Rhinorrhea – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment


Rhinorrhea is the medical term for the commonly known runny nose . The causes for this range from a cold or allergy to severe head injuries. There are a variety of treatment options for acute rhinorrhea.

What is rhinorrhea?

The term rhinorrhea comes from the Greek and describes something like: excretion from the nose . Accordingly, rhinorrhea would generally be described as a discharge of fluids from the nose.

It is a common symptom of hay fever and the common cold or flu . However, it is also a sign of drug withdrawal. Rhinorrhea is caused by inflammation of the tissue and vessels in the entire nasal area.

Colloquially, rhinorrhea is also often referred to simply as a runny nose . However, apart from allergic causes or a common cold, rhinorrhea can also be associated with the shedding of cerebral tissue; usually this is the result of a skull fracture.


Rhinorrhea is not attributed to a single but to a variety of causes. This includes:

Allergies : People with hay fever will be very familiar with the runny nose. However, other allergens such as animal hair, soy, latex, grain etc. can also express their effect in rhinorrhea. In this case it is also called allergic rhinorrhea.

Infection: Both viral and bacterial infections can cause rhinorrhea.

Bronchiolitis : Is a viral infection in the lungs that is a common reason for the onset of rhinorrhea, especially in children.

Sinusitis : This is common with the common cold and causes inflammation and swelling in the walls of the bone cavities around the nose and eyes.

Spicy foods : Spicy foods or the fumes from certain foods (such as onions) temporarily increase the production of nasal discharge in many people.

Head injuries : This can also lead to rhinorrhea and should be considered particularly serious.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

Rhinorrhea is primarily expressed by the fact that the patient’s nose runs. A secretion appears from the nose, which can be clear and watery or yellow and solid, depending on the causative disease. Rhinorrhea can be associated with reddening of the nose. Depending on the trigger, other symptoms and complaints can be added to the runny nose.

If the runny nose is caused by a cold , for example, it can also lead to hoarseness , chapped lips and headaches . If the flu is the cause, muscle and joint pain can occur , but also serious respiratory problems and inflammation . If the symptoms are caused by an allergy , the typical symptoms of an allergic shock appear: difficulty breathing , irritated eyes, skin changes, feeling unwell.

The runny nose usually comes on very suddenly when the person steps out into the fresh air or enters an indoor space. The trigger is increased blood flow to the nose. Accordingly, there is an accompanying reddening and overheating of the nose. Rhinorrhea usually disappears after a few minutes. With a cold, the runny nose can persist for several days. The color and consistency of the secretions change over time.

Diagnosis & History

The specific symptoms of rhinorrhea are an indicator of its cause. The medical examination includes a palpation of the nose and face, especially in the area of ​​the paranasal sinuses . Even slight pressure on inflamed areas can trigger pain in those affected.

The color and shape of the nasal discharge is also included in the diagnosis. The discharge may also be analyzed in the laboratory to determine the exact cause.

Patients with significant sinusitis, diabetes , and disorders related to the immune system may need to have a computed tomography scan for an accurate diagnosis and to determine if the rhinorrhea is resolving or chronic.


In most cases, this complaint does not lead to any particular complications. Rhinorrhea occurs mainly during flu or a cold and is one of the usual symptoms. Even after the illness, the runny nose can persist and complicate the patient’s everyday life. Complications usually only occur if the complaint persists for a long period of time and does not go away on its own.

The affected person can also suffer from diabetes or an inflammation of the sinuses. The further course of the disease also depends heavily on the underlying disease, so that a general prognosis cannot be given in most cases. In the case of a common cold or flu, the illness can be treated with simple remedies and the symptoms alleviated.

Here, too, there are no special complications or other complaints. However, it is also necessary to treat the underlying disease in order to completely limit the symptoms. Rinsing the nose can also lead to a positive course of the disease. The life expectancy of those affected is usually not negatively affected by the disease.

When should you go to the doctor?

If your nose runs constantly, it may be due to a serious medical condition. A doctor’s visit is advisable if the rhinorrhea occurs in connection with nasal polyps or a sinus infection. If the symptoms appear after inhaling irritating substances such as dust or chemicals, it is best to consult a doctor immediately. Other triggers can be cluster headaches, tumors of the nose or paranasal sinuses, and allergies. The risk groups should see their family doctor if the runny nose becomes a burden or is associated with other symptoms such as shortness of breath or pain in the olfactory organs.

Rhinorrhea is also treated by an ear, nose and throat doctor or an allergist. The doctor can make the diagnosis based on a medical history and an examination of the nose and paranasal sinuses. If this is done early, inflammation and other complications can be averted. A runny nose also increases the risk of infection for other people. Therefore, rhinorrhea should always be examined by a doctor and treated if necessary.

Treatment & Therapy

The treatment of rhinorrhea depends on its cause. It usually does not require any treatment and goes away on its own. Unless it is a symptom of a serious neurological or physical problem.

Medically, rhinorrhea can be treated with the help of branded antihistamines such as Claritin®, Zyrtec®, Tylenol®, Tavist®, and Benadryl®. Decongestants such as oxymetazoline and pseudoephedrine have a similar effect. These remedies stop the discharge or noticeably minimize it. In addition to decongestants and antihistamines, sympathomimetics can also be used for treatment. The use of nasal sprays is also a proven remedy for acute rhinorrhea, but should not be overdosed, otherwise it can have a negative effect.

Sprays and antihistamines usually do not require a prescription, but should be taken in consultation with the doctor to ensure effective treatment. A dilution of the discharge also makes things easier for those affected. This can be achieved by regular nasal irrigation with a light saline solution and a humid room environment.


A possible prevention of rhinorrhea depends on the specific causes. Allergy sufferers are well advised to avoid the causative allergens. Viral and bacterial infections are more difficult to prevent. Washing your hands regularly and avoiding contact with people who have a cold can help. The susceptibility to colds, and the associated rhinorrhea, is reduced by a healthy diet and good physical condition.


Aftercare for rhinorrhea is based on the underlying disease. If the discharge occurs in connection with acute rhinitis, comprehensive follow-up care is not required. The rhinorrhea subsides as soon as the rhinitis has been cured. As part of the aftercare, the further intake of the prescribed rhinological drugs or antibiotics must be discussed.

The doctor will also ask about any subsequent symptoms and, if necessary, carry out a physical examination to detect inflammation or other abnormalities in the area of ​​the throat, nose and ears. If the underlying rhinorrhea cluster headache is long-term treatment. Follow-up care focuses on controlling symptoms and preventing recurrence after the rhinorrhea has resolved.

In the case of special forms such as rhinoliquorrhoea or pseudo-rhinoliquorrhoea, individual measures must be taken. It is best for patients to talk to the ENT doctor about the measures that are necessary in each case. Follow-up care for rhinorrhea can sometimes last for months or years if chronic symptoms such as cluster headache or chronic infectious rhinitis are the cause of the uncontrolled discharge. An ENT doctor takes care of aftercare for rhinorrhea. In the case of allergic symptoms, the allergist or family doctor is responsible.

You can do that yourself

Depending on the cause of rhinorrhea, there are various treatment options. If the symptoms are due to a cold, no therapy is necessary. The symptoms disappear by themselves as soon as the underlying disease has been cured. Allergy-related symptoms must be treated causally by reducing exposure to the allergen.

If bronchiolitis or sinusitis is the cause, general measures such as rest and relaxation will help. The nasopharynx should not be exposed to irritation. If the rhinorrhea occurs in connection with a head injury, the secretion flow can be stopped by cooling and bandages. The doctor can prescribe a suitable nasal spray. If the symptoms occur after eating spicy food or after going outside, cleaning the nose is sufficient.

Rhinorrhea must be evaluated by a doctor if it occurs repeatedly or does not go away on its own. Home remedies such as cooling and inhalations help, as do homeopathic preparations, such as essential oils or ointments with aloe vera and mint. In addition, the loss of liquid must be compensated for by drinking mineral water or tea regularly. Children, the elderly and the chronically ill in particular should drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

Lisa Newlon
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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.