Definition of rhinorrhea (runny nose)
Runny nose is excess drainage, which may range from a clear fluid to thick mucus, produced by the nasal and adjacent tissues and blood vessels in the nose. The drainage of runny nose may run out of your nose or down the back of your throat or both.
The terms “rhinorrhea” and “rhinitis” are often used interchangeably to refer to a runny nose. Strictly speaking, rhinorrhea refers to a thin, relatively clear nasal discharge. Rhinitis refers to inflammation of the nasal tissues from a number of causes, which usually results in a runny nose.
Nasal congestion may or may not accompany runny nose.
Causes of rhinorrhea (runny nose)
Runny nose can be caused by anything that irritates or inflames the nasal tissues. Infections — such as the common cold and influenza — allergies and various irritants may all cause a runny nose. Some people have a chronically runny nose for no apparent reason — a condition called nonallergic rhinitis or vasomotor rhinitis (VMR).
Less commonly, runny nose can be caused by polyps, a foreign body, a tumor or migraine-like headaches.
Causes of runny nose include:
- Acute sinusitis
- Bright lights
- Chronic sinusitis
- Churg-Strauss syndrome
- Cluster headache
- Cold temperature
- Common cold
- Decongestant nasal spray overuse
- Deviated septum
- Drug addiction
- Dry air
- Dust mite allergy
- Food allergy
- Hay fever
- Hormonal changes
- Influenza (flu)
- Latex allergy
- Lodged object
- Milk allergy
- Mold allergy
- Nasal polyps
- Nonallergic rhinitis
- Occupational asthma
- Other infections
- Peanut allergy
- Pet allergy
- Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
- Shellfish allergy
- Soy allergy
- Spicy foods
- Spinal fluid leak
- Tobacco smoke
- Wegener’s granulomatosis
- Wheat allergy
When to see a doctor
A runny nose may be annoying and uncomfortable, but it usually clears up on its own. A runny nose or stuffy nose is usually just an annoyance. But it can be a sign of a more serious problem, and it may be serious in infants.
Call your doctor if:
- Your symptoms last more than 10 days.
- You have a high fever, particularly if it lasts more than three days.
- Your nasal discharge is green and is accompanied by sinus pain or fever. This may be a sign of a bacterial infection.
- You have asthma or emphysema, or you’re taking immune-suppressing medications.
- You have blood in your nasal discharge or a persistent clear discharge after a head injury.
Call your child’s doctor if:
- Your child is younger than 2 months and is running a fever.
- Your baby’s runny nose or congestion causes trouble nursing or makes breathing difficult.
Until you see your doctor, try these simple steps to relieve symptoms:
- Sniffing and swallowing or gently blowing your nose.
- If the runny nose is a persistent, watery discharge, particularly if accompanied by sneezing and itchy or watery eyes, your symptoms may be allergy-related and an over-the-counter antihistamine may help. Be sure to follow the label instructions exactly.
- For babies and small children, use a soft rubber suction bulb to gently remove any secretions.
Try these measures to relieve postnasal drip — when excess mucus accumulates in the back of your throat:
- Avoid common irritants such as cigarette smoke and sudden temperature changes.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Use a humidifier.
- Try nasal saline sprays or rinses.