Rhinorrhea (runny nose) is a very common symptom. It most often happens due to allergies and viral infections (like a cold or the flu). But several other conditions can make your nose drip. A runny nose typically goes away on its own, but certain treatments can improve it.
Rhinorrhea (runny nose) is mucus (snot) dripping or “running” out of your nose. It has several possible causes, such as cold and/or dry air, allergies or the common cold. A related condition is rhinitis. Rhinitis is the inflammation of your nasal tissues.
The consistency and color of the mucus that runs out of your nose can vary. Allergies, eating spicy food and being in cold temperatures typically cause a more watery nasal discharge. When you have a cold or another infection, your body usually makes thicker mucus.
Rhinorrhea can occur on its own, but it often happens alongside the following symptoms:
Most cases of a runny nose are temporary, but some people can have chronic rhinorrhea.
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Several nasal structures and bodily processes can contribute to a runny nose, including:
The two most common causes of a runny nose include:
Allergens are harmless to most people. But if you have allergic rhinitis, your immune system thinks the allergen is intruding. Your immune system tries to protect your body by releasing histamine. It causes mucous membranes in your nose, eyes and throat to become inflamed and itchy as they work to eject the allergen. Histamine also causes a runny nose. Allergies typically cause more watery nasal discharge.
Breathing in a virus irritates the lining of your nose and sinuses (air-filled pockets around your face). Your nose starts to make a lot of clear mucus in response. This mucus traps the virus and helps flush it out of your nose and sinuses. If the virus makes it past your mucus lining, you get sick. Your body produces more mucus, which may change color and become white or yellow. Sometimes, the mucus may turn a greenish color.
Other causes of rhinitis include, but aren’t limited to:
In most cases, runny noses go away on their own. Generally, they don’t need treatment. But there are exceptions, including:
Rhinorrhea typically runs its course. There’s nothing you can do to immediately stop it. It usually goes away in time.
But certain at-home remedies and medicines may provide some relief.
Try the following to help with runny nose symptoms:
Certain over-the-counter (OTC) medications can help, including:
Check with your healthcare provider to see what over-the-counter medicines are appropriate for you. Always follow the instructions on the medications.
Unless your provider recommends it, don’t give over-the-counter cold medicines to a child under 6 years old.
How long a runny nose lasts depends on the underlying cause.
With a viral infection, such as a cold, a runny or stuffy nose can last up to 10 to 14 days. A runny nose from allergies usually lasts as long as you’re exposed to the allergen. If you’re allergic to pollen, it can last six weeks during pollen seasons in the spring, summer or fall.
You should see your healthcare provider if you’ve had a runny nose for more than three weeks that isn’t from a known allergy.
In some cases, a runny nose can lead to mild complications, including:
All of these conditions are treatable.
You can’t always prevent a runny nose. But there are steps you can take to try to avoid getting a viral infection. Here are some simple tips to stop germs from spreading:
When it comes to allergies, the following steps may help:
Runny noses are very common and often don’t require a visit with a healthcare provider. But you should talk to your provider if:
Yes, a runny nose is one of the possible symptoms of COVID-19. Other symptoms may include:
Teething doesn’t cause a runny nose. But it often causes excess drooling. If your baby has a runny nose while teething, it’s likely due to a viral infection (like a cold) or allergies.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Although a runny nose can be annoying, it’s often temporary and a sign that your immune system is working. Getting a runny nose in cold weather or when you have a cold, the flu or allergies is common. It usually doesn’t mean there’s an infection or something serious. Remember to use good hygiene practices to prevent a runny nose or similar issues. See a healthcare provider if your or your child’s runny nose seems unusual.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/28/2023.
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