What’s a runny nose?
A runny nose is mucus dripping or “running” out of your nose. It can be caused by colder outdoor temperatures, a cold, flu or allergies.
“Rhinorrhea,” a term often used alongside the phrase “runny nose,” is the thin, mostly clear discharge you might see. Another term you might often see is “Rhinitis.” Rhinitis is the inflammation of your nasal tissues.
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 (or air-filled pockets around the face) and your nose starts to make a lot of clear mucus. This mucus traps the bacteria, virus 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.
What Causes Runny Nose?
A runny nose can be caused by:
- Common cold
- Sinus infection
Congestion and runny nose are often seen together. Usually, the congestion goes away within a week.
Congestion can also be caused by:
- Using nasal drops or sprays for more than three days that were bought without a prescription
- Hay fever (allergy caused by dust or pollen) or other allergies
- Nasal polyps (sac-like growths of the inflamed tissue lining the sinuses or nose)
- Vasomotor rhinitis (a condition where the blood vessels inside your nose dilate)
- Cold temperatures
- Gustatory rhinitis (nonallergic rhinitis causing runny nose when you eat certain foods)1
Symptoms of Runny Nose:
- A runny nose, stuffy nose, or congested nose are often seen together. When the tissues lining the nose become swollen, it causes congestion, making it hard to breathe. This swelling is caused by inflamed blood vessels.
- A runny nose caused by allergies may be accompanied by itchy, watery eyes and sneezing.
- A runny nose caused by flu or cold may be accompanied by sore throat, fatigue, cough, sometimes fever, and facial tightness.
Much like a humidifier or a hot cup of tea, a facial steam can help loosen mucus and relieve your runny nose. Here’s how to do it:
- Heat water in a clean pot on your stove, just enough so that steam is created — DON’T let it reach a boil.
- Place your face about 8 to 12 inches above the steam for about 5 minutes at a time. Don’t let your face touch the water. Close your eyes and take deep breaths through your nose. Take breaks if your face gets too hot.
- Blow your nose afterward to get rid of mucus.
- Repeat the process 2 or 3 times a day if you still have symptoms.
If desired, add a few drops of decongestant essential oils to your facial steam water. About 2 drops per ounce of water is sufficient.
Eucalyptus, peppermint, pine, rosemary, sage, spearmint, tea tree (melaleuca), and thyme essential oils are great options. Compounds in these plants (like menthol and thymol) are also found in many over-the-counter (OTC) decongestants.
If you don’t have these essential oils, you can use these herbs in dried form instead. Make your facial steam into an herbal tea and inhale the vapors — you’ll get the same benefits.
According to a 2019 study, inhaling warm steam from a humidifier significantly improves mucus buildup caused by allergic rhinitis.
Similarly, a 2015 study of people with the common cold found that using steam inhalation was quite effective. It reduced illness recovery time by about 1 week compared to no steam inhalation at all.
Humidifiers work by transforming water into vapor to moisten otherwise dry air. When you breathe in moisture, it helps to thin and dislodge mucus and soothe irritated sinuses.
If you decide to use a humidifier, it’s important to clean it regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Otherwise, it can become a breeding ground for microorganisms such as mold and bacteria, which can exacerbate sinus problems.
On the other hand, hot beverages like tea may sometimes be more helpful than cold ones. This is because of their heat and steam, which help open and decongest airways.
Certain herbal teas contain herbs that are mild decongestants. Look for teas that contain anti-inflammatory and antihistamine herbs, such as chamomile, ginger, mint, or nettle.
Make a cup of hot herbal tea (preferably noncaffeinated) and inhale the steam before drinking. Sore throats often accompany runny noses — drinking hot herbal tea can help soothe a sore throat, too.
Drink plenty of fluids
Drinking fluids and staying hydrated when dealing with a runny nose can be helpful if you also have symptoms of nasal congestion.
This ensures that mucus in your sinuses thins out to a runny consistency and is easy for you to expel. Otherwise, it may be thick and sticky, which can make your nose more congested.
Avoid beverages that dehydrate rather than hydrate. This includes drinks like coffee and beverages containing alcohol.
MIMI (Multi ion mask insert)
- Can be worn with any facemask and provides additional heavy-duty protection.
- Adult & Youth Sizes Available
Need some quick relief? Try a hot shower. Just like humidifiers and facial steam, a shower’s hot vapors can help alleviate a runny and stuffy nose.
Place your face and sinuses directly in the steam and spray of the shower for best results.
Using a neti pot for nasal irrigation (also called nasal lavage) is a common approach to sinus issues. This includes runny nose problems and discomfort.
Neti pots are small teapot-like containers with a spout. You add a warm saline or saltwater solution to the pot and then pour the solution through one nostril and out the other. This rinses out your sinuses quite thoroughly.
You can purchase a neti pot kit at your local pharmacy, store, or online. Make sure to follow directions for your neti pot exactly. Improper use of neti pots can, on rare occasions, make runny noses worse or cause sinus infections.
Make sure to use sterile and distilled water rather than tap water.
Nasal sprays are a common OTC treatment for a runny nose. While medicated nasal sprays are available, saline nasal sprays are a natural treatment to help rinse the nose.
Much like nasal irrigation, they target nasal congestion and mucus using gentle salt water.
According to a 2021 study of people with upper respiratory infections, the use of a saline nasal spray improved symptoms including a runny nose, nasal congestion, and sleep quality.
You can purchase a saline nasal spray at a neighborhood pharmacy or online.
Applying a warm compress or washcloth to your forehead and nose several times per day may help improve your runny nose and soothe sinus pressure.
A warm compress works by boosting blood circulation in your sinus area. A washcloth or wet compress can help break up nasal stuffiness by adding moisture to the air you breathe.
To make your own warm compress at home, soak a clean cloth in hot (not boiling) tap water and place it across your forehead and nose for 15 to 20 minutes. Reapply as needed.
Eating spicy foods
Spicy foods can make a runny nose worse. However, if you’re also having symptoms of nasal congestion, eating spicy foods may help.
If you can tolerate a bit of heat in your food, give it a try. If you’re unaccustomed to spiciness, try a small amount of spicy seasoning at first to see if it helps.
Hot spices like cayenne pepper, ghost pepper, habanero, wasabi, horseradish, or ginger are great options. These spices, while also creating a feeling of heat when eaten, dilate passageways in the body and can relieve sinus issues.
Capsaicin is the chemical that makes chili peppers spicy. It’s been used to treat nerve pain and psoriasis, but if you apply it on your nose, it can help with a runny nose caused by congestion.
Several studies have found that capsaicin is more effective at treating runny noses than the OTC medication budesonide.
How to get rid of a runny nose due to an allergy
When a runny nose is caused by an allergy, the easiest way to clear it up is to avoid the allergen. For example, if you are allergic to ragweed, stay inside on days when ragweed pollen counts are high. Instead of opening your windows, use a fan or air conditioner to cool your home.
Keep in mind, however, that it’s not always possible to completely avoid allergens. If you’re allergic to pet dander, for instance, you might not be able to avoid all contact with pets. Still, limiting contact or removing yourself from the situation will typically relieve your symptoms.
Other common allergy treatments to clear up a runny nose caused by an allergy include the following OTC and prescription drugs:
- nasal and/or oral corticosteroids
- nasal sprays
If you have a severe allergy, your doctor might suggest other treatments, such as allergy drops.
Tips for coping with a runny nose
A runny nose is a sign of an immune system reaction. Your immune system is working, which could leave you feeling more tired than usual. Although you might not have other symptoms, you should still go easy on yourself.
To cope with a runny nose, try the following:
- Get lots of rest. Make sure your runny nose doesn’t get in the way of your sleep — take a shower before bed or use a humidifier in your bedroom.
- Stay hydrated. To prevent dehydration, make sure you’re taking in plenty of fluids.
- Blow your nose. Use a soft tissue to wipe or blow excess mucus from your nasal passages.
- Wash your hands. Avoid spreading germs by frequently washing your hands with soap and water.
- Disinfect surfaces. Take a moment to wipe down surfaces and items that you touch regularly with a disinfectant.
- Stay home. Even if you don’t have other symptoms, it’s a good idea to stay home when you have a runny nose so you don’t get others sick.
There are many home remedies you can try to get relief from a runny nose without using medication.
None of these remedies are designed to actually cure or completely get rid of the underlying cause of a runny nose — namely colds, viral infections, or allergies.
These approaches will only give you relief. Make sure to seek more direct treatment if you’re experiencing colds, viruses, and allergies, or have other concerning symptoms.