air that is being inhaled to match the body temperature. When the weather is cold, the mucus lining the nasal passages tends to dry out. The body tries to produce more mucus to make up for this resulting in excess mucus building up and leaking through the nostrils.

  2. Crying: The tear glands are connected to the nose by a tube called the nasolacrimal duct. When crying, excess tears drain via the duct into the nasal cavity. The tears stimulate more mucus production causing a RN.

  3. Common cold: The common cold is a viral infection that affects the nose & throat. It is typically harmless, lasts anywhere between 3 to 7 days, and settles by itself. Symptoms of the common cold include RN, nasal congestion, sneezing, sore throat, cough, headache & tiredness. The discharge from the nose starts out as thin and clear and may proceed to become slightly thicker and yellowish-green in colour. 

  4. Allergies: RN is a common symptom associated in those who have allergies to common environmental agents such as pollen, dust, and animal hair/fur. People who have hay fever (allergic rhinitis) commonly present with a RN. This is also seen when the air is very polluted, or if working in environments with lots of chemicals expelled into the air. Tobacco smoke is also an allergen and irritant which causes these symptoms. 

  5. Foreign bodies in the nasal passage: This can include dust, pollen, animal dander, and small objects that can get lodged (seen especially in children)

  6. Sinusitis: This is the inflammation of the sinus cavities of the nasal canal. There are 4 pairs of sinuses in the skull. They can get blocked, infected, and inflamed. This condition can be acute (sudden in onset, lasting for a short time), or chronic (long-standing, frequently repeating). Symptoms include RN, nasal blockage, heaviness of the head, facial pain, headache, voice changes, and tiredness. 

  7. COVID-19: One of the commonly encountered symptoms of mild COVID-19 disease is a Runny Nose. Other symptoms include cough, breathlessness, loss of taste/smell, fever, body pain, tiredness, etc.

  8. Overuse of nasal decongestant sprays: There are several over-the-counter decongestant sprays available in the market. These are meant to be used only for a short period of time (less than 5 days) to manage nasal blockage. When used longer, they cause a phenomenon called rebound congestion where the spray itself causes the condition it is supposed to treat. It can result in RN and blockage. 

  9. Deviated nasal septum: The two nasal canals are separated in the middle by a septum. This is usually supposed to lie on the midline. But in some people, it can deviate to one side. This can cause nose block, RN, and breathing difficulties. 

  10. Pregnancy: The hormonal changes of pregnancy causes increased blood flow to the nose, which can result in the mucus membranes becoming overactive and producing excess mucus. This causes nasal stuffiness and a RN. This condition is called pregnancy rhinitis. It is not a harmful condition but can be annoying. It is important not to use nasal decongestants to manage this as they are not recommended in pregnancy. 

  11. Side effects of medicine: Medicines used to treat conditions like high BP, depression, seizures, erectile dysfunction, etc. can cause RN as a side effect. 

How is a Runny Nose treated?

Most of the time, no specific treatment is required for the management of a Runny Nose. It settled by itself within a few days. Here are some supportive measures you can take.

  • Rest

  • Make sure to stay hydrated with plenty of fluids

  • Use over-the-counter antihistamines in case of allergies 

  • Use over-the-counter nasal sprays (but only for a short period of time)

  • Wear a mask when going outside 

  • Avoid exposure to known allergens 

  • Steam inhalation

  • Drink warm fluids 

  • Wash the nasal cavity with saline drops 

  • Maintain good hand hygiene 

When do I need to see a doctor for a Runny Nose?

Here’s when you should see a doctor for a Runny Nose. 

  • If your symptoms do not settle even after 7-10 days

  • If your symptoms are debilitating and more severe than usual

  • If the affected individual is a child who has symptoms that are persisting or worsening 

  • If there is a change in the colour of discharge to yellow, red, or dark reddish-brown. 

  • Associated with severe headaches, pain, loss of sleep, fever, or frank bleeding from the nose. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Here’s a list of common questions and answers related to a Runny Nose.


I get a Runny Nose every few weeks. Why does this happen?

People prone to get allergic reactions suffer from symptoms such as Runny Nose and congestion frequently. Avoid triggers and visit a doctor if symptoms worsen.

Every time I get a Runny Nose I get rashes around my nose. How can I prevent it?

Vigorously rubbing the nose to clear mucus can cause burning, irritation, and rashes due to friction. Apply white petroleum jelly or aloe vera to soothe the area. Ensure the use of soft tissue gently to clean the area. Antibiotic creams may be needed in some cases.

How can I avoid having a Runny Nose through most of the winter?

Winter weather is cold and dry and commonly results in a Runny Nose. Using a humidifier at home helps improve breathing and reduce congestion. Portable devices are available for use in cars or at work.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions. Runny Nose is written as RN in this article.


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