How to get rid of a runny nose from both allergies and illness

A runny nose can be caused by allergies or things like a cold, temperature change, or irritants in the air. Westend61/Getty Images
  • The first step to stopping a runny nose is determining if it is caused by allergies or something else – like a cold, the flu, temperature changes, or irritants like perfume.
  • If you have a runny nose because of allergies, your best bet is to take an antihistamine.
  • But if you have a runny nose because of something besides allergies, try methods like using a humidifier, applying a warm wet cloth to your face, or using a nasal saline rinse.
  • This article was reviewed by Tania Elliott, MD, who specialises in infectious diseases related to allergies and immunology for internal medicine at NYU Langone Health.
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If you have a runny nose, chances are you’re suffering from rhinitis. Rhinitis is an inflammation of the nasal passages, which often comes with a side of congestion, nasal discharge, sneezing, an irritated throat, cough, and fatigue.

There are two types of rhinitis: allergic and nonallergic. Allergic rhinitis is associated with allergies. When you have an allergy, your body releases a chemical called histamine, which triggers the mucous glands in your nose to ramp up production, causing a runny nose. A common form of allergic rhinitis is environmental allergies from irritants such as:

  • Tree pollen
  • Grasses and weeds
  • Mould
  • Dust mites
  • Pet dander

Nonallergic rhinitis doesn’t involve histamines. It’s basically what’s causing your runny nose if allergies aren’t the culprit. And that can cover a wide range of triggers including:

  • Viruses that cause colds and flu
  • Rapid temperature changes
  • Emotions like severe sadness
  • Hormones
  • Irritants such as strong fragrances and smoke

It’s important to know what type of rhinitis is causing your runny nose because that will ultimately determine how you should treat it.

How to stop a runny nose

If you’re suffering from allergic rhinitis, the best way to alleviate symptoms is to reduce the histamine levels in your body. That’s where antihistamine medications can help. But avoid sedating antihistamines – an ingredient in multi-symptom relief products – because it can have side effects including dry mouth, urinary retention, and in some cases, possible memory impairment.

If, however, you’re suffering from some form of nonallergic rhinitis, especially if you have a cold or flu, try the following.

  • Blow your nose. But make sure to blow through one nostril at a time. Otherwise, you can generate pressure that shoots the mucus into your sinuses instead of draining them out.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. This can help keep your nasal tissues moist, which can loosen any congestion.
  • Using a humidifier can make indoor allergies such as dust mite and mould allergies worse, but too dry of a room can also irritate the nasal passages. The goal is to keep the relative humidity of the home at around 40-50 per cent. If it’s higher than that, you create an environment wherein dust mites and mould will thrive.
  • Applying a warm wet cloth to your face several times a day can help relieve your sinuses, which might be irritated from the dry air.
  • Using a nasal saline rinse can wash away allergens, viruses, and bacteria from the nose and help clear out any trapped mucus.
  • When sleeping, try to keep your head elevated and try using nasal strips. Keeping your head elevated allows for better drainage from nasal passages, and nasal strips widen the nasal passages to give more room for congestion to clear.
  • Decongestants dry out and shrink inflamed nasal passages. But overuse of decongestants can cause jitteriness and increased blood pressure. Doctors recommend using decongestants for no more than three days.

And if your rhinitis – allergic or nonallergic – becomes chronic, this can increase your risk of getting a bacterial infection. If that happens, see a doctor who can prescribe you antibiotics.

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