What causes a constant runny nose? Why is it common in winter? Is it a cause for concern in infants and toddlers? What about adults? What treatment options work best? Continue reading to discover all these and more.
Constant runny nose causes
This refers to a condition that continues over the long term and whose symptoms last for more than an hour on most days, can impact on an individual’s quality of life.
While the severity and frequency of a runny nose may vary from one person to another, several causes of constant nasal drainage have been documented and are broadly classified into allergic and non-allergic. They include:
Allergies are caused by exposure to allergens such as pollen, latex, pollen, molds, dust mite, cockroach dust.
2. Exposure to irritants
Non-allergic rhinitis (irritation of nasal tissues) can occur occurs when one gets exposed to irritating substances such as chemicals, strong perfumes, cigarette smoke, etc., leading to a runny nose.
3. Sinus infection (sinusitis)
An infection of sinuses (the small, air-filled cavities in the cheekbones and forehead), can also cause this problem. This is because it causes irritation and inflammation of the sinus lining, which may then trigger increased mucus production.
Other symptoms of a sinus infection include a headache, facial tenderness and pain, fever, and facial pressure.
3. Temperature and humidity changes
Temperature and humidity changes can also irritate the nasal lining, resulting in excessive nasal drainage.
The hormonal changes that are characteristic of pregnancy may also cause a constant runny nose.
5. Certain foods and drinks
Spicy and hot foods are known to cause it. Alcohol intake has also been shown to cause the problem. This is thought to be linked to the dehydrating effect of alcohol.
6. Nasal polyps
These are inflammation related, non-cancerous growths in the nasal cavities or sinuses which often interfere with air and fluid flow. Nasal polyps are typically flesh-colored, pink, or pale grey.
7. Structural defects
Structural defects such as a deviated septum (the part of the nose separating the right and the left nostrils).
8. Foreign bodies
Foreign bodies plugged in the nasal cavity. This problem tends to be more common among children aged between 1 and 8 years but adults can as well get foreign objects plugged in the nose when involved in accidents.
9. Some medications
Some medications e.g. those used to control blood pressure.
Constant but clear
Constant clear runny nose is often a sign of allergy. It usually occurs when a person with allergies to a certain substance, say pollen, dust, shellfish, animal dander, soy, or latex to name but a few examples get exposed to that particular allergen. The term allergen is used to describe any substance that triggers an allergy.
On exposure to the allergen, whether through inhalation, ingestion or contact, the production of the antibody immunoglobulin (IgE) is triggered. IgE antibodies bind themselves to mast cells and basophils, which then triggers the release of histamine.
This is the chemical responsible for symptoms of allergy. It among other things triggers the inflammation and swelling of the nasal lining tissues and higher secretion of mucus. It is also common to sneeze when you have an allergy. Some people also get watery eyes, itchy nose, or red eyes.
A constant clear runny nose may in some instances progress to become thick, yellowish (or greenish), blood-stained, or even purulent and foul smelling. This tends to be the case when you have an infection. It may be worth your time to have a doctor check you.
Foul smelling discharge that comes from one nostril only may also be an indication of a foreign object stuffed in there.
A blood-stained discharge is also a cause for concern. Blood may be the result of trauma from excessive and hard blowing. When you blow your nose too hard, small blood capillaries in the nose may rupture, leading to blood-tinged nasal discharge. The problem with this is that it can cause you a secondary infection.
Blood stained mucus could, in addition, be an indication of even more serious problems such as nasal tumors and nasal polyps.
Sneezing is usually associated with an irritation of the airways by viruses, bacteria, fungi, or other foreign objects. Certain scents and odors, dry air could as well irritate the airways and trigger sneezing.
Sneezing is often accompanied by a runny nose. Both these help to evict the perceived harmful objects from the body.
When coupled with sneezing may be an indication of one of the following conditions and diseases:
- Exposure to irritants
- Nasal polyps
- Sinus inflammation
- Dry air
- Environmental irritants such as chemicals, fumes, cigarette smoke, perfumes etc.
Adults often complain of a constant runny nose, also referred to as perennial rhinitis. Allergies are to blame for most cases.
The most common allergen responsible for this is house dust mites. These are tiny creatures that are found in most, if not all, homes. It mostly thrives in bedrooms – in pillows, mattresses and pillows – carpets, and as part of dust. While it doesn’t bite, their feces trigger allergic reactions in some people.
Animal dander comes second among the causes of allergies. Other potential allergens are latex and molds.
Blood tests can help to ascertain the exact allergen responsible for the symptoms after which appropriate treatment will be administered. This typically involves taking antihistamines, but other treatments such as decongestants, steroid nasal drops, etc. may also be included in the mix.
Foreign objects in the nose could as well be to blame for this problem in adults. While it is not common for adults to get foreign bodies e.g. beans, pebbles etc. stuck in their nose, which is more of a kids’ problem, they may as well experience this after sustaining a fall or getting stuck in the face.
If you suspect there is something stuck in your nose, try to blow it out. If that doesn’t work out, seek medical attention.
Sinus infection is yet another common cause of constant nasal discharge in adults. Addressing the infection with antibiotics and other medications often help to get rid of the problem.
Other causes of persistent adult nasal drainage include:
- Nasal tumors
- Exposure to irritants such as cigarette smoke
- Nasal polyps
- Dry weather
- Anatomical defects e.g. deviated septum
- Taking certain foods
- Certain medications
It is not uncommon for the elderly to complain about this problem that is persistent. As with the rest of the population, chronic sinusitis, nasal polyps, anatomical problems, and allergies could all trigger a constant runny nose in elderly.
According to Mayo Clinic, however, elderly people tend to be at higher risk due to other additional factors.
These include the use of certain medications e.g. high blood pressure and bladder problem medications; gustatory rhinitis (a condition that afflicts old aged people whereby they get more than normal sensitivity to spicy and hot foods e.g. chili pepper); and decreased fluid intake that is common among the elderly.
Winter is associated with low humidity and temperature. The use of furnaces during winter to warm houses also causes dry air indoors. If you are one of the people who tend to have a constant runny nose in winter, dry air is most likely to blame.
One of the main functions of the nose is to warm and moisten the air we breathe before it enters the lungs. This helps to protect the delicate lung tissues from damage. As a result, inhaling cold, dry air during winter automatically necessitates the nose to increase fluid (mucus) secretion.
Unfortunately, the extra mucus ends up draining down the nose, typically resulting in this condition.
In addition, the low temperatures that are characteristic of winter tend to cause a conglomeration of the tiny water droplets inside the moist nose, resulting in larger drops that may flow out of the nose.
Running a humidifier is usually an effective approach to getting rid of a runny nose during winter.
In toddler, baby, infant, child
Children have less develop immune systems which makes them susceptible to a whole lot of health conditions.
According to Karen Bellapianta, MD, a Greenwich, CT otorhinolaryngologist, allergies, infections, irritants, and enlarged adenoid tissues at the back of the nose are the four conditions most associated with a constant runny nose in babies.
For older kids, it might help to perform nasal irrigation as Karen Bellapianta, MD, a Greenwich, CT, otorhinolaryngologist says. But if that doesn’t help, it is advisable to consult with your pediatrician.
This is in basic terms the use of salty water to thin out and aid the flow of mucus out of the nose. You can make your own nasal irrigation system at home by dissolving a ¼ teaspoon of salt to 1 cup of warm water and then pouring it into a neti pot, or else get a readymade one such as NeilMed Irrigation System.
As for the younger aged infants, toddlers, newborn, name it, it is a good idea to have them checked by a pediatrician if they exhibit persistent nasal drainage.
Allergy medications and antibiotics are often used in the treatment in kids.
How to stop a constant one – treatment
And in as far as how to stop a this conditon is concerned, the following treatments are commonly used:
- Identifying and avoiding potential triggers of allergy. This is not exactly a treatment but is crucial to getting rid of allergic rhinitis.
- Steroid nasal sprays
- Antihistamines: These medications block histamine and thus relieve allergy symptoms. Example are loratadine (Claritin, Alavert), fexofenadine (Allegra), and cetirizine (Zyrtec).
- Decongestants: These range from oral decongestants such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) to decongestant sprays such as oxymetazoline (Afrin), and phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine).
- Oral steroids e.g. Prednisone and hydrocortisone
- Antibiotics: These may be prescribed when itis triggered by a bacterial infection such as sinusitis.
- Immunotherapy: This involves the administration of shots of a known allergen over a period of time. The allergen may also be delivered under the tongue in what is referred to as sub-lingual therapy. The eventual goal is to reduce the patient’s sensitivity to the allergen by developing certain antibodies.
- Surgery – This is the last resort runny nose treatment option and may be used to get rid of nasal polyps and tumors