Runny noses are annoying and can affect your mood and daily life — the huge mess of used tissues, the inability to taste your food, it may sometimes even block your ears. In severe cases, you may even have difficulty breathing. So, how do you go about reducing the physical discomforts brought by a runny nose? How to cure a runny nose so that you can be your best self? 

Before we dive into cures and remedies, we need to look at the cause of your leaky snout. Understanding the underlying issues can help you address the problem.

What causes a runny nose?

There are 4 common causes of runny noses. We take a look at each of them and find out how they affect you.

1. The common cold

The common cold, also known as an upper respiratory infection (URI), is one of the most common reasons for doctor visits. Though the name ‘common cold’ might suggest that you get it from exposure to cold weather, this isn’t entirely true. There are over two hundred different viruses that cause upper respiratory infections.

The common cold can spread through air (e.g. inhaling the respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing) and close personal contact (e.g. touching the nose or mouth by hand or other object exposed to the virus). This is why it can easily infect entire households and offices in a short period of time. A crowded and confined space is the perfect environment for the spread of the common cold.

COVID-19 is another virus that spreads quickly through droplets, but not all sniffles equate to COVID-19. If you’ve respiratory symptoms and are concerned about the risks, MyDoc’s COVID-19 clinic is here to provide timely triage assessments. 

Woman sneezing and suffering from a runny nose due to pollen allergy
Pollen is one of the main causes of respiratory allergy.

2. Allergies

Allergies are another common cause for runny noses. This happens when you come into contact with allergens or irritants that trigger an allergic reaction. 

Allergens can range from dust, pollen, animal fur or even certain foods. For those allergic to pollen, the allergies come seasonally. You can expect a runny nose in spring and summer, when flowering plants, trees, weeds and grasses begin producing pollen.

You get allergic reactions because your immune system is reacting to these allergen particles perceived as an invasive threat to your health. These particles can also irritate your nasal passage. As a result, the body reacts with a runny nose, sneezing or inflammation. The nasal secretions from allergies are usually clear. They may become yellow and purulent in some rare cases.

Read more about hay fever here.

3. Hormonal changes

Hormonal changes or imbalance can cause inflammation and enlargement of the nasal blood vessel. 

This condition is known as hormonal rhinitis. Hormonal changes or imbalance can cause a direct effect on the membranes in your nasal passage. Your nose will start producing more mucus than usual, leaving you with a dreadful runny nose.

Hormonal rhinitis is a common symptom in pregnant women. This is because pregnancy is a period of major hormonal changes. 39% of pregnant women will experience a runny nose and nasal congestion. Menopause, puberty and contraceptive use can also lead to hormonal rhinitis.

4. Cold air

Cold climate is not an issue here in Singapore. We get to enjoy sweltering tropical heat all year round. To combat the unbearable heat, we use air conditioning. But this brings on the same problems as cold climates.

Cold air can be drying, and this will cause your nasal membranes to dry out. With a dry nose, your body responds by triggering an increased production of mucus. This is an attempt to try and balance out the fluids in your nasal passage. 

That’s why your nose always gets a little wet and runny when you’re in a room that’s too cold.

Symptoms of a runny nose

You might think that your nose is just reacting to dusty or cold environments. However, a runny nose is usually a sign that your nasal passage is inflamed and irritated. 

If left untreated, these symptoms may end up lasting for a few days or even weeks. Here are some signs of a runny nose:

  • Excessive mucus production
  • Nasal discharge
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Nasal congestion
  • Bouts of sneezing
  • Headache or facial pain due to increased pressure in the nasal cavities
  • Sore throat or cough due to mucus dripping back into your throat (post-nasal drip)

In some severe cases, you might get nose bleeds from blowing your nose too much or even end up with a sore throat or laryngitis due to prolonged post-nasal drip. 

Read more about laryngitis here.

How to treat a runny nose

A common way to treat a runny nose is to take antihistamines. 

When you get a runny nose, your body is actually producing chemicals called histamines. This chemical is usually released when your body tries to combat infections and allergies. Histamines are responsible for causing inflammation, and antihistamines work to block the effects of it. 

Antihistamines can give you relief from the sneezing, runny nose and coughing. You can get over-the-counter antihistamine medication at convenience stores, supermarkets and pharmacies. 

Clarinase, Zyrtec, Clarityn and Telfast are some examples of over-the-counter antihistamines, and you can buy them without a prescription from a doctor. Do note that these antihistamines can make you drowsy, so it might be a good idea to take them before you go to bed.

Other types of over-the-counter medication can include decongestants. Decongestants can help combat the stuffiness and blocked nasal passageways. These decongestants can be in the form of nasal sprays, medicated oils or even humidifiers.

Not sure what are the differences between antihistamines and decongestants? Find out here. 

Home remedies for a runny nose

If you’re looking for quicker relief, you might want to try some of these simple and effective home remedies for your runny nose. 

Infographic on how to cure a runny nose at home
Explore some of these home treatments to see if it’s effective at curing your runny nose.

1. Drink hot tea

Some teas contain herbs that are mild decongestants. Instead of regular black or red tea, try non-caffeinated chamomile, ginger or mint tea. These specific herbs contain anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties that can ease the blockage in your nose.

Now don’t go searching for the nearest bubble tea shop to get your tea fix. Instead of iced tea, we recommend opting for a cup of hot tea. 

Hot beverages are more effective than cold drinks. This is due to the heat and steam that can help open up your airways and assist with decongestion. The heat can also soothe the inflammation of your nose and throat.

2. Facial steam

Facial steam is a method often used to open pores for clearing pimples and acne, but that’s not the only thing it can do — it can also help to open up your blocked nasal passageways. 

Facial steam helps to thin out mucus and provide the much-needed moisture for healing. This clears your blocked nose and helps you to breathe better.

To create your own facial steam:

  1. Get a bowl of steaming hot water and a towel. You can get it by heating clean water in a clean pot on your stove and heat it just enough so that steam is created
  2. Place your head over the bowl of hot water and cover your head with the towel. 
  3. Keep your head there for about 20 to 30 minutes at a time. 
  4. Inhale the steam from the bowl to clear your nose and get faster relief.

Studies have shown that steam inhalation can reduce recovery time by about a week.

You can also add in essential oils to your bowl of hot water. Try tea tree oils, peppermint, thyme, rosemary, pine, sage or eucalyptus. These oils contain compounds like menthol and thymol that can help to decongest the nose and leave you feeling much better.

3. Blow your nose gently

If you’ve got a runny nose, always keep some tissues on hand. Blow your nose to clear the mucus whenever you can, but not too hard. 

By blowing too hard, you can send the germ-carrying phlegm and mucus back into your ear passages, which may lead to an ear infection. To prevent this, clear one nostril at a time by pressing a finger over one nostril and blow gently to clear the other.

It’s important not to sniffle your mucus back into your head. The germ-carrying mucus and phlegm should be expelled when possible. Keeping it in allows it to breed and spread germs into other parts of your head. For example, postnasal drip (mucus dripping back to your throat) can lead to an inflamed throat. 

4. Stuff your nose

Blowing your nose is like a double-edged sword. You need to expel the mucus and phlegm, but you also can’t do it too hard. 

If you do, you might aggravate your condition as the force can cause swelling and inflammation. Additionally, the skin around your nose is very sensitive and constant nose blowing can cause soreness and pain.

Other than blowing your nose, you can try stuffing it too! Roll up a wad of tissue and stuff it into one nostril at a time. The tissues can soak up and absorb the excess mucus around the nostril. 

This method is a much gentler approach to clearing mucus and phlegm than blowing your nose. The only drawback is that you might look silly with wads of tissue sticking out from your nose.

5. Menthol rubs or menthol lozenges

Time to whip out the good old Axe Oil your grandfather keeps in his back pocket!

While your neighbourhood coffee shop uncles favour Axe Oil, there are other brands of menthol rubs. You can find Vicks, Tiger Balm, Olbas Mentholatum and many more at your local convenience store or pharmacy. If your skin is sensitive to oils and rubs, you can opt to suck on a lozenge instead.

However, you should be aware that menthol doesn’t do much to ease nasal congestion. What they do is trigger menthol receptors in your nose that makes you feel like you’re breathing better. 

Menthol rubs and lozenges can also help with other cold symptoms like cough and sore throat that comes hand-in-hand with runny noses.

When using menthol rubs, avoid rubbing it directly in or on your nose. The skin around your nose is sensitive, and these rubs might cause skin irritation. Instead, apply a small amount below your nose or on your upper lip. 

Here’s a quick breakdown on the effectiveness and risks that come with the 5 home remedies for a runny nose.

Type of remedyIs it easy to do?How effective is it?Any potential risks?
Drink hot teaVery easy. Just need to buy appropriate teas.Quite effective in decongesting the nose.None. But you could burn your tongue if it’s too hot!
Facial steamSuper easy. No need to buy anything.Effective in clearing mucus and phlegm.None. You might actually have better complexion after.
Blow your noseEasy. But you need to be careful not to blow too hard.Very effective. Clears mucus directly.Might cause complications if you blow too hard. 
Stuff your noseEasy. Unless you’re easily embarrassed by looking silly.Not so effective in removing excess mucus.Might embarrass yourself if you forget to remove tissues.
Menthol rubsMight face difficulty in picking out a suitable brand.Not effective in runny nose relief, but it helps you feel better.Potential allergy to chemicals or skin irritation.

Tips on coping with a runny nose

Dealing with a runny nose is an unpleasant experience. The discomfort, hassle and lack of sleep can leave you feeling angry and irritable. 

How can you make it a little more bearable? Here are some tips on coping with a runny nose.

1. Use soft tissues when blowing your nose

Woman cleaning her runny nose with a facial tissue
Use facial tissues that are gentler on your skin to clean your nose.

The fabric you choose to blow your nose with can make a significant difference. The skin around your nose is very sensitive and prone to irritation. So it’s important to choose soft and gentle fabrics. 

Avoid using paper towels, handkerchiefs or cloth. Opt for facial tissues instead. Try facial tissues that contain lotion or softeners that make the tissue gentler on the skin.

Now you might be tempted to blow your nose with wet tissues. Wet = moisture, and moisture means it’s suitable for relieving your blocked nose, right? Well, no. Wet tissues usually contain alcohol which can dry out your nose and worsen the condition. 

2. Use the remedies before you sleep

Your body needs sufficient rest to heal itself, but getting enough sleep when you have a runny nose can be rather difficult. The discomfort and difficulty breathing tends to keep you up at night.

Based on this, it might be a good idea to use the remedies listed right before you go to bed. Do your best to clear your mucus before bed to ease the congestion. You might fall asleep a little easier. 

If you’re down with a runny nose, it’s best to stay at home and rest. You’ll also be sparing others from the risk of catching your cold. Do your best to ensure that you get enough sleep to allow your body to gather strength to heal itself.

3. Practice good hygiene to stop germs from spreading

Person washing hands with soap at the basin
Practicing good hygiene habits can help reduce the spread of germs.

Treating yourself right so that you can get better is paramount. Making sure that you don’t spread your germs to people around you is equally important. Be responsible and do what you can to reduce the spread of germs by practising good hygiene.

Make it a point to wash your hands often and ensure that you soap and lather thoroughly. Clean between your fingers, under your nails, around your wrists and the back of your hand. As a rule of thumb, a thorough hand washing should last for about 20 seconds. If you want to go the extra mile, carry a hand sanitiser with you.

Coughing and sneezing? Instead of covering with your hands, try covering your mouth with the crease of your elbow. Your elbow crease is not something you use as regularly as your hands. 

For those of you that are always prepared with tissues on hand, make sure you dispose of them properly. Don’t leave your tissues lying around. After blowing or wiping your nose, throw it away immediately. Don’t put it back into your pockets. 

You might also want to consider putting on a face mask to reduce the spread of germs. 

Nothing beats a doctor’s prescription

These home remedies are meant to provide relief. Some of them might work better for you than others. 

But if you suspect that the cause of your runny nose is a bacterial or viral infection, it is best to see a doctor. Home remedies and over-the-counter medication may not directly combat the virus or the bacteria that are causing the runny nose. They might relieve the symptoms, but not treat the cause.

If you’re looking for a more direct approach to curing a runny nose, see a medical professional. Get a proper diagnosis of the underlying cause for the runny nose and get medication that can address it directly.

Not feeling well enough to go out and see a doctor? Try a virtual consultation with MyDoc.

Leave a Reply