The Lamen

Runny Nose 101: Causes and Remedies

by | Nov 29, 2022

Anything that irritates or inflames your nasal tissue might cause it to become runny. Medically referred to as rhinorrhea, a runny nose can be caused by bacteria, viruses, allergens, or changing temperature. A runny nose is a symptom that might be indicative of some other condition.

A runny nose is caused by something irritating the nasal tissue of the nose, or due to inflammation. This causes a watery discharge to drip from your nose, which can turn yellow or green after a few days. All of this is normal and generally does not mean an infection.

In medical terms, a runny nose is often referred to as rhinorrhea, which refers to the accumulation of excess mucus in the nasal cavity. Another term often used is rhinitis, which is the inflammation of the nasal tissues.

A runny nose is the body’s way of getting rid of any germs that might be irritating it. There are a few reasons why you might have a runny nose. The most common causes are:

  • common cold
  • cold weather
  • allergies
  • flu
  • sinusitis

When an allergen like dust or a virus enters your body, it irritates the lining of your nasal passages and sinuses. This causes your nose to make a lot of clear mucus, which traps the germs or allergens and helps flush them out of your nose.

Below, we look at some of the causes of runny nose, along with certain home remedies to help you get rid of it.

The common cold

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 200 viruses can cause a cold. Viruses are the most common cause of these, with adults having an average of 2 to 3 colds every year.

A cold can cause a person to have a runny nose. The symptoms of a cold usually peak within 2 to 3 days and can last for as long as two weeks. Other symptoms of a common cold include:

  • sneezing
  • nasal congestion
  • sore throat or coughing
  • watery eyes
  • mucus dripping down the throat
  • headaches
  • body aches
  • fever

Most cases of the common cold don’t require any treatment, and you usually get better within a week to 10 days. You should see a doctor if your symptoms worsen or you experience any of the following:

  • dehydration
  • trouble breathing
  • recurring fever
  • worsening of chronic medical conditions

Simply drinking plenty of fluids and breathing in steam usually alleviates the symptoms in most cases.


Allergies occur when a person’s immune system reacts to a particular substance – an allergen.

These allergens trigger an antibody response in the body, which leads to the release of a chemical called histamine. It causes inflammation, redness, or swelling, causing the irritation one experiences during an allergy.

Common allergens include pollen, dust, molds, and animal dander.

Besides a runny nose, the symptoms of an allergic reaction include:

  • pain around your cheeks, eyes, or forehead
  • breathlessness
  • sneezing, coughing, or wheezing
  • itchy skin or hives
  • swollen eyes, lips, mouth, or throat

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), the general treatment options for allergies include:

  • antihistamines
  • decongestants
  • nasal steroids

Antihistamines work by blocking histamine, the chemical responsible for triggering allergic reactions and inflammation. They come in the form of pills, liquids, nose sprays, and dissolving tablets.

Decongestants shrink the swollen membranes in the nose, reducing nasal congestion. However, they must be used with caution. According to the AAFA, using decongestants more than three days in a row can cause swelling and stuffiness in the nose to get worse.

Nasal steroids reduce swelling in the nose and congestion.


Sinusitis is an infection of the sinuses – the air pockets in the skull connected to your nasal cavities. Sinuses produce the mucus that keeps your nose moist and protects it from germs and allergens.

When these fluids cannot leave a person’s sinuses, they allow germs to grow. Sinus infections are commonly caused by viruses, but some bacteria can cause them as well.

Sinusitis and the common cold share many of their symptoms, which may cause you to confuse one for the other. The symptoms of a sinus infection include:

  • runny nose
  • facial pain
  • headache
  • sore throat or coughing

When the sinusitis symptoms last less than four weeks, it is referred to as acute sinusitis. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), acute sinusitis often goes away within a week to 10 days. However, a bacterial infection might develop in some cases.

If the symptoms of sinusitis go on for more than 12 weeks despite treatment, it is referred to as chronic sinusitis.

According to the CDC, certain factors can increase your risk of getting a sinus infection:

  • a previous cold
  • seasonal allergies
  • smoking or secondhand smoke exposure
  • structural problems with the sinuses
  • a weakened immune system

If your symptoms last more than 10 days even with treatment, or if you have had multiple sinus infections in the past year, you should consult a doctor.

Cold weather and nonallergic rhinitis

If you have a runny rose in cold weather with no other symptoms of allergies or other illnesses, it could be vasomotor rhinitis.

Commonly referred to as nonallergic rhinitis, this is caused by changes in temperature, humidity, or exposure to strong odors.

When the temperature around you lowers, your body produces extra mucus to warm and humidify the air that comes through your nose. This protects the mucus membranes in your nose from damage due to the dry, cold air.

Home remedies to stop a runny nose

A runny nose isn’t usually a cause for concern, with your body fixing itself in about a week. However, there are certain ways to manage a runny nose better and even recover from it more quicker.

Below are some at-home treatments and remedies that may help with a runny nose.

Hot tea

Hot tea is one of the easiest home remedies to get rid of a cold.

Herbal teas contain certain phytochemicals that can help with a runny nose and other common illnesses. | Credits: Pexels

While tea may not get rid of your cold, it can certainly ease symptoms like a runny nose or a sore throat. Drinking something warm provides relief and comfort compared to cold beverages.

There are multiple herbal teas that contain certain anti-inflammatory compounds which can help ease these symptoms. The best options include:

  • Chamomile tea. Anecdotal evidence suggests that chamomile tea can help boost the immune system. Studies indicate that inhaling steam with chamomile extract has been helpful in easing the symptoms of the common cold (1).
  • Green tea. The catechins in green tea can help alleviate cold symptoms, including a runny nose. Studies also show that regular consumption of green tea can reduce the instance of the common cold (2).
  • Ginger tea. Ginger has long been used as a home remedy for colds and sore throats. A review suggested that ginger can reduce inflammation, helping in preventing and soothing colds (3).

For the best possible benefits, you should consume teas that contain herbs with anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties. It is best to avoid drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages during illness as they can cause dehydration.

Drinking lots of fluids

Having a cold or a runny nose puts you more at risk of dehydration because you are less likely to drink enough fluids along with water loss from sweating or blowing your nose. This combined with water lost during activity or due to heat can cause your symptoms to worsen.

Staying hydrated when dealing with a runny nose helps ensure that the mucus in your sinuses thins out, allowing you to blow it out with ease.

Drinking electrolytes helps you feel better, regulated your blood pressure, and alleviates some of the tiredness you might feel.


Humidifiers can provide overnight relief and also allow for a better sleep during a cold.

Air humidifiers can help you sleep better during a cold. | Credits: Pexels

Humidifiers work by releasing water vapor or steam into the air, increasing moisture levels in the air.

A review of six trials found that inhalation of warm vapor led to an increase in nasal resistance (4).

Elevated nasal resistance can improve your ability to breathe along with helping with conditions like snoring and sleep apnea, although the results remain somewhat controversial.

As you breathe in the moisturized air, it helps thin out the mucus lodged in your sinuses. It may also reduce illness recovery time.

While using a humidifier might be helpful in preventing a runny nose, maintenance is just as important. If you don’t clean out the filters regularly, they can accumulate germs and other pathogens, which can further aggravate your symptoms.

A hot bath

Soaking in a hot bath is one of the easiest things you can do while experiencing a runny nose or cold. Not only does the warm water help relax your body, but the steam can help provide some temporary relief to your sinuses.

Neti pots

Neti pots are an increasingly popular home treatment for nasal congestion.

A neti pot resembles a small teapot and is used to flush out the buildup from the nose and sinuses. As long as you follow the safely guidelines and use the device as instructed, neti pots can help with temporary alleviation.

You should use the neti pot at a sink or in the shower to easily clean the dirt after. A neti pot should be used with a saline solution:

  • Boil 2 cups of water covered. Allow it to cool to room temperature.
  • Add 1 teaspoon of salt and a pinch of baking soda.
  • Stir until everything is dissolved.
  • Refrigerate in an airtight container. Do not store for more than 24 hours.

Here’s how you use a neti pot:

  • Add the saline solution to a clean, dry neti pot.
  • Bend over the sink or in the shower, looking down.
  • Tilt your head halfway.
  • Gently press the neti pot’s spout into the nostril that points towards the ceiling.
  • The neti pot shouldn’t touch your septum – the bone and cartilage that divides the two sides of your nasal cavity,
  • Tip the neti pot so that the saline solution reaches your nostril.
  • Continue to pour the solution through your nostril as it leaves through your other nostril.
  • Once all the solution has been used up, remove the neti pot from your nostril.
  • Bring your head back up and blow both nostrils to clear out your sinuses.
  • Clean out the remaining drip from your nose with a towel or tissue.

You should also be mindful of not overusing a neti pot, as it can lead to irritation of the nasal tissue. In most cases, using a neti pot three times a week provides relief to the patient.

Nasal spray

Nasal sprays are used to deliver medicine locally in your nasal cavities. They are used to treat nasal congestion and allergic rhinitis.

A common OTC treatment for a runny nose, nasal sprays use saline sprays to moisturize the irritated nostrils. A number of natural nasal sprays are also available. These derive chemicals from plant sources like ginger, capsaicin, and tea tree oil.


Chili peppers are one of the most common sources of capsaicin.

Capsaicin is an active compound commonly found in chili peppers like jalapeños. | Credits: Unsplash

Capsaicin is an active compound found in chili peppers. This is the chemical that generated a burning sensation when you eat something spicy.

Studies have shown that capsaicin can have a positive effect on several illnesses, including atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and stroke (5). As it turns out, it can also help with nasal congestion.

Eating something spicy can instantly open up your sinuses. You should, however, keep in mind that spicy foods can make your runny nose worse. It is best to try this method if you are experiencing a stuffy nose.

A warm compress

Putting a wet, warm cloth on your face multiple times a day can help relieve your sinuses. This helps by protecting your nose from dry air, which can damage your nasal cavities.

A warm compress also boosts blood circulation in your sinus area. To may your own warm compress, you simply need a clean cloth and hot water. Soaking the cloth in water and placing it on your forehead and nose for 15 to 20 minutes multiple times a day gets the best results.

While applying the wet compress, try keeping your head elevated. This allows for better drainage from the nasal passages.

How to get rid of a runny nose due to an allergy

Allergens are substances generally considered harmless, which can cause an allergic reaction. The easiest thing you can do is to avoid the allergen. This is, however, not always possible. Still, you should consider isolating yourself from an environment that can cause an allergic reaction.

Common allergy medications are available in OTC and prescription forms, including:

  • antihistamines
  • nasal corticosteroids
  • oral corticosteroids
  • nasal sprays

One of the most common such allergies is allergic rhinitis, commonly referred to as hay fever. In fact, it affects 10 to 20 percent of the population around the world.

Symptoms of allergic rhinitis are similar to that of a cold, including a runny nose, sneezing, and congestion. Pollen is the most common allergen in seasonal allergic rhinitis. Other common allergens include:

  • dust mites
  • animal dander
  • mold

Allergic rhinitis can be treated with OTC allergy medication like antihistamines, as well as with certain home remedies.

Tips to cope with a runny nose

While a runny nose is often not indicative of any major illness, the whole experience can be unpleasant. Even if you may not be feeling other symptoms besides a runny nose, it might be an indicator that you need to give your body some rest.

Here are some tips to make the experience less unpleasant, and provide some quick relief:

  • Get plenty of rest. A runny nose is a sign of your immune system fighting something off. This can leave you feeling tired and less attentive than usual. On such days, it is better to give your body some rest, hydrate, and relax with a warm bath.
  • Disinfect surfaces and fomites. A runny nose can often be caused by viruses that spread quite easily. To protect others from falling sick, wipe down surfaces and other articles with a disinfectant, and wash your clothes separately.
  • Use soft tissues. Continually wiping your dripping nose can leave the skin raw, causing a slight burning sensation every time you touch it. Using extra-soft tissues can help keep your skin intact and prevent further irritation. You can also purchase certain essential oil-infused tissues for some nasal relief.
  • Try the home remedies before bed. The hardest part about coping with a cold is the inability to sleep comfortably. This can slow down your recovery and make the experience more irritating. Practicing certain remedies before going to bed, like turning on the humidifier or cleaning out your sinuses before bed helps in getting you some essential sleep.

The important thing to know is that a runny nose goes away by itself in most cases. The best practices include staying hydrated, eating a heathy diet, and getting ample rest for a quick recovery.

How to prevent a runny nose

A runny nose is very common and can be caused due to cold temperatures, germs, allergies, or the flu. It is generally not serious, and the symptoms alleviate within a week to 10 days.

While preventing a runny nose is not as simple, there are certain measures you can take in case you experience it recurringly. For example, if you constantly experience a runny nose due to allergies to something specific, avoiding that thing altogether helps.

Avoiding activities like smoking or inhaling smoke or other pollutants can also help reduce your chances of a runny nose.

In case you experience a runny nose because of the common cold, drinking plenty of fluids, sucking on lozenges, and resting your body are plenty for a quicker recovery.

When to see a doctor

More than often, all a runny nose requires is some self-care. Occasionally, however, it can be a sign of a more serious problem.

If you experience any of the following, you should consider meeting up with your doctor:

  • fever lasts more than 10 days
  • high or recurring fever
  • facial swelling
  • worsening throat pain
  • experience sinus pain
  • nasal discharge is yellow or green or smells bad
  • flu-like symptoms
  • nasal discharge occurring after a head injury

Any serious symptoms could indicate certain chronic or acute conditions, like a sinus infection or rhinitis.

In a nutshell

Many things can cause a runny nose, including allergies, germs, and cold weather.

A runny nose is often self-clearing and does not require treatment. However, you can ease your symptoms by practicing certain home remedies, staying hydrated, and taking plenty of rest. OTC medications can also help with more serious symptoms.