Nose won't stop running

Hi Alice,

My nose is continually running even though I don't have a cold. I keep on blowing it but it runs and then it plugs up. This cycle happens all the time. Help me, Alice!

Dear Reader, 

The nose is your body’s natural filter and humidifier. It acts as a barrier to bacteria and other germs, allergens, and dust entering the lungs. When there's a high presence of these harmful materials in the air, your mucosa (the inner lining of your nasal cavity) thickens to trap them before they enter the lungs. While it might be tempting to continuously blow your nose to get rid of that runny feeling, it could be potentially damaging. Repeatedly blowing your nose can cause anything trapped in the mucosa to be propelled deeper into the sinus chambers and down into the lungs. Moreover, it can irritate the tiny blood vessels in the nostrils causing inflammation and congestion. You mention that your nose has been continually running even though you don’t have a cold. It’s recommended that you seek advice from a medical professional if your symptoms have continued for more than ten days with little to no improvement. 

In the meantime, you may want to consider the cause of your nosy nuisance. Runny noses are notorious during the cold season, and can persist due to pesky allergens, reactions to seasonal change, stress, hormonal shifts, and environmental irritants. Conditions like Chronic Sinusitis, Chronic Rhinorrhea, or Rhinitis can be a potential explanation for your on-going runny and stuffy nose. Common symptoms of these conditions include a runny nose, nasal itching, nasal congestion, and sneezing. Your pesky runny nose might also be brought on by one of the following culprits: 

  • Allergies. These can be caused by a multitude of irritants, both large and small. Common allergens that trigger a runny nose include pollen, mold, animal dander, house dust, dust mites and cockroaches, and some foods. A health care provider may prescribe steroids (oral or nasal spray) or antihistamines if your symptoms are from allergies. 
  • Viral infections. Infections like the common cold can cause swelling of the nasal membranes and production of thick, clear mucus. If it persists for many days and your mucus becomes yellow or green, it may have become secondarily infected by bacteria. 

Instead of constantly blowing your nose, you may try the following strategies to help mitigate your symptoms: 

  • Hold a tissue under your nose to "catch" what's running out. This gentler treatment may help you begin to dry up. 
  • Sit in a steam room or hot shower. 
  • Eat hot and spicy foods to help clear out your sinuses! 
  • Use a nasal irrigation device to flush mucus out of the nasal passages (also called neti pots or rise bottles). 
  • Cover your nose and blow very gently through one nostril. 

To fix this leaky faucet and determine the best course of action, it’s recommended that you speak with a health care provider. It's helpful to discuss your symptoms, factors that cause additional drippage (including details such as how thick or thin the mucus is and the color), and about any medications that you may be taking. Please, breathe easy and be gentle with your nose—clearer passages are hopefully coming your way! 

Last updated Sep 01, 2023
Originally published Jun 12, 1998

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