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What are Causes of a Runny Nose?

Nicole Madison
Updated May 17, 2024
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There are many things that may cause a runny nose. The common cold, a type of respiratory infection caused by a virus, is one of the most likely culprits. It typically leads to a stuffy, runny nose, sore throat, and coughing; it may also cause a headache, low-grade fever, and appetite changes. Many people feel extra tired when they have colds as well. The common cold is highly contagious, but isn’t dangerous for most healthy people.

Sometimes allergies can cause a runny nose. For example, if a person is allergic to something like flowers or pollen, her nose will run whenever she has significant exposure to the allergen. The same goes for people who are allergic to cats and dogs. Their noses may run and they may have the urge to sneeze whenever these animals are in their presence.

Many people are most familiar with runny noses caused by allergies to things in the air, such as pollen and animal dander, but a runny nose can result from things people consume as well. For example, if a person is allergic to milk products, her nose may run when she consumes them. This is unlikely to be her only symptom, however. People with milk allergies often experience such symptoms as vomiting, hives, and wheezing. These symptoms may occur right away in some people; others may have symptoms that develop over a period of time, which include not only a runny nose, but also liquid-like and/or frequent bowel movements, cramps in the abdominal area, coughing, and rashes.

Bacterial infections can be responsible for a runny nose. If a person has a sinus infection, for example, her nose may run, and the nasal drippings may appear green or yellow and thick. Sometimes this drainage drips down the back of the throat in addition to exiting through the nose. A person with a sinus infection may also have difficulty breathing normally through her nose and experience pain in the area around the eyes, nose, and cheeks. She may suffer from fever, sore throat, nausea, and pain in the forehead, jaw, and teeth.

Discolored nasal drippings don’t always indicate a bacterial infection. Yellow or green mucus can be present with not only the common cold, but also other types of viral infections. However, a person may be able to tell the difference because she has a fever that is higher than that typical of viral infections. Additionally, her level of discomfort may alert her to the fact that she has something more than an everyday cold or run-of-the mill viral illness.

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Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison , Writer
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.

Discussion Comments

By MissDaphne — On May 13, 2012

@dfoster85 - Did your pediatrician tell you about other ways to help babies with runny noses? Just because they can't have medicine doesn't mean there is nothing you can do.

Using a cool mist humidifier will keep their nasal passages moist, which cuts down on the discomfort. With smaller babies who like their bouncy seats, you can also try taking them into the bathroom while you shower so that they get the steam.

And both babies and adults may get relief from a runny nose by sleeping with the head of their bed elevated. It promotes better drainage.

By dfoster85 — On May 12, 2012

With infants, runny nose can also be a sign of teething! It's really easy, though, to tell runny nose caused by teething to runny nose caused by a cold. A runny nose that's caused by a virus, or allergies, tends to get crusty and frankly pretty gross. If it's caused by teething, the mucus tends to be totally clear and you will not see the nose crust up.

Either way, apparently there's really nothing you can do to treat a runny nose in a small child. My pediatrician said that there is nothing they can take - medicine for them at that age is neither safe nor effective. Poor little thing, I hate to see him suffering.

Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison


Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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