Browse services
your locationFind care near me

Find Urgent Care today

Find and book appointments for:

Runny Nose

Symptoms, Causes, Treatments, Questions & Related Topics

Key Points

  • The article outlines the top 10 causes of a runny nose, including the common cold, hay fever, nonallergic rhinitis, the flu, chronic sinusitis, cold temperatures, spicy foods, nasal decongestant sprays, drug use, and nasal polyps or tumors.
  • The common cold and flu are viral infections affecting the upper respiratory tract, while hay fever is an allergy triggered by outdoor allergens.
  • Nonallergic rhinitis, which is not an allergic reaction, causes chronic congestion and sneezing, while chronic sinusitis is a long-lasting sinus inflammation.
  • Cold temperatures and spicy foods can cause your nasal cavity to produce more mucus, while prolonged use of nasal decongestant sprays can lead to swelling.
  • Other health conditions related to a runny nose include a deviated septum, post-nasal drip, and animal allergies.

Top 10 Runny Nose Causes

1. Common Cold

A common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract that can be transmitted through infected air droplets or direct contact with infected secretions. It mainly affects the nose, but can also cause problems in the throat, sinuses or larynx. Symptoms that generally appear 2–3 days after exposure include runny nose, cough, sore throat, fever and sneezing. Hundreds of different viruses can cause a common cold. Although colds can develop into pneumonia, the vast majority of them are self-limiting, and resolve in 2–3 weeks without medical treatment. There is no vaccine for the common cold.[1]

2. Hay Fever or Allergic Rhinitis

Hay fever is a very common condition or allergy where sneezing, watery eyes and an itchy or runny nose are caused by a reaction to outdoor allergens, including pollens from grass, weeds and trees.[2] It is most prevalent in spring, summer and early autumn. Some people with a condition known as “perennial allergic rhinitis,” however, are afflicted by it all year long. In addition to pollens, hay fever can be triggered by indoor allergens like pet hair, mold or dust mites. The nasal obstruction caused by hay fever can also make it impossible to sleep soundly, causing fatigue.

3. Nonallergic Rhinitis

Non-allergenic rhinitis causes chronic congestion, a runny nose and sneezing, but it does not involve an allergic reaction by your immune system. It typically causes a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing and post-nasal drip.[3] Unlike hay fever, though, it does not cause itching in the eyes or throat. Non-allergic rhinitis can be caused by a wide variety of factors. It can result from exposure to certain medications, foods or beverages, pollutants in the air or even changes in the weather. Sometimes, an underlying health problem can trigger it.[4]

4. Flu (Influenza)

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness with symptoms that can include a high fever, chills, sweats, nasal congestion and body aches. It usually comes on more rapidly than a common cold, though not everyone who contracts it gets a fever. Most people recover from influenza in 2 weeks or less. But some will develop pneumonia, which can be life-threatening.[5] Other serious complications of flu can include inflammation of the heart, brain or muscles. It can also cause organ failure or sepsis, an extreme inflammatory response throughout the body. Flu is particularly dangerous to children under 5, elderly persons, pregnant women and those with certain chronic conditions like heart disease and asthma.[6] The flu virus that causes it tends to change in intensity from one year to the next. Its most severe complications are often prevented by vaccination.

5. Chronic Sinusitis

Chronic sinusitis is defined as a sinus inflammation that lasts for more than 12 weeks despite attempts to treat it. Symptoms may include a thick discharge from the nose, reduced sense of smell, sinus pressureear ache, a cough that gets worse at night or aching in the upper jaw.[7] The condition can range from a mild irritation to a more severe problem causing high fever, swelling around the eyes, double vision and even mental confusion. It can be caused by an underlying medical condition like HIV, gastroesophageal reflux or nasal polyps. Untreated, chronic sinusitis can progress to meningitis or other serious infection.

6. Cold Temperatures

Chilly air is usually very dry. When you breathe it in, the vessels in your nasal cavity expand and start producing more mucus to protect the delicate tissues in your lungs.[8] Dry air on airplanes can also cause increased mucus production. Some people have a greater sensitivity to dry, cold air than others and are more predisposed to this reaction and often experience cold hands and cold feet.

7. Spicy Foods

When food makes you sneeze, your reaction is called “gustatory rhinitis.” Spicy foods usually contain a compound named capsaicin, which can act as an irritant.[9] When you ingest a lot of spices, the capsaicin in them causes your mucus membranes to react by causing extra mucus, which you feel as a runny nose. Although capsaicin will not generally do any real damage to your mouth or nose, your body does try to flush it out of your system.

8. Nasal Decongestant Sprays

Although nasal sprays and other cold medicines can bring relief initially, using them over a prolonged period can make you tolerant of their effects. When that happens, use of the decongestant can actually start to cause more swelling in your nose, sometimes causing a cycle of overuse and dependence.[10] With overuse, some people become unable to sleep at night without the help of the nasal spray. Physicians generally recommend that you use a spray decongestant for no more than three days at a time.

9. Prescription or Illicit Drug Use

Many common medications can cause non-allergic rhinitis. Among them are aspirin, ibuprofen, hypertension drugs, sedatives, antidepressants and oral contraceptives. A chronic runny nose or severe sinus pain are also common symptoms of illicit drug use. Cocaine, marijuana and other drugs can traumatize the cilia that clean the nasal passages, causing over-production of mucus.

10. Polyp, Tumor or Other Mass

Sinus and nasal polyps are usually benign. But they can block important drainage points and cause fluid buildup.[11] Symptoms of polyps can include a constant runny nose, facial tenderness or pain, pus draining from the front of the nose or a loss of sense of smell.[12] A medical examination is usually required to confirm that you have a polyp and not a more serious tumor, which can cause the same symptoms.

Possible Health Conditions Related to Runny Nose

Deviated Septum

The septum is a thin wall of cartilage and bone that divides the two nostrils. It’s said to be “deviated” when it is off-center or crooked. A deviated septum can exist from birth, develop gradually during childhood or be caused by an injury to the nose or throat area such as a broken nose. Though it often causes no symptoms, it’s important to seek medical help if you experience severe problems with:(13]

  • Difficulty breathing through one side of the nose
  • Nosebleeds
  • Sleep problems, such as apnea or severe snoring

Post-Nasal Drip

Post-nasal drip is an accumulation of an excessive amount of mucus in the throat or the back of the nose. The cause of post-nasal drip can be difficult for a doctor to diagnose. It’s most often treated with antihistamines.[14] Symptoms can include:

  • Chronic cough
  • Constant need to clear the throat
  • Nasal-sounding voice

Animal Allergies

Cats and dogs frequently cause an allergic reaction because they carry allergens in their fur, skin and bodily fluids. Though some people experience allergy symptoms immediately after contact with a pet, some develop them more gradually with continued contact. Severe pet allergies are sometimes treated through allergy shots. Symptoms include:

Questions Your Doctor May Ask You About Your Runny Nose

  • Do you have a cough or shortness of breath?
  • What color and type of liquid has been running out of your nose?
  • Have you had a fever in the past 24 hours?
  • Do you have a sore throat, facial pain or a headache?
  • Do you have any dental problems?

Runny Nose May Also Be Known as

  • Running nose
  • Snotty nose
  • Sniffly nose
  • Sniffling
  • Mucous discharge
  • Nasal congestion
  • Nasal discharge
  • Nasal mucous
  • Rhinorrhea

Frequently asked questions

  • What are the top causes of a runny nose?

    The top causes include the common cold, hay fever, nonallergic rhinitis, the flu, chronic sinusitis, cold temperatures, spicy foods, nasal decongestant sprays, drug use, and nasal polyps or tumors.
  • What is the difference between hay fever and nonallergic rhinitis?

    Hay fever is an allergic reaction to outdoor allergens, while nonallergic rhinitis causes similar symptoms but is not an allergic reaction.
  • How can cold temperatures and spicy foods cause a runny nose?

    Cold temperatures can cause the vessels in your nasal cavity to expand and produce more mucus. Spicy foods, especially those containing capsaicin, can cause your mucus membranes to produce extra mucus.
  • Can the use of nasal decongestant sprays cause a runny nose?

    Yes, prolonged use of nasal decongestant sprays can lead to swelling in your nose, which can cause a runny nose.
  • What are some other health conditions related to a runny nose?

    Some related health conditions include a deviated septum, post-nasal drip, and animal allergies.
  • Can drug use cause a runny nose?

    Yes, both prescription and illicit drugs can cause non-allergic rhinitis, which can result in a runny nose.
  • What are nasal polyps and how do they cause a runny nose?

    Nasal polyps are soft, painless, noncancerous growths on the lining of your nasal passages or sinuses. They can block drainage points and cause fluid buildup, leading to a runny nose.
  • Can chronic sinusitis cause a runny nose?

    Yes, chronic sinusitis, which is a sinus inflammation lasting more than 12 weeks, can cause a runny nose.

Related Health Concerns

Allergic Asthma


Allergy Test




Asthma Test

Bee sting

Canker Sore


Ear Infection

Eosinophilic Esophagitis

Food Allergies

Itchy Eyes

Itchy Skin




Solv App

Quality healthcare is just a
click away with the Solv App

Book same-day care for you and your family

Find top providers near you
Choose in-person or video visits
Manage visits on-the-go
Get the FREE App

This site uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By using Solv, you accept our use of cookies.