Introducing: Ask a Doctor
At UTHSC ENT, we understand that patients need clear, helpful answers to their questions. We also know that a flood of new information can be overwhelming.
That’s why our department’s introducing Ask a Doctor: an ongoing series of posts that tackle Frequently Asked Questions about common issues. We hope these articles give you a better understanding of your situation and an easy path to treatment.
In our last post, we discussed nasal obstruction. Now, let’s spotlight its opposite issue: rhinorrhea.
Prepared by: Natasha Tillett
Reviewed by: Dr. Sanjeet Rangarajan
What is rhinorrhea?
More commonly called a “runny nose,” rhinorrhea is excess drainage from the nasal passages. This drainage is usually thin and clear, and can fall out of the nose, down the throat, or both.
When the drainage runs down the throat, it is called post-nasal drip. Sometimes rhinorrhea can also occur along with nasal congestion, or a stuffy nose.
What are its most common causes?
Simply put: anything that causes inflammation or irritation of the nasal passages can cause rhinorrhea.
Common causes include (but are not limited to):
-Viral infections such as the common cold, the flu, SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), etc.
-Sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses)
-Overuse of decongestants
-A foreign body stuck somewhere in the nasal passages (mostly seen in children)
Some less common causes of rhinorrhea:
-Nonallergic rhinitis (long standing irritation and inflammation not allergy related)
-Granulomatosis with polyangiitis
-Spinal fluid leak
-Hormonal changes or pregnancy
Diagnosis and treatment
Diagnosis of rhinorrhea is typically based on history and does not require tests to establish the diagnosis. In diabetics or people whose immune system is otherwise suppressed, a CT scan may be indicated to rule out sinusitis or other disorders.
For treating infants, a small, rubber suction bulb can be used to remove nasal drainage. For older children and adults, simply blowing the nose may be enough to relieve symptoms.
For symptoms not responsive to either of these methods, over the counter (OTC) medications can be used. Be sure to exactly follow the dosing instructions given on the medication package.
Note: while congestion symptoms can be relieved with OTC decongestants, do not to use the medication for an extended period of time. Itchy and/or watery eyes can be an indication of an allergic response.
In this case, OTC antihistamines and sometimes OTC steroids can be used for symptom relief. An otolaryngologist or rhinologist can help to determine a personalized treatment plan to fit your symptoms.
When should you call a doctor?
Speak with your doctor if your rhinorrhea has lasted for more than 10 days. Consider reaching out if the drainage is yellow, green, or bloody, or only on one side of the nose. Finally, call your provider if you develop a fever, the rhinorrhea developed after trauma to the head, or if you think you may have a more serious condition.
How can our Dream Team help?
UTHSC ENT’s Dream Team provides world class treatment in your hometown, and our sinus & allergy division is nationally-renowned.