Runny Nose

Was this helpful?
10

What is runny nose?

Runny nose (rhinorrhea) is a common symptom of allergy, infection, inflammation, or even physical irritation. Runny nose results from discharge secreted by the mucous membranes lining the inside of your nose. It may occur in conditions affecting the nose itself or along with more generalized conditions, such a common cold or hay fever.

Inflammation of the nose (rhinitis) is a common cause of runny nose. Other common causes include the common cold (viral respiratory infection), influenza (flu), and sinusitis (inflammation or infection of the sinuses). Inserting objects into your nose can also produce a runny nose. Depending on the cause, runny nose may occur briefly, off and on, or all the time. Your runny nose may be accompanied by redness, itching and sneezing.

Allergic reactions can lead to runny nose, especially in cases of hay fever (allergic rhinitis). In rare cases, runny nose is a symptom of a serious head injury due to trauma to the brain. Overuse of nasal sprays, especially decongestants, is another cause of runny nose.

Runny nose alone is rarely serious; however, it can be a sign of a serious and life-threatening head injury or trauma. If you, or someone you are with, experience clear fluid running out of the nose in the absence of other cold or flu symptoms or as a result of a head injury or trauma, seek immediate medical care (call 911).

If your runny nose is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.

What other symptoms might occur with runny nose?

Runny nose may accompany other symptoms that vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the respiratory system may also involve other body systems.

Respiratory symptoms that may occur along with runny nose

Runny nose may accompany other symptoms affecting the respiratory system including:

  • Cough that gets more severe over time
  • Coughing up clear, yellow, light brown, or green mucus
  • Nasal congestion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Wheezing (whistling sound made with breathing)

Other symptoms that may occur along with runny nose

Runny nose may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, runny nose may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition from a head injury or trauma that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have a head injury with any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

  • Change in mental status or sudden behavior change, such as confusion, delirium, lethargy, hallucinations, and delusions
  • Clear fluid discharge from the nose in the absence of other cold or flu symptoms
  • Deformity of the head
  • Fainting or change in level of consciousness or lethargy
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Severe headache
  • Uncontrollable bleeding

What causes runny nose?

Runny nose results from discharge secreted by the mucous membranes lining the inside of your nose. Allergic reactions are a common cause of runny nose. Such reactions may be caused by pollen (hay fever), animal dander, foods, or medicines.

Inflammation of the nose (rhinitis) is a common cause of runny nose. Other common causes include the common cold (viral respiratory infection), influenza (flu), or sinusitis (inflammation or infection of the sinuses). Inserting objects into your nose can also produce a runny nose.

Common causes of runny nose

Runny nose may have common causes including:

Other causes of runny nose

Runny nose can also have other causes including:

  • Injury or trauma to head
  • Medications that treat conditions like high blood pressure and erectile dysfunction
  • Objects in the nose (usually in children)
  • Overuse of nasal sprays
  • Structural abnormalities such as polyps and tumors

Serious or life-threatening causes of runny nose

In some cases, runny nose may be a symptom a traumatic injury to the head, a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting.

Questions for diagnosing the cause of runny nose

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your runny nose including:

  • How long have you had a runny nose?
  • When does your nose run?
  • Do you have allergies?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of runny nose?

Because runny nose can be due to a serious head injury or trauma, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Brain damage
  • Infection
  • Paralysis
  • Unconsciousness and coma
Was this helpful?
10
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 7
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Stuffy or runny nose - children. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003051.htm
  2. Common cold. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000678.htm
  3. Domino FJ (Ed.) Five Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.