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Chronic Runny Nose Causes & Treatments: In Toddlers, Adults, with Sneezing & Cough 

Allergy is the most common cause of a chronic runny nose but there are as well numerous non-allergic causes. This article highlight these causes and lists several treatments that are typically used.


This problem is usually the result of irritation of the nasal tissues, a condition known as rhinitis. When that happens, the body responds by increasing the production of mucus. This is aimed at flushing the substance responsible for nasal irritation. Chronic runny nose causes may vary over time as you age and may include one or more of the following:

1. Allergy

Allergic rhinitis is one of the most common causes of chronic nasal drainage. It is usually attributed to long-term exposure to an allergen.

Chronic Runny Nose Causes in Elderly, Adults, Child, Treatment & Constant Running Nose with Cough, Sneezing
Chronic cases in a child

Allergens are allergy-inducing substances that make the immune system to start a series of reactions that culminate in the production of histamine and ultimately the symptoms of allergy including a runny nose; sneezing; itchy nose; watery, red or itchy eyes; and sometimes nasal congestion.

House dust mite is the most common culprit for chronic nasal discharge but other allergens such as molds, animal dander, and latex could as well be to blame. Some people are also allergic to certain foods.

2. Nasal irritants

Nasal irritants such as chemicals, smoke, odors, etc. could be to blame for non-allergic rhinitis which is as well associated with chronic nasal discharge.

3. Vasomotor rhinitis

Usually abbreviated as VMR, this is a condition whereby a chronic runny nose occurs for no obvious reason,

4. Chronic sinusitis

Chronic sinusitis is also a common cause of chronic nasal discharge. This refers to the inflammation the hollow cavities occurring in the skull around the nose, cheek, and forehead regions – called sinuses – often as a result of an infection.

Sinusitis may also be accompanied by sinus drainage which is also referred to as postnasal drip. Other symptoms associated with sinusitis –in addition to a runny nose – include facial pain, sinus pressure, and nasal congestion.

5. Lodged objects

When foreign objects get stuffed into the nasal cavity, you may get a runny nose that persists so long as the object remains unremoved from your nose.

6. Nasal polyps

These are small growth in the nasal lining. Nasal polyps often make conditions such as sinusitis worse, but they can as well trigger it on their own.

7. Nasal tumors

Cancerous growths in the nasal cavity could as well cause this problem. Blood-tinged mucus is likely when nasal tumors are involved.

9. Anatomical problems

Anatomical problems e.g. deviated septum and spinal fluid leak which is often to blame for a one-sided runny nose.

In a child, toddler, infant or kid

A chronic runny nose in children or pediatric chronic rhinitis if you like may be attributed to several factors. Karen Bellapianta, MD, an otorhinolaryngologist based in Greenwich, CT, attributes this to “allergies, infections, irritants…and presence of large adenoid tissue at the back of the nose”.

She says that thick mucus in the nose slows down the ciliary hair cells found in nasal and sinus cavities where they help to flush out allergens, irritants, and pathogens responsible for infections.

Karen recommends using the NeilMed Irrigation System to flush out mucus and facilitate better breathing. This also aids the ciliary hair cells to better serve their purpose. The idea behind nasal irrigation is rinsing the nasal cavity with salty water.

Antibiotics and allergy medications (described in the last segment of this article) may as well be required to get rid of chronic cases in infants (or toddlers for that matter).

It is also important to identify and eliminate any potential allergens in your kid’s bedroom.

In elderly

According to mayo clinic, factors such as chronic sinusitis, nasal polyps, and anatomical problems (e.g. deviated septum or spinal fluid leak) can all cause a chronic runny nose in older people, but several other factors can make it more frequent among them including:

Gustatory rhinitis: This condition makes the patient – usually older people – particularly sensitive to spicy and hot foods e.g. hot chili peppers in as far as developing runny nose is concerned. It also makes them more sensitive to temperature changes whereby even negligible temperature changes cause them this condition.

Use of certain medications e.g. those for high blood pressure and bladder problems.

Older people also tend to get nasal dehydration easily from taking inadequate water and drinking too much alcohol and coffee.

Effective treatment rolls hinges on identifying the underlying cause.

In adults

According to Patient UK, persistent rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal tissues) which is most commonly attributed to a chronic runny nose, can affect anyone at any age, but it tends to occur among adults more.

The site reports that persistent rhinitis is becoming more common among older people. While most people suffering from this condition cite a persistent cold, colds are viral infections which only last about one week. This essentially means that a chronic runny nose in adults is not due to the common cold but due to other factors.

Allergy is the most common causative factor for adult chronic nasal discharge. Allergy tends to run in families and people with a history of asthma and eczema are at higher risk of developing allergies. The inverse is also true; that is, people with allergic rhinitis are also at higher risk of asthma and eczema.

Other factors that may as well be to blame for chronic cases in adults are nasal irritants, vasomotor rhinitis (where rhinitis occurs for no clear reason), chronic sinusitis, nasal polyps and tumors, and structural defects such as deviated septum (which is also associated with breathing problems).

with Chronic sneezing

A runny nose that is accompanied by sneezing is a classic sign of allergies. Sneezing is the body’s way of forcing out irritants and perceived foreign bodies. Other symptoms associated with asthma are watery eyes, itchy nose.

Trying to identify the allergen or irritant responsible for the problem and then avoiding it as much as possible may help.

For example, if you work with pets every day, you may want to take a week’s break to see how it goes. And if you suspect dust mites or molds in your house could be the cause, try changing rooms for a few days and see how it goes. You may also want to avoid heavy scented perfumes.

Dry air could as well be to blame for chronic sneezing that is accompanied by a runny nose. Try running a humidifier in your bedroom.

With a cough

Coughing and runny nose also often go hand in hand. Coughing happens when sinus drainage (or postnasal drip) causes an accumulation of mucus at the back of the throat. The body reacts by triggering a cough as a way to flush it out.

The conditions most associated with post nasal drip include allergies and sinusitis.

The best treatment option will vary depending on the underlying cause. It is best to see your doctor for evaluation and appropriate treatment.


Effective chronic runny nose treatment hinges on determining the underlying cause. You will want to consider the following treatment measures:

Identify and stay away from allergens and irritants

among the most common allergens are pollen, house dust, dust mites, molds, and some foods. As for irritants, perfumes, chemicals, cigarette smoke, etc. are potential culprits. To avoid these irritants:

  • Vacuum or dust the house regularly
  • Wash your beddings regularly with hot water and get dust mite proof mattress cover and pillowcases. Cotton and synthetic fabric are also good for pillowcases as opposed to wool.
  • Change the heating and air condition systems’ air filters frequently, at least once a month. It is also a good idea to invest in an air purifier.

Get a humidifier

Living in a dry environment may lead to irritation of the nasal lining leading to an aggressive production of mucus which manifests itself in a runny nose.

To counter this, consider running a humidifier in your home. This helps to restore humidity in your home as well as to soothe the nasal passages while thinning out the mucus trapped in there.

You will also want to:

  • Use pollen masks when cleaning your house or mowing the grass
  • Give up houseplants as they could be a source of offensive pollen
  • Wash your pets frequently or give them up to avoid having pet dander in your house

If all these fail or don’t seem to give considerable results, the following treatments may then be considered:

  • Steroid nasal sprays such as beclomethasone (Beconase), fluticasone furoate (Veramyst) etc.
  • Oral steroids e.g. Prednisone, hydrocortisone (Cortef, Hydrocortone etc). Recommended for allergies
  • Antihistamines such as loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec) and fexofenadine (Allegra).
  • Decongestant sprays e.g. oxymetazoline (Afrin) and phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine).
  • Oral decongestants the most common of which is pseudoephedrine (Sudafed).
  • Immunotherapy: This involves the administration of small quantities of a known allergen and increasing them gradually over time, effectively making the patient lee sensitive to the allergen.
  • Surgery

There are also combination drugs that feature more than one of the above medications. Antihistamine-decongestant combination drugs are the most common.

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