How to Stop a Runny Nose

Two hands reaching for the same tissue.
  • A runny nose is a common condition that develops when excess fluid or mucus is produced in the nasal passages.

  • It can be caused by a variety of factors, including exposure to allergens and irritants, stress, and viral infections.

  • Treating a runny nose usually involves using a combination of home remedies, over-the-counter (OTC) medications, and lifestyle changes.

  • Although a runny nose isn’t a medical emergency, it’s recommended to see a doctor if your symptoms don’t improve within 10 days.

As the weather gets colder and flu season rolls around, many Americans may experience a runny nose.

This condition is very common, affecting around 50 million Americans every year, and can develop due to various factors besides the weather.

While a runny nose is usually a temporary occurrence that’s easily treatable, knowing how to alleviate your symptoms is essential for avoiding long-term discomfort.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how a runny nose can develop, treatment options you may consider, and preventative strategies you can implement to avoid recurring infections.

How Does a Runny Nose Develop?

A runny nose — also known as rhinorrhea — is a common condition that can be frustrating and uncomfortable.

It occurs when excess fluid or mucus is produced by the tissue lining in the nasal passages. This overproduction of mucus can be triggered by a variety of factors, including:

  • Viral infections like the common cold or flu

  • Allergic reactions

  • Exposure to irritants like cigarette smoke, strong odors, or pollution

  • Weather changes

  • Spicy foods

  • Emotional stress

  • Hormonal changes

When the lining of the nasal passages is irritated, it causes the blood vessels to dilate and excess mucus to be produced.

This is the body’s way of trying to flush out irritants and defend itself against germs.

Key Point: What is the Difference between a Runny and Stuffy Nose?

A runny nose occurs when excess mucus is produced, leading to a fluid-like discharge.

In contrast, a stuffy nose — or nasal congestion — happens when nasal tissues and blood vessels swell, blocking the passages.

While a runny nose often involves a continuous flow of mucus, a stuffy nose is characterized by a feeling of blockage that can also make breathing difficult.

How Do You Stop a Runny Nose?

There are various methods for treating a runny nose, depending on the underlying cause. Let’s take a closer look at what those are.

Home remedies

In most cases, a runny nose can be treated using a combination of home remedies and medications. The following are popular remedies for treating a runny nose at home:

Staying hydrated: Drinking plenty of fluids — like water, herbal teas, and clear broths — can thin the mucus and make it easier for the body to drain. This helps to reduce excess mucus in the nasal passages.

Steam inhalation: Inhaling steam from a hot shower or bowl of water can help loosen mucus to help the body drain and remove any excess.

Using a warm compress: Placing a warm compress — like a towel or cloth — over the nose and forehead can help reduce sinus pressure and provide pain relief.

Doing a salt water rinse: Using a saline nasal spray or neti pot to flush out mucus can help drain the excess and relieve a runny nose.

Drinking honey and lemon water: Mixing honey and lemon in warm water can create a soothing hot drink that can reduce inflammation and mucus production. It can also alleviate an irritated or sore throat that may develop because of post-nasal drip.

Over-the-counter (OTC) solutions

Although a runny nose can usually be treated with home remedies, your doctor may also recommend OTC options for faster symptomatic relief. These may include:

  • Antihistamines: These medications block a molecule called histamine, which is what the body produces as an immune response to an allergic reaction.

  • Decongestant sprays: These sprays provide quick relief by narrowing the blood vessels in the nasal passages. This helps to reduce irritation and excess mucus production.

  • Nasal steroid sprays: A nasal steroid spray can reduce inflammation in the nasal passage to control excess mucus and dry a runny nose. These sprays are usually used in combination with antihistamines.

In more severe cases of a runny nose — such as if your symptoms don’t improve within 10 days — your doctor may also recommend antibiotics to help relieve discomfort.

Lifestyle adjustments

In addition to home remedies and OTC treatment options, a runny nose can also be managed by making certain lifestyle adjustments. These include:

  • Avoiding triggers: Staying away from known allergens, smoke, and pollutants as much as possible is one of the most effective ways to stop a runny nose.

  • Using a humidifier: Humidifiers can add moisture to the air and prevent irritation in the lining of the nasal passage.

  • Maintaining cleanliness: Regularly cleaning your living space can help reduce your exposure to allergens like dust and pet dander.

  • Following a balanced diet and exercising regularly: A healthy lifestyle can strengthen your immune system and reduce your risk of contracting viral infections like colds and flu.

  • Getting enough sleep: Ensuring that you get enough sleep can also help maintain immune function and reduce stress — two factors that can exacerbate a runny nose.


Although rare, surgical procedures may also be considered as a runny nose treatment. This option is usually only reserved for:

  • Individuals who suffer from chronic sinus infections that haven’t improved with medical treatment

  • Cases of nasal polyps — non-cancerous growths in the lining of the nasal passage — that are large or resistant to treatment

  • Individuals with a deviated septum that causes chronic nasal obstruction

  • People with enlarged bones in the nasal passages might undergo a turbinate reduction procedure where the bones are adjusted to relieve discomfort

  • Cases of a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak — where the fluid around the brain leaks into the nasal passages — although this is extremely rare

It’s important to remember that surgical interventions are typically a last-resort treatment and aren’t very common for treating a runny nose.

If you’re concerned about your symptoms or feel that your condition may require surgery, consult with your doctor to discuss your options.

How Long Does a Runny Nose Last?

The duration of a runny nose usually depends on the underlying cause. With a viral infection — such as a cold or flu — runny noses can last between 10 and 14 days.

A runny nose that results from allergies typically lasts as long as you’re exposed to the allergen.

If you’ve had a runny nose for more than three weeks without being exposed to a known allergen, it’s recommended to see your doctor.

Can a Runny Nose Be Prevented?

Preventing a runny nose is possible, although not all cases can be avoided completely.

Various lifestyle modifications can usually go a long way in helping you prevent a runny nose, including:

  • Frequently washing your hands to prevent contracting or spreading infections

  • Regularly rinsing the nasal passages with a saline solution to flush out irritants

  • Avoiding exposure to household and environmental pollutants that could irritate the nose

  • Controlling indoor allergens

  • Incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into your diet, including turmeric and ginger

  • Avoiding histamine-rich foods that can trigger an unnecessary immune response, such as aged cheeses, processed meats, and fermented foods

  • Being mindful of weather changes that could exacerbate runny nose symptoms, such as wind or colder temperatures

  • Using masks during allergy season or in polluted areas

  • Staying up to date with vaccinations

You can also speak to your doctor about any specific concerns you may have to allow them to make more personalized recommendations to prevent a runny nose.

When Should You See a Doctor about a Runny Nose?

A runny nose is rarely cause for concern, but some circumstances may require medical intervention.

If you experience any of the following, it’s recommended to consult your doctor:

  • Symptoms that persist for more than 10 days without improving

  • Pain or fever

  • Green or yellow nasal discharge

  • Sleep disturbances

  • Shortness of breath

  • Wheezing

  • Rash

  • Vision changes

It’s also important to seek medical attention if you develop a runny nose and have an underlying health condition like asthma or an immune system disorder.

Your doctor can recommend appropriate treatment options to alleviate your symptoms and help you avoid further complications.

Where Can You Learn More About Treating a Runny Nose and Similar Conditions?

If you’re concerned about your symptoms or want to know more about treating a runny nose, LifeMD is here to help.

A team of medical professionals can assist you with information and provide guidance on managing a runny nose while avoiding further complications.

Make an appointment with LifeMD today to learn more about treating a runny nose — all from the comfort of your home.

Dina Whiteaker, APRN

Dina earned her MSN from the University of Nebraska Medical Center before becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner. She has 10ᐩ years of telemedicine experience. Dina is board certified and is a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

Talk To A Doctor

LifeMD makes it easy to stay on top of your health because talking to a doctor, filling your prescriptions, getting your labs done—and more—are all easy and cost-effective. Come discover a healthcare solution built around you and your life.

Connect with a doctor now!

This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

Feel better with LifeMD.

Your doctor is online and ready to see you.

Join LifeMD today and experience amazing healthcare, discounted labs and prescription medications... plus around-the-clock access to medical guidance.