13 Reasons You Have a Runny Nose

Does every season seem to be the season for a runny nose? That's because there are 13 common reasons you can have rhinorrhea, also known as a runny nose. And not all of them are limited to winter. In fact, there are many reasons to have a runny nose all year long.

Despite this bad news, there are things you can do to help prevent a runny nose. And if you can't prevent it, you can at least decrease the annoying symptoms that go along with it. This article will discuss the 13 reasons why you have a runny nose. It will also talk about ways you can treat it.

1

The Common Cold

Sick woman laying on sofa holding remote control.
Tom Merton / Getty Images

Also known as: Upper respiratory infection (URI)

The common cold causes a runny nose by allowing fluids to pass more easily through blood vessels in the nose. This allows for leakage of fluid or serum into the nasal passages. In other words. Sometimes you may have a runny nose on one side only or even a constant runny nose.

Rhinorrhea usually occurs within the first two to three days after you become infected with a common cold virus. Unfortunately, every year millions of people get the common cold.

In the United States alone, 22 million to 189 million school days are missed each year due to the common cold. And 150 million workdays are missed each year due to the common cold, also known as an upper respiratory infection.

The common cold is caused by viral infections including:

On average, most children are sick between six to eight times each year due to the common cold. Children who attend daycare will have even more colds. But by the time kids are six years old, they will get colds less often. And by the time you're an adult, you'll get a cold about two to three times a year.

Preventing the Common Cold

Prevention of the common cold is difficult. You can get the virus through direct contact with someone else that has the illness. And if a person with a cold coughs or sneezes, virus particles go into the air. You can catch the common cold virus by breathing in those particles as you walk by.

Vitamins and herbal supplements like vitamin C, zinc, vitamin E, echinacea, and ginseng offer no benefit in preventing the common cold. Even exercise does not prevent the common cold. But it is closely linked to better health.

Treating the Common Cold

Treatments to help reduce a runny nose when you have the common cold include using intranasal ipratropium (Atrovent) or first-generation antihistamines (see below):

  • Brompheniramine (found in Dimetapp Cold & Allergy)
  • Chlorpheniramine (found in Chlor-Trimeton)
  • Dimenhydrinate (found in Dramamine)
  • Diphenhydramine (found in Benadryl Allergy)

If your runny nose continues for more than 10 days, you might want to see a healthcare provider. This is because you may have a bacterial infection that can be treated with antibiotics.

2

Allergies

Woman blowing her nose at outdoor cafe
LeoPatrizi/iStock

Also known as: Hay fever and allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever or allergies, can cause a runny nose. You may often experience a runny nose related to allergies during the spring or the fall.

You may get a runny nose because of your body's inflammatory response due to pollen in the air. Pollen comes from:

  • Flowering plants
  • Trees
  • Weeds
  • Grasses

Nasal secretions from allergies are usually clear, but they may also contain pus.

If you have mild to moderate symptoms related to allergies, the first line of treatment is an oral antihistamine or nasal antihistamine spray. Glucocorticoid nasal sprays are also effective.

Antihistamines will help with the runny nose. But antihistamines don't really work when trying to treat allergy-related nasal congestion.

3

Cold Air

Woman blowing nose outside.
Axel Bueckert / EyeEm / Getty Images

Have you gone outside to enjoy the fresh snow only to have a runny nose ruin the moment? If outside long enough, you might even develop chapped lips from constantly wiping your nasal secretions away from your upper lip. You are not alone. This is pretty common.

Cold, dry air is known to dry out the nasal membranes. This changes the fluid balance in your nasal passages. The change causes your inflammatory response and nasal nervous system reflexes to work together. As a result, you end up with a runny nose.

4

Eating Spicy Food

Hot peppers in a mason jar.

JBfotoblog / Getty Images

Also known as: Gustatory rhinitis

Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly why eating food can cause a runny nose. What they do know is that it's not really an immune response. It's more likely related to stimulation of the nervous system. And it may be associated with a parasympathetic response, a response that is helpful in resting and digesting.

You are also more likely to experience this if you also have allergic rhinitis or a history of smoking.

Hot and spicy foods are most likely to cause a runny nose. But any food can cause you to experience a runny nose if you have gustatory rhinitis. Foods consisting of grains like bread and crackers are less likely to cause a runny nose. Spicy foods such as hot chili peppers, red cayenne, and Tabasco sauce are more likely to make your nose run.

You can reduce your symptoms of gustatory rhinitis when you avoid spicy foods. However a medicine such as intranasal atropine is also helpful when you can't avoid foods that are spicy. Surgery can be helpful too.

5

Hormones

Pregnant woman holding stomach.
Hero Images / Getty Images

Also known as: Hormonal rhinitis

Hormones can directly effect the membranes in your nasal passages. They cause your mucous glands to become more reactive. Levels of thyroid, growth, and female sex hormones all can play a role in hormonal rhinitis.

A runny nose and congestion is also a common symptom during pregnancy. It's experienced by 39 percent of people who are pregnant. During pregnancy, changes to blood vessels throughout the body can result in the pooling of blood in the nasal blood vessels.

The increased levels of a hormone called progesterone can also cause your blood vessels to not relax as normal. This also causes a runny nose. Symptoms related to rhinitis during pregnancy seem to mirror the levels of estrogen.

There is little information available on the treatment of hormonal rhinitis. Hormone replacement therapy does not seem to help in treating the symptoms.

If you are pregnant, you can try nasal saline spray or exercise to potentially help decrease symptoms. The following medications may also be considered for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. But do not take them unless you have cleared it with your obstetrician or other healthcare provider:

Many other possible treatments may be considered harmful to your baby. Always ask your healthcare provider before starting a new medication.

6

Medications

Medications.
Photography by ZhangXun / Getty Images

Also known as: Medication-induced rhinitis

Some medications are known to have the side effect of a runny nose. Each medication class will have a different reason for causing rhinitis. But all of them are related to changes in the body caused by the medication.

Some of the medications targeted to treat the following conditions may cause you to experience a runny nose:

Side effects of medications vary widely. And you may not always experience rhinitis if you are taking any medications related to the list above.

7

Exercise

Two women running.
Holde Schneider / Getty Images

Also known as: Vasomotor rhinitis

Aerobic exercise such as running, aerobics, and even intercourse may cause your runny nose. But if you experience a runny nose while being active outdoors, the cause may be more realistically related to;

  • Allergies
  • Cold weather
  • Another irritant

If you experience a runny nose frequently while being active, you can ask your healthcare provider if a medication called Atrovent (ipratropium) would be a good choice for you. It relaxes the muscles around your airways so you can breathe better.

8

Crying

Hispanic woman crying being hugged by another woman

Sollina Images / Getty Images

Crying makes more tears than your body can drain. As a result, tears run over your cheeks. While crying, more tears flow through the lacrimal puncta into the nasolacrimal duct. This tube drains directly into your nose.

Crying naturally causes you to have a runny nose because of the way your tears drain from your eyes through the lacrimal puncta. The lacrimal puncta are small openings inside the eyelids. You are constantly generating tears to keep your eyes from drying out. These tears do not run down your cheeks like they do when you cry.

9

Chronic Sinusitis

Woman with sinusitis

Cecilie_Arcurs / Getty Images

The sinuses are four spaces or cavities located in your head. They are all connected through passageways. These sinuses are in charge of making mucus that drains from the nasal passageways into the nose. The mucus travels to the back of the throat so that you can swallow it.

As a result, the sinuses prevent bacteria and debris from being trapped inside your nose. When the sinuses get blocked, bacteria can grow and cause an infection.

If this occurs, you experience sinusitis. And if the sinusitis occurs for 12 weeks or more, it's called chronic sinusitis. One of the symptoms includes a runny nose. Other symptoms are:

  • Sinus drainage down the back of the throat
  • Facial pain
  • Facial pressure
  • Stuffy nose
  • Reduced sense of taste or smell

Not all sinus infections require medical treatment. They usually improve on their own. But some sinus infections require antibiotics. If you don't need an antibiotic, your doctor may recommend you treat it at home. These treatments include:

  • Using a saline nasal spray or decongestant nasal spray
  • Relieve nasal pressure by placing a warm moist cloth on your forehead or nose
  • Inhale steam from a warm shower or bowl of hot water


If you experience chronic sinusitis that does not respond to medication or at-home treatments, your doctor may recommend sinus surgery to treat the problem.

10

Sinus Polyps

Sinus polyps

Dmytro Bosnak / Getty Images

Sinus or nasal polyps are soft growths of tissue inside your nose and sinuses. They make it difficult for you to breathe. People who develop nasal polyps usually also have the following medical issues:

A runny nose is one of the symptoms of sinus polyps. But you may also experience:

If your doctor determines you have sinus polyps, they will first try to treat them through medication. If medication doesn't get rid of the polyps, your doctor will suggest surgery.

11

Deviated Septum

woman with deviated septum

Hello Africa / Getty Images

The septum is the bone and cartilage that separates the nasal cavity into the right and left sides. When it leans to one side of the nasal cavity, it is called a deviated septum. Deviated septums can cause breathing problems, including a runny nose. Other symptoms of a deviated septum are:

  • Stuffy nose
  • Difficulty breathing through either one or both nostrils
  • Repeated sinus infections
  • Noisy breathing in babies and children
  • Mouth-breathing while asleep in adults

Some people are born with a deviated septum. But you can also get a deviated septum because of an injury like a broken nose.

Most people don't need treatment for a deviated septum if their symptoms are mild. Some people with a deviated septum experience serious symptoms such as breathing problems or repeated sinus infections. In these cases, a doctor may recommend surgery called septoplasty. This type of surgery corrects the septum.

12

Spinal Fluid Leak

Spinal fluid leak

SCIEPRO / Getty Images

A special fluid surrounds your spinal cord and brain. This fluid is called the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). A membrane surrounds the fluid. When there's a tear in the membrane, the fluid can leak out. This can occur because of a:

Sometimes, a spinal leak occurs for no particular reason.

Drainage from the ear and the nose are both rare symptoms that can occur. You may also develop a headache that gets worse when you sit but decreases when you lie down.

Spinal fluid leaks are a rare occurrence. If the doctor determines you have a spinal fluid leak, they will first recommend treatments such as bed rest for up to two weeks. Other treatments may include saline infusions, IV caffeine infusions, and hydration. If those treatments don't work, your doctor may recommend surgery.


13

Churg-Strauss Syndrome

Woman blowing her nose

dowell / Getty Images

Churg-Strauss Syndrome, also known as Eosinophilic granulomatosis with polyangiitis (EGPA), is a rare disease where cells inside your tissues or blood become inflamed or swell. People who develop Churg-Strauss Syndrome have a history of asthma or allergies. It's a rare disease. But it can affect your lungs, sinuses, and nose. It can also affect the following:

In rare cases, Churg-Strauss Syndrome even affects the brain.

A runny nose is a common symptom of Churg-Strauss Syndrome. Other symptoms include:

If your doctor diagnoses you with Churg-Strauss Syndrome, they will most likely prescribe a steroid called prednisone if your symptoms are mild. This will reduce inflammation.

When prednisone doesn't help your condition, doctors may combine other medications with it. Some of these medications can only be used for a short period of time because of the risk of complications and side effects.

For example, they may also prescribe:

  • Methotrexate azathioprine
  • Mycophenolate mofetil
  • Cytotoxic agents such as cyclophosphamide
  • Mepolizumab


When to See a Doctor

A runny nose that isn't connected to a serious illness will usually go away on its own. But there are times you may need to see a doctor for a runny nose. You should visit your doctor if:

  • Your runny nose lasts more than 10 days
  • You have a high fever
  • You have a yellow or green discharge from your nose along with sinus pain or pressure
  • Your child has a runny nose on one side only and the fluid is bloody, green, or smells bad

Summary

If you have a runny nose, it may be caused by something as simple as the common cold. But that's not the only thing that can cause a runny nose. Allergies, cold air, exercise, crying, and spicy food can also make your nose run. But there are more serious causes too. If you experience a runny nose for more than ten days, you should contact your doctor. You should also contact your doctor if you experience severe symptoms that go along with your runny nose.

A Word From Verywell

No one wants to have a runny nose. But fortunately, you can often treat a runny nose by treating what causes it. If your runny nose is severe or lasts for more than 10 days, talk to your doctor. They can help you figure out what you need to do to find relief.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is a runny nose contagious?

    A runny nose is not contagious. But it can be a symptom of something that is contagious, such as the common cold. The flu is also easily passed from person to person. A runny nose is a common symptom of the flu.

  • Why is only one side of my nose runny?

    One side of your nose may be runny because of various reasons. You may have a deviated septum. In rare cases, you may have a spinal fluid leak. Another rare cause of a runny nose is nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer.

  • Is a constant runny nose serious?

    A constant runny nose may not be serious. But talk to your doctor if your runny nose lasts more than 10 days. You should also talk to your doctor if you have a runny nose along with other symptoms such as a high fever.

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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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