No matter how much sniffing you do or how many tissues you go through, your nose keeps running…and running. Nasal congestion. Excess drainage. Runny nose. Whatever you call it, it’s not pleasant and tends to keep others at arms length. It might be a cold or the flu, but it could be something else entirely. Let’s take a look at some other reasons for a runny nose, when it’s time to see a doctor, and some home remedy do’s and don’ts.

Reasons you might have a runny nose

When you have a cold the first thing to get infected is your nose and sinuses, which ramps up mucus production. The mucus helps wash germs out of your nose. So, why does the mucus sometimes turn white or yellow? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that means your body’s immune system is fighting back. Green mucus means the bacteria that lives in your nose is growing back and it’s all perfectly normal.

Naturopathic doctor Serena Goldstein practices in New York City where she utilizes botanical medicine, homeopathy and nutrition to not just treat, but to get to the underlying cause of disease. She told Care2 that in addition to colds and flu, these conditions can also lead to a runny nose:

  • allergies
  • nasal polyps
  • deviated septum
  • dry air
  • sinusitis
  • overuse of nasal spray (decongestant)
  • spinal fluid, which can happen after a head trauma

Registered nurse Ali Mileski adds that asthma and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), an infection of the lungs and respiratory tract, can also lead to runny nose. So can recreational drug use.

Clues that it’s time to see a doctor

Dr. Goldstein said colds usually improve in a week or two on their own. See a doctor if:

  • you’re taking care of yourself, but you’re not improving after two weeks
  • you have symptoms like fever, chills, muscle aches and you’re getting worse — it could be a bacterial infection
  • you can’t keep food or drink down
  • you have severe cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or difficulty breathing

Any of these signs could mean you have more than a cold and may need medical attention. Dr. Goldstein also stresses the importance of telling your doctor EVERYTHING you are taking — herb/drug/nutrient interactions do exist.

Your doctor may be able to help out, but a runny nose doesn’t usually warrant antibiotics. Although Americans have become accustomed to reaching for the antibiotics, it’s not a good idea. The more we take antibiotics, the more likely we are to end up with resistant germs that will no longer respond to antibiotics. Antibiotics are not used to treat viruses like colds and flu. They are used to treat bacterial infections. This includes some types of ear infections, sinus infections, and strep throat.

Home remedy DOs and DON’Ts

You probably shouldn’t ignore your runny nose and keep going full speed ahead. Mileski offers these tips for self care:

  • DO rest — and get plenty of it
  • DO drink fluids
  • DO use soft tissues to avoid further irritation to the nose
  • DO use a humidifier
  • DO stay warm
  • DO use cough drops or hard sucking candies for sore throats and to ease coughs
  • DO use a netie pot or bottle but DON’T force the saline solution through your nose
  • DO call in sick if you think you’re contagious
  • DON’T exercise or overexert yourself
  • DON’T smoke
  • DON’T use an over-the-counter (OTC) nasal decongestant more than seven days because it can cause a “rebound effect” and cause nasal symptoms — nasal sprays are not recommended for children under age two

Dr. Goldstein adds that you should not assume all dietary supplements are safe. Much depends on the form, dosage, and your health regimen.

“Many times the ‘basics’ are very effective,” she said. “Get good sleep, eat lots of vegetables, minimize sugar, alcohol, tobacco, and drink lots of water. Laughing is also important because it boosts your immune system.”


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