The 4 Most Common Causes Of A Runny Nose

By Ashley Henshaw. May 7th 2016

Having a runny nose is a constant nuisance. As you watch the used tissues pile up, you'll start to wonder just what is causing this symptom. Here is a list of the most common causes of runny noses to help you clear up this problem. Read on to find out what's causing your runny nose and how to fix it fast.

1. Common Cold

A viral respiratory infection known as the "common cold" is the most likely culprit for your runny nose problems. Though this tends to strike most often as the weather cools down in fall and winter, it can occur at any time of year. Though it is relatively harmless, the common cold can sometimes be difficult to diagnose because over 100 viruses can trigger it, says The Mayo Clinic.

It's important to know what symptoms to watch for to figure out if the common cold is the cause of your runny nose. Typical symptoms of the common cold (along with a runny nose) include:

Keep in mind that what sets this cause of a runny nose apart from some of the other common causes is that there is little to no fever that occurs with the symptoms. Also, watch for the discharge from your runny nose to become thicker and yellow or greenish as your cold runs its course. There is no cure for the common cold, but you may be able to use some over-the-counter drugs to relieve your symptoms. When it comes to your runny nose, consider trying decongestant nasal sprays (as long as you're an adult - these sprays are not recommended for children).

2. Influenza

The flu is a viral infection affecting the respiratory system and one of the most common triggers of a runny nose. People such as children, seniors, pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses are more susceptible to getting the flu. These people should be sure to get a flu vaccination annually.

Along with a runny nose, some of the key symptoms of the flu to watch for are:

  • Chills and sweats
  • Aching muscles
  • Significant fatigue
  • Nasal congestion
  • Fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit

For relatively healthy individuals who don't fall into one of the at-risk groups listed above, bed rest and lots of fluids usually treat the flu. Those who are at risk or who are experiencing severe flu symptoms should see a doctor to receive antiviral medications. According to MedicineNet, most people recover from the flu in one to two weeks.

3. Hay Fever

Allergies are caused by the immune system reacting to a substance that, although harmless, is perceived as dangerous. Allergic reactions can vary widely from very mild to extremely severe depending on how allergic a person is to a certain substance.

A runny nose is most often associated with a particular allergic reaction called hay fever. With hay fever, individuals are typically allergic to pollen, pet dander and/or dust mites. The other symptoms of hay fever include:

  • Congestion
  • Itchy nose
  • Watery, itchy or swollen eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Sinus pressure
  • Altered sense of smell or taste

These symptoms are often worse during spring, summer and fall. Hay fever can be treated with antihistamines, nasal sprays and decongestants. These should alleviate the runny nose, at least for a period of time. It's also helpful for people with hay fever to try to avoid the substances with trigger their allergic reactions.

4. Sinusitis

Sinusitis occurs when the areas around the sinuses (nasal passages) become swollen or inflamed. This can lead to a build-up of mucus that triggers the runny nose associated with this condition. Sinusitis is often caused by the common cold, but it may also result from allergic reactions, fungal infections or the presence of bacteria.

Other symptoms to watch for with sinusitis include:

  • Difficulty breathing due to nasal congestion
  • Thick yellow or greenish discharge from the nose
  • Swelling and pain around the eyes, forehead, nose and cheeks
  • Reduced sense of taste and smell
  • Coughing
  • Aching in the teeth and upper jaw

In most cases, sinusitis can be treated at home with decongestants, nasal sprays and over-the-counter pain relievers. Though these treatments can't cure hay fever, they usually make the condition much more comfortable so that those who have it can continue with their daily routine.

When to See a Doctor

Although most of the causes of a runny nose are relatively harmless, there are a few more serious conditions that could result from this innocuous symptom. It's important to see a doctor if your runny nose leads to more serious symptoms such as a persistent fever, vision changes, severe headaches, confusion or a stiff neck. In these cases, the symptoms may be a sign of something more serious that requires immediate medical attention.

Additionally, keep in mind that a runny nose could be caused by some type of accident that requires immediate medical attention. One example is an object being lodged in the nose, which obviously occurs more with children than with adults. Another example is a traumatic brain injury or other trauma to the head. If either of these situations occur, seek medical help right away.

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