Rhinorrhea (Runny Nose)

"Rhinorrhea" is another word for a runny nose. This refers to the clear or thick discharge that comes from the nose. Rhinorrhea may be caused by allergies, an infection, or other factors.

This article covers the symptoms and top causes of rhinorrhea. It also discusses treatment for a runny nose and when to see a healthcare provider for your symptoms.

Woman blowing her nose.

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Symptoms of Rhinorrhea

Typically, rhinorrhea is a symptom of a health problem (like a cold) or an environmental trigger that is causing a runny nose (like allergies). Symptoms associated with rhinorrhea may include:

  • Clear discharge
  • Thick discharge
  • Nasal congestion
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Itchy eyes or nose
  • Sneezing

Causes of Rhinorrhea

Some of the most common causes of rhinorrhea are:

Viruses can cause rhinorrhea because germs can infiltrate your nasal lining and your sinuses, the hollow, air-filled cavities in the skull around your nose. This causes the nose to make clear discharge, or mucus, to try to get rid of the virus.

It's also normal for mucus to change color after the first couple of days, going from clear to white, yellow, or green.

With a sinus infection, the fluid caused by the infection builds up in one or more of the sinuses around your nose. That can lead to a runny nose as well as a sore throat, a headache, and mucus that goes down the back of your throat (postnasal drip).

Allergies can cause a runny nose as your body reacts to the allergen. This could include pollen, mold, dust, or other triggers. Other symptoms you may have include coughing, congestion, and an itchy nose or itchy eyes.

What Medications Can Cause a Runny Nose?

Many medications can cause side effects, including rhinorrhea. This occurrence is referred to as nonallergic rhinitis. These medications include:

If you experience a runny nose without a specific cause while on one of these types of medicines, talk to your healthcare provider. There may be other, similar medications that would work for you, or you may be able to take something to counteract symptoms such as rhinorrhea.

Certain recreational drugs, like cocaine, also can cause rhinorrhea.

How to Treat Rhinorrhea

There are a few ways that you can treat rhinorrhea. Some of the treatments address the overall cause of symptoms related to a runny nose, such as a cold or the flu. Always consult a pharmacist or healthcare provider before taking medications that are new for you or if you are treating a runny nose in children. Many cold medicines are not recommended for young children.

You can treat rhinorrhea in the following ways:

  • Drink plenty of fluids: A dry nose may produce too much mucus. Fluids like water can help provide lubrication to the nose.
  • Blow your nose: Do so gently and as needed.
  • Use a saline (saltwater) spray three to four times a day: These sprays are available at supermarkets and pharmacies. You can also make one at home using a cup of warm distilled or sterile water, one-half teaspoon of salt, and a pinch of baking soda.
  • Get more rest: This is especially helpful if you have the cold, flu, or other illnesses.
  • If you have rhinorrhea along with itchy eyes and sneezing, you may have allergies: A type of medication called antihistamines may be helpful. Some antihistamines can make you feel tired. Always check with a healthcare provider before using a new medication.
  • Use an over-the-counter (OTC) nasal steroid spray: These can help lower inflammation and fluid in the nose.
  • Try a decongestant nasal spray: Be sure to use this for no more than two to three days. A decongestant nasal spray can actually worsen nasal symptoms when used longer than that time frame.
  • Avoid triggers: If you know that certain things trigger your runny nose, like environmental allergens, try to avoid those triggers.
  • Take antibiotics when prescribed: Antibiotics can treat a sinus infection caused by bacteria. This type of medication will not help a sinus infection caused by a virus. It's not always clear to healthcare providers if the cause of a sinus infection is viral or bacterial.

Complications Associated With a Runny Nose

Most of the time, a runny nose is not serious. Occasionally, there are complications associated with a runny nose, including:

  • Having an infection that requires antibiotics: Many sinus infections are caused by viruses and get better gradually. A sinus infection that is caused by bacteria needs antibiotic medicine to get better.
  • Leaking of fluid from the brain, also called a cerebrospinal fluid leak: This can occur after head trauma or sinus surgery. Sometimes, there is no clear cause. It happens when a hole or tear occurs in the membranes around the brain or spinal cord. The leaking of this fluid causes a watery discharge from the nose along with other symptoms, like nausea and a sense of imbalance. Surgery is sometimes required to treat people with a cerebrospinal fluid leak.

Are There Tests to Diagnose Rhinorrhea?

A healthcare provider will not conduct a test to diagnose rhinorrhea. However, there are tests, such as rapid tests that take a sample from the nose, that can help diagnose some of rhinorrhea's common causes, including the flu or COVID-19.

If a healthcare provider suspects another cause for rhinorrhea beyond a virus or sinus infection, other tests may be needed. These include:

When to See a Healthcare Provider

You should see a healthcare provider for rhinorrhea if you have:

  • A runny nose only in one nostril
  • A runny nose that is getting worse, not better
  • A fever
  • Pain in your sinuses
  • Nasal discharge after a head injury
  • Mucus that is changing color or that smells bad
  • A runny nose along with sneezing and itchy eyes, and you are not aware of specific allergies
  • A sore throat that is getting worse


Rhinorrhea, or a runny nose, is very common and associated with many potential causes. The common cold, the flu, COVID-19, a sinus infection, and allergies are some of the most prevalent causes of rhinorrhea. When you have rhinorrhea, you may have clear or thick mucus. Using a saline spray and gently blowing your nose can help treat your runny nose. There also are medications that can help with a runny nose.

Rhinorrhea is usually not serious. You should see a doctor for rhinorrhea if you notice that your runny nose is getting worse or if you have a fever or sinus pain.

A Word From Verywell

Because rhinorrhea can have many causes, it may be difficult to pinpoint the reason for your runny nose. Fortunately, at-home treatments can help. And measures like washing your hands frequently can prevent you from passing germs to those around you. When in doubt, talk to a healthcare provider to determine the cause of your runny nose and to find relief.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can you stop a runny nose instantly?

    Blow your nose gently and drink a hot drink, like herbal tea. There's no guarantee that these will stop a runny nose instantly. However, these are tried-and-true ways to help reduce rhinorrhea.

  • What's the best medicine to dry up a runny nose?

    An OTC antihistamine will help dry up a runny nose. Ask your healthcare provider first if it's OK to use an antihistamine. Always read the label to find out about any side effects when using medicines.

  • Is a runny nose a sign of COVID-19?

    Rhinorrhea (runny nose) is one of the potential symptoms of COVID-19. Keep in mind that COVID-19 can have many possible symptoms. Also, a runny nose can indicate several different health issues, and COVID-19 is just one of those potential issues.

  • In addition to viruses, infections, and allergies, what else can cause rhinorrhea?

    Other causes of rhinorrhea include a small foreign body stuck in the nose, nasal polyps, a nasal tumor, pregnancy, cerebrospinal fluid leak, or trauma to the nose.

7 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.
  1. American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Runny nose, stuffy nose, sneezing.

  2. U.S. National Library of medicine. Stuffy or runny nose--adult.

  3. Baptist Health South Florida. When does a runny nose require medical attention?

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sinus infection (sinusitis).

  5. UptoDate. Patient education: Nonallergic rhinitis (runny or stuffy nose).

  6. Henry Ford Health. 6 things you should know about chronic runny nose.

  7. Cedars-Sinai. Cerebrospinal fluid leak.

By Vanessa Caceres
Vanessa Caceres is a nationally published health journalist with over 15 years of experience covering medical topics including eye health, cardiology, and more.