Your nose is gushing like a fire hose and it’s really annoying. We get it–and you’re not dripping alone. After all, it’s virus season. And there are other things that can leave you with a runny nose: The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunologyestimates that more than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies every year. According to the Mayo Clinic, anything that irritates the inside of your nose can cause it to run.
The good news: you don’t have to simply stock up on tissues and be miserable. You can get relief from a runny nose by following a few simple steps.
First, you want to get to the root of the problem, so you can treat it effectively. Next, you want to assess all your options for remedies, and finally, you want to take things a step further with a few easy tricks to help stop this symptom in its tracks. Here’s how to accomplish all of this easily and quickly.
What are the causes of a runny nose?
“A person can develop a runny nose for a few different reasons,” says Zara Patel, MD, director of endoscopic skull base surgery and professor of otolaryngology and, by courtesy, of neurosurgery at Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, CA. “The most common reasons include a viral infection like the common cold.”
If you notice your nose runs in a specific area of your home, or during the fall or spring especially, you’re probably dealing with allergic rhinitis. “This means there’s inflammation of your nasal lining from allergic reactivity to something in the environment. It could be indoor or outdoor, and it could be seasonal or year round,” Dr. Patel continues.
A health condition you might not even know you have could also be the culprit. “Vasomotor rhinitis means that the normal balance between the input of your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems into your nose isn’t working right,” explains Dr. Patel. “There should be a ‘feedback loop’ that tells your nasal lining to stop producing mucus once the inside of your nose is humid enough—that’s how you breathe comfortably. If this ‘loop’ gets altered, mucus just keeps flowing instead of stopping. People with vasomotor rhinitis can have runny noses in cold environments, when they eat, or with changes in temperature. Over time, it can become a constant issue throughout the day.”
You can also develop vasomotor rhinitis as you get older, if you have had a stroke; head trauma or surgery on your head or neck; or if you have neurodegenerative disease, like Parkinson’s. An anti-cholinergic medication spray can treat vasomotor rhinitis—an example of one of these sprays would be Atrovent nasal spray (the generic name is ipratropium bromide). You can also have an ENT do a procedure to fix the problem.
“The last, least common reason why people develop a runny nose is if they have actually developed a connection between their brain and their nose, and the fluid running out is cerebrospinal fluid,” Dr. Patel explains. “This typically happens in people who have had head trauma, but also can develop spontaneously in people with increased intracranial pressure, often related to obesity. The fluid typically would be one-sided, clear and water-like, with a salty taste, and it would continue to drip out of your nose when your head is upside down. This is definitely something a rhinologist should be consulted about–you would need surgery to repair this type of connection, and protect your brain from meningitis.”
What’s the right way to treat a runny nose?
Start with the simplest solution: a steamy shower. The steam can deliver some much-needed moisture to your sinus passages. Steam inhalation can also open up congested nasal passages and take the pressure off your sinuses. You can also boil some water and inhale its steam for a few minutes, and repeat frequently.
OTC treatments can also be useful, but you really need to use them correctly. Decongestant nasal sprays “can be tricky,” says Amarbir Gil, MD, clinical professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. More specifically, these are sprays containing oxymetazoline or phenylephrine. “If you use them for too long, you can get rebound congestion, so don’t stay on one for longer than three to five days at a time.”
An effective alternative to nasal sprays: a neti pot. You can rinse mucus out of your nose quickly with one containing a saline solution, but you have to make sure you’re using it safely. The Food and Drug Administration advises only using sterile, distilled or boiled water. Tap water can contain bacteria that will stay in your nose and cause infection. Saline packets made for this purpose are sold in drugstores. You also want to follow all instructions that come with your neti pot, and consult your doctor before you use one if you have any conditions that affect your immune system.
You can also irrigate your nose with a saline rinse via a squeeze bottle device. Here’s Dr. Patel demonstrating how to rinse right.
“Follow that with an anti-inflammation spray, or an antihistamine spray–your doctor can prescribe these,” she says. Anti-inflammatory nasal sprays include products with ingredients such as triamcinolone (Nasacort AQ), fluticasone (Flonase), or sprays containing budesonide. An example of an antihistamine spray would be one containing azelastine (Astepro allergy). It’s a good idea to talk with your doctor to see if any of these is right for you or to zero in on which would be most helpful for you.
Of course, removing anything you’re allergic to from your surroundings will help, too.
Any cool tricks for “turning off the faucet”?
Yes, and believe it or not, knowing how to blow your nose the right way helps:
Put your finger against one of your nostrils, applying a little pressure.
Breathe in gently and then blow the opposite nostril. Be gentle, and do one nostril at a time.
Same with nasal sprays: there’s a right way to use them:
“Avoid spraying your septum, which is in the middle of your nose. It will not be effective, and will just dry out your nose,” says Dr. Gil. That could mean discomfort and nosebleeds. Instead, aim the nozzle toward the ear closest to the nostril you’re spraying. Hold the spray in your left hand if you’re spraying your right nostril.
Also, follow common sense advice for chasing sniffles, including getting extra sleep to help your body recover, using a humidifier to keep nasal passages moist, and drinking plenty of fluids.
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