Having a runny nose is probably the most irritating thing, both for the person with it and for those watching it. In general, people's immediate reaction to a runny nose is to stay away from you or I'll get what you have.

A runny nose is called rhinorrhea and is caused by something irritating the nose or because of inflammation. Most people associate a runny nose with an upper respiratory infection such as the common cold.

Stopping a runny nose involves two basic strategies:

  1. Stop whatever is irritating the nose
  2. Take medications that will reduce the inflammation and therefore decrease the mucous production

What can cause a runny nose?

  • Upper respiratory infections such a cold or flu
  • Crying
  • Chilly weather
  • Infections: nasal, sinus or throat
  • Allergies
  • Non-allergic rhinitis (reacting to an irritant in the environment such as smoke or perfume)
  • Enlarged adenoid
  • Enlarged lining in the nose (inferior turbinates) and a deviated septum
  • Foreign body in the nose
  • Nasal polyps or tumors
  • Congenital abnormalities in children
  • Trauma or surgery can cause a runny nose which may be cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) (rare)

How to stop a runny nose

Drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated will thin mucus produced by mucous membranes. Every day, 1-2 liters of mucus are produced by the nose and throat. We swallow all that mucus without even knowing it. Warm liquids, clear broths, soup, decaffeinated tea, warm juices, and lemon water are especially good choices.

Get a good sleep. Your body needs recharging and sleep can help with many symptoms. Some studies show that your body produces new immune cells while you sleep as well as cytokines which can help fight inflammation and infection.

Warm compresses. These help with upper respiratory inflammation and infections. Not only are they soothing, but they also loosen mucus to help relieve nasal congestion. You can use one by moistening a washcloth with warm water. Make sure the cloth is not too hot or your skin will be burned.

Humidification. Warm steam like in a shower can do wonders for a runny nose. The nose and sinuses will drain more quickly, and the runny nose will be alleviated. Humidifiers that produce cool mist are also helpful. Your nose and sinuses will not drain properly when the air is dry, resulting in that runny nose that never stops.

Saline nasal spray. One of the greatest therapeutic inventions in ENT is saline nasal spray. In addition to removing allergens and pathogens, nasal saline spray also conditions the mucosal lining within the nose and sinuses. It thins the mucus so it can be easier to remove.

Spicy foods. The most common chemical in spicy food is capsaicin. While the heat from peppers may worsen your runny nose at first, it actually will relieve your runny nose with time since it increases your metabolism.

Use the right over the counter medications. Most medications have a combination of antihistamines, decongestants, and mucus thinning agents. One of the oldest, tried, and true medications used to treat a runny nose is guaifenesin. It does not treat chronic conditions such as coughs or breathing problems, but it relieves nasal congestion, stops a runny nose, and makes breathing easier. Children younger than 6 cannot use it.

The best etiquette for a runny nose

You should be aware that you may have a cold or flu that is transmissible to other people. Most of the time runny nose signals of a viral illness, so you should use these common-sense tips:

Isolate. Stay at home and keep children at home.

Avoid close contact with others. For example, we used a safe distance to prevent COVID. That means avoiding hugging, kissing, and shaking hands.

If you cough, sneeze, or blow your nose, make sure you cover your mouth and nose and throw the tissue away. An effective way to avoid spreading any illness is to sneeze into your sleeve and completely cover your mouth and nose.

Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.

Use disinfectants for surfaces, especially doorknobs, countertops, and other items that children touch such as toys.

If your runny nose persists, it may be time to see your healthcare provider, especially if you also have other symptoms like a fever.

Resources:

Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/runny-nose/basics/causes/sym-20050640

Mount Sinai https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/symptoms/stuffy-or-runny-nose-adult

Stanford Medicine https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/service/ear-nose-throat/conditions/chronic-rhinorrhea

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