How to Stop a Runny Nose

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Many things can cause a runny nose (rhinorrhea). Acute (sudden and short-term) causes include viruses, cold weather, sinusitis, certain foods, exercise, and medications. Chronic (long-lasting or recurring) causes involve allergies, hormones, and nasal polyps.

The mucus drainage can vary depending on the cause of your runny nose. If you have a virus, your mucus may be thick and yellow. If allergies cause your runny nose, your mucus may be clear and accompanied by itching and sneezing.

This article covers home remedies and medications that can help a runny nose.

Portrait of young black woman sneezing in to tissue at home. Sick african woman wrapped in blanket sitting on sofa blowing her nose at home. Ill girl sneezing with runny nose in winter.

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Home Remedies

Often, at-home treatments can resolve a runny nose. Things like steam and warmth can help clear your nasal passages and allow them to drain. These things can relieve the pressure and help you feel better faster.

Complications

A runny nose usually resolves within a week to 10 days. However, if left untreated, it can lead to complications. For example, a sinus infection can occur when fluid builds up in the sinuses. Unresolved allergies, colds, and sinus infections can increase the risk of ear infections.

Warm Drinks

Warm drinks are soothing when you're under the weather and can feel great on a sore throat. That's especially helpful if an illness causes your runny nose or if you have a postnasal drip, which is common with a runny nose.

Fluids help the immune system function by making it easier for nutrients to get to your body's cells and thinning mucus. Choose warm beverages that are nutritious and naturally hydrating, like chicken broth, herbal tea, and warm water with honey and lemon.

Facial Steam

When you're feeling congested, leaning over a bowl or pot of hot water may loosen nasal mucus and help it drain more effectively.

To use steam, place boiled water into a bowl or pot. Next, drape a towel over your head and lean over the bowl with your face about a foot above the water. Ensure the water is on a steady surface, so it doesn't spill and burn. Avoid steam burns by maintaining an adequate distance from the water.

Due to the risk of burns, avoid using facial steam with children. Never place hot water on your lap. Instead, put it on a firm, uncluttered surface away from pets and children.

Hot Shower

A hot shower works in the same way as steam inhalation. However, you utilize the steam from a hot shower instead of a bowl of hot water. You can take a shower or sit on the floor and breathe in the mist without showering.

A steamy bathroom is safer for children than some other ways to breathe in steam and can reduce accidental spills of very hot water. However, still supervise children in a bathroom when running hot water.

Rest

A runny nose is often a sign that your body is fighting an infection. Rest is an essential part of helping your immune system function properly. Try to get to bed on time or even earlier when fighting a cold or other illness. You may even find a nap helpful.

Warm Compress

A warm compress on your face can help loosen mucus, so it drains more effectively. You can make a warm compress by running a washcloth under warm water and placing it over your nose and eyes for 10 to 15 minutes.

Humidifier

Humidifiers add moisture to the air. Like other moisture-related therapies, humidifiers help loosen mucus so your nose can clear discharge more efficiently.

Humidifiers are convenient because you can run them in your bedroom while you sleep. Keep your humidifier clean so you don't inadvertently churn mold and other pathogens into the air.

Neti Pot

A neti pot is a container used to help clear nasal passages by irrigating mucus and flushing the sinuses. Using only distilled, sterile, or boiled and cooled water is recommended. Tap water can contain organisms that could cause infections when introduced to your nose.

To use a neti pot, follow these steps:

  • Lean over a sink and tilt your head.
  • Breathe through your mouth and tip the neti pot's spout into the top nostril (the liquid will drain out the other nostril and into the sink).
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Clear the nostrils by blowing your nose.

Neti pots require a saline solution rather than plain water to help the water pass through the delicate nasal tissues. Ask a pharmacist to help you find a salt intended for this use.

Medications

Multiple medications can help with a runny nose. However, some medicines, like those used to treat allergies, will not work for other conditions. When considering medications, knowing what's causing your runny nose is essential.

Nasal Sprays

Various types of nasal sprays may help with a runny nose. The type you choose will depend on the cause and your preference. Selecting a spray sometimes takes some experimentation. Choices include:

Many nasal sprays, including saline sprays, some nasal steroids, mast cell stabilizers, and antihistamines, are available over the counter (OTC). However, anticholinergics are only available by prescription. In addition, some OTC varieties are also available at higher prescription strength.

OTC Medications

OTC medicines that may help your runny nose include:

In addition, pain relievers, like Tylenol (acetaminophen) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like Advil (ibuprofen) or aspirin, won't directly help a runny nose; however, they can help if you also have other pain symptoms like a headache or fever.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Usually, a runny nose will resolve on its own. However, a runny nose can sometimes develop into something more serious, like an infection. Seek medical care if you notice the following signs:

  • Facial swelling
  • Blurred vision
  • Throat pain that gets worse
  • Spots on your throat
  • Nasal discharge that smells bad or is dark in color
  • Symptoms that last more than 10 days
  • If nasal discharge occurs after a head injury

Summary

Many things can cause a runny nose, including allergies, viruses, and cold weather. Often a runny nose doesn't require treatment. However, you might find relief from some at-home measures like steam, warm compress, and warm drinks. Nasal sprays and OTC medications can also help.

A Word From Verywell

If you frequently get a runny nose, it may be good to seek a medical opinion since chronic rhinitis can make life uncomfortable and lead to infections. You may have allergies that you could manage with a proper diagnosis.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What’s the fastest way to stop a runny nose?

    Unfortunately, there is no single way to stop a runny nose completely. Blowing your nose, steam inhalation, or taking decongestants or antihistamines may help.

  • Why won’t my nose stop running?

    Many things can cause a runny nose, including allergies, illness, cold weather, exercise, and some foods. Often runny noses are most profuse in the early stages of an illness. With unmanaged allergies, a runny nose may seem constant, too, especially if you have ongoing exposure to an allergen.

  • When should I see a healthcare provider for a runny nose?

    If your runny nose lasts longer than 10 days, is getting worse, and your nasal discharge is thick and dark in color, you should see a healthcare provider.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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