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Runny Nose: Symptoms & Signs

  • Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

Stuffy nose is a term often used to refer to obstruction to the flow of air in and out of the nose, while runny nose refers to a discharge (fluid) coming from the nasal passages. This is often a watery, clear liquid but may be thicker and viscous. Both stuffy and runny nose are associated with inflammation and swelling (congestion) of the inner lining of the nasal passages and sinuses. Rhinitis is a term that refers to inflammation of the nasal passages, and rhinorrhea is the medical term for runny nose. A viral infection (the common cold) is the most common cause of a stuffy and/or runny nose, but allergies, influenza, other viral infections like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and sinus infections also may cause these symptoms and signs. Postnasal drip may be an associated symptom. This occurs when there is excess production of mucus by the lining cells of the nose, which accumulates in the back of the nose or in the throat.

Less commonly, anatomical obstructions (for example, a deviated nasal septum or foreign bodies) may lead to nasal congestion. Other causes of a stuffy or runny nose include environmental factors, like consumption of spicy foods or smoke exposure, hormonal changes, and some medications. Rarely, tumors of the nasal passages or chronic medical conditions may be the cause of a stuffy or runny nose.

Related Symptoms & Signs

REFERENCE:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/8/2017

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