Fact Checked

How to Stop a Runny Nose

Runny noses happen for many reasons, and none of them are pleasant. Whether you’re dealing with a viral infection like the common cold or flu, you’re experiencing allergies or hay fever, or you have a bacterial infection, cases of runny nose or rhinitis are uncomfortable and inconvenient. There are simple home remedies to stop a runny nose, as well as over the counter medications, prescriptions, and allergy treatments that can be effective at treating your symptoms. 

Home Remedies

If you’re looking to go the natural route and avoid a trip to the doctor’s office or drug store, there are numerous home remedies that can help. Most people find that runny noses eventually go away on their own, so these remedies are often effective.

  • Take a shower: A hot shower offers some of the fastest relief for a runny nose. The steam from the hot water helps to open the airways and stem mucus production, plus it provides additional hydration through the vapor that is breathed in. Not to mention, hot showers usually make us feel better in general when we’re sick. A humidifier or vaporizer can also help your nasal tissues deal with the dry air. 
  • Stay hydrated: A runny nose is often accompanied by nasal congestion, sometimes called a stuffy nose. Nasal congestion involves the build-up of mucus in your sinuses. Drinking plenty of fluids helps ensure that your mucus is as thin as possible, which makes it easier to expel when you blow your nose. Thicker mucus makes it more difficult to breathe and causes congestion to worsen. Also, if your runny nose is associated with an illness, you’ll help yourself recover more quickly by staying well hydrated. Avoid dehydrating beverages like alcohol, coffee, and caffeinated soda.
  • Inhale steam: If you have access to a facial steamer, inhaling hot steam can be very helpful in reducing symptoms of a runny nose. A study conducted in 2015 showed that people who inhaled steam as a remedy to the common cold recovered about one week faster than those who did not inhale the steam. You don’t have to have a special face steamer to try this home remedy, though. Simply heat a clean teapot of water on your stove until steam is created and breathe in the steam. Don’t let the water get to a boil, and take breaks if the steam gets too hot. You should aim to inhale the steam for about 20 to 30 minutes at a time, breathing through your nose if possible. After steaming, blow your nose to get rid of as much mucus as possible.
  • Neti pot: Never heard of a neti pot? These nasal irrigation systems look like teapots and can mean big relief when used to treat a runny nose. To use a neti pot, add warm sterile saline or saltwater solution to the pot and pour the solution into one nostril, tilting your head to the side. The water will naturally flow out of your other nostril, rinsing out your sinuses and helping to clear out any mucus. Neti pots can be purchased at your local drug store or online.
  • Eat something spicy: If you’ve ever eaten something unexpectedly spicy, you may have started to develop a runny nose in reaction to the spices. While spicy food can cause a runny nose, it can also be helpful in clearing your nasal passages. Spices like wasabi, ginger, cayenne pepper, and hot sauce can help reduce congestion. If you aren’t used to eating spicy foods, start small and don’t go for the hottest sauce you can find right away.
  • Drink something hot: Just like a hot shower and facial steam, hot beverages can help reduce nasal congestion and open your sinus passages. It’s best to avoid caffeinated beverages, which can be dehydrating, and stick to a hot tea that has anti-inflammatory or decongestant properties, like chamomile, mint, ginger, or nettle. If you’re suffering from a sore throat in addition to a runny nose, a hot beverage can also help ease those symptoms.  

Over the Counter Medications

One trip to your local drug store will reveal the seemingly endless options for treating a runny nose with over the counter (OTC) medication. While medication can be helpful in some situations, the key to successfully alleviating your symptoms is identifying the cause of your runny nose. A runny nose caused by allergens will be treated as a runny nose caused by the cold or flu, so it is important to try and pinpoint the cause of your symptoms. If you suspect that your runny nose and sneezing are actually allergy symptoms, try taking an antihistamine like Benadryl, a daily medication like Claritin, or even a nasal spray. If your runny nose is caused by the cold or flu, cold medicines that specifically treat cold symptoms are your best bet. However, the best treatment for a runny nose caused by a viral illness like cold or flu is lots of rest, healthy food, and making sure to drink plenty of fluids.

Prescription Medications

Although runny noses usually go away on their own when caused by allergies or a virus, there are some situations where you may need to take prescription medication. A bacterial sinus or upper respiratory infection can be effectively treated by antibiotics if bacteria is proven to be the cause of the condition, and antibiotics are not available without a prescription. If your runny nose and nasal congestion continues for an extended period of time, starts to get worse, or you begin to experience a thick, smelly, or colorful discharge, it’s best to call your doctor and talk about treatment options.

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Preventing a Runny Nose

They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so the best way to stop a runny nose is to avoid getting one in the first place. Many runny noses are caused by viruses, so practicing good hygiene and washing your hands regularly, staying away from those who are sick, and throwing away used tissues are all helpful practices to avoid getting sick. If you have allergies, try to stay indoors during allergy season or times when the pollen count is high, and keep the windows in your house closed during allergy season.

Published July 17th, 2020 by Bridget Reed
Fact Checked by Chris Riley

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