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What is Rhinorrhea?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Rhinorrhea is the complex name for the condition most people would describe as runny or dripping nose. It is usually a symptom of other things, and most people can name plenty of conditions that might cause it. The way it is treated may depend on underlying disease factors, and from time to time no treatment is needed, with rhinorrhea quickly resolving.

Sometimes rhinorrhea is runny and stuffy nose. This might particularly occur with conditions such as sinus infection. The nose can feel more plugged than running at times and blowing the nose may become difficult as mucus builds in the sinus passages and is affected by bacterial build-up. The general treatment for runny nose of this type is to give antibiotics. On occasion, decongestants or saline nasal rinses are recommended too, though the former may not be effective until sinuses start to drain.

Colds and viruses may cause rhinorrhea, and there are a number of strategies that help improve comfort. These could, again, include using decongestants or nasal rinses. Most people might note slight decrease of runny nose symptoms with these measures. Sadly, they’re usually not fully effective and people won’t achieve total relief until they’ve recovered from the illness.

Antihistamines might treat rhinorrhea resulting from conditions like allergies. Oral or spray antihistamines may reduce runny nose or eliminate the condition completely. Another way to address allergic runny nose is with steroid nasal sprays. When these are used regularly they can greatly alleviate nasal symptoms.

Certain types of runny nose could suggest other problems. Children who have profuse congestion that also smells bad are usually examined to make sure they have nothing up their nose. Very often, they do have something up their nose. Removing it is necessary and it might be equally necessary to treat for sinus infection caused by the foreign body.

More benign are conditions that create rhinorrhea for a short period of time. Cutting up onions might result in running nose, and a walk in the cold air can also cause this condition. This does not mean that every case of runny nose is without concern.

In rare circumstances, injuries to the head that include skull fractures cause spinal fluid to run out the nose. Such an event might also occur when people have certain types of brain tumors. Especially in children, gastrointestinal reflux disease may be diagnosed when children appear to have chronically runny nose.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By amysamp — On Sep 27, 2011

I am pretty lucky, at least when it comes to rhinorrhea. I mostly only get rhinorrhea when I am near or eating certain foods, especially spicy foods. I do occasionally get a cold or sinus infection which causes my nose to run and/or be congested, but it usually is only a couple times a year.

Even just dealing with rhinorrhea a couple of times a year, it is still annoying and unpleasant. I don’t enjoy carrying tissues with me everywhere I go and wiping my nose in the most horrific of places sometimes.

I feel sorry for children and adults alike that have to deal with rhinorrhea on a regular basis. I remember my nose used to run so bad when I was a child that the skin right under my nose would be red and chapped and it hurt badly!

By Speechie — On Sep 26, 2011

If you ever work at a daycare, you will probably get used to rhinorrhea, especially if you take care of children anywhere from an infant to around two years of age.

I worked at a daycare for three years, and I saw runny noses constantly, especially among the younger children. I felt so sad for those children, especially the one's not old enough to wipe or blow their nose.

Unfortunately, if the child is under two, she/he can not be given much to help relieve rhinorrhea. So they just have to deal with it and their caregivers and parent's have to be adamant about wiping their nose for them.

If a child is old enough to take care of their runny nose themselves, sometimes adults have to be adamant about telling them to wipe their nose with a tissue, not their clothes or anything else!

By Mykol — On Sep 26, 2011

Whenever I am outside in the cold for any length of time, my nose starts running. This is something that is not uncomfortable but is just annoying.

I keep tissue with me in the car, in my purse, on my desk and in several places around the house. I also have some in just about every coat pocket I have.

I don't think this is from allergies because the only time it happens is when it is cold outside. Once I get inside where it is warm, my nose starts running.

By julies — On Sep 25, 2011

My mom went most of her life without any allergies or sinus infections. When she was about 70 she began having a constant runny nose. She says it is because of a sinus infection but doesn't want to have any surgery done.

This means that she constantly has to carry something with her for her nose. Even though this is annoying for her, she knows of people who have had sinus surgery and have not been any better, so she is reluctant to have it done.

I get frustrated when I have a cold with a runny nose that lasts for a few days. I can imagine how aggravating it would be to put up with it all the time. Having chronic rhinorrhea would not be any fun for anyone.

By starrynight — On Sep 24, 2011

@JessicaLynn - One thing you can do when your nose gets irritated like that is put some A & D ointment on it. That usually helps me a lot. I've tried the tissues with aloe in it, but it doesn't seem to make much of a difference.

I personally hate when I get a runny nose, and there are so many conditions that cause it. Colds, sinus infections, allergies...the possibilities are endless. And unfortunately I have allergies and I get colds all the time in the winter. I just can't win!

By JessicaLynn — On Sep 23, 2011

I was really sick with a cold this past week, and I had severe rhinorrhea. Coupled with the sneezing and coughing, it was definitely not fun.

There were a few days that I literally went through one box of tissues per day because I was blowing my nose so much. Luckily I was able to tak off work, so I stationed myself on the couch with a box of tissues and a small trashcans. But it was still very uncomfortable.

Then my nose got all red and irritated from blowing it so much, to add insult to injury. I hope I don't get rhinorrhea again for awhile.

By candyquilt — On Sep 22, 2011

@ysmina-- I think you might have something called seasonal rhinitis. I also have this but mine happens during spring and fall, not winter, the symptoms are all the same though.

My doctor says that it's an allergic reaction to weather changes- temperature, humidity and so forth. I take over-the-counter antihistamine medication when it happens and that seems to be enough to take care of the symptoms.

I agree that you should talk to your doctor, he can suggest the best antihistamine for you.

By turquoise — On Sep 22, 2011

@ysmina-- That does sound bad, I'm sorry to hear about it. Maybe you should mention it to your doctor though, there might be a reason for why you are so sensitive to cold air.

Foods seem to be the only thing that triggers rhinorrhea with me. I rarely have a runny nose, even when I have a cold and thankfully, I don't have allergies to pollen.

Whenever I have hot and spicy foods though, my nose won't stop running. I think I know how you feel when your nose starts running in public. I can't have hot soup or spicy foods at restaurants because of my rhinorrhea. Cutting onions and cooking with hot chilli peppers are the worst.

I have told my doctor but the allergy tests say that I'm not allergic to these foods. I wonder if it is genetic, because the same exact thing happens to my dad.

By ysmina — On Sep 21, 2011

I always have a runny nose when I'm outside in the winter. I think that it might be an allergy to cold air because it doesn't happen in when the weather is warm or if I'm inside.

When I walk outside in the cold, my eyes start to water and my nose starts to run. It's very uncomfortable because I always have to keep tissues with me and blow my nose often. My friends and coworkers usually ask me if I've caught a cold and I explain to them that it's because of the cold air.

I wish there was something I could do about this, but I don't think that there is any remedy for it, other than avoiding being in the cold as much as possible. It also helps to dress well and keep my head and feet warm when I'm in the cold. But that doesn't prevent it altogether since my eyes have contact with cold air and I have to breathe the cold air too.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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