Rhinorrhea – Definition, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

Rhinorrhea Definition

The term ‘Rhinorrhea’ has been derived from a combination of Greek words ‘rhinos’ referring to the nose, and ‘-rrhea’ implying flow or discharge. Accordingly, one may define rhinorrhea as a discharge of nasal fluids. It is most commonly a symptom of hay fever and common cold. It may also be symptomatic of drug withdrawal. It is basically caused by the inflammation of the tissues and vessels in the nasal passage. Due to this, it is also referred to as ‘Runny nose’ or ‘Rhinitis’.

Types of Rhinorrhea

Rhinorrhea may also be classified on the basis of the nature of the condition and the causes of the same. Rhinitis caused due to an allergy, is known as ‘allergic rhinitis’ and the ones caused due to some other reason, is referred to as ‘non-allergic rhinitis’. Gustatory rhinorrhea is a kind that is caused after eating. Another kind is purulent rhinorrhea which is caused due to the side-effects of antibiotics.

However, when the nasal flow is associated with the discharge of cerebrospinal fluids, which actually takes place in case of basal skull fracture, it may be referred to as ‘Cerebrospinal fluid rhinorrhea’ or ‘CSF rhinorrhea’.

Rhinorrhea Symptoms

Although rhinorrhea is itself a symptom of infectious diseases, allergies, irritation, or any kind of nasal inflammation, yet it may have few more symptoms than a running nose. Besides the discharge of mucosa from the nose which may be clear, yellowish, greenish or even brownish by nature, one may also exhibit other signs. One must be made aware that in case when the nature and colour of the fluid secreted is white, one is said to suffer from clear rhinorrhea.

Some of the other ways by which rhinorrhea may be signalled include nasal congestion caused due to sinusitis, sneezing, headache, dizziness, loss of consciousness or a confused mind, a sore threat, chills, pain in the ear and the face, weariness, bleeding by the nose, breathing problems and even diarrhoea. One may also suffer from cough, erythema and malaise.

However, if running nose is actually underlined by serious traumatic complications, it may exhibit serious symptoms such as fainting, unfettered bleeding, and frequent vomiting. It may actually be triggered by a head injury or an injury to the spine, thereby affecting the nervous system.

Rhinorrhea Causes

Rhinorrhea is a condition that cannot be attributed to a single cause but multiple ones.


It may primarily be triggered by an allergy such as hay fever, or the intrusion of foreign materials into nostrils through air and dust. Allergens also include soy, latex, wheat, pet, shellfish, pet allergies and pollen. Rhinorrhea caused due to allergens is also known as ‘Allergic rhinitis’.


Infections by viral and bacterial agents like common cold and influenza may also trigger the same. These are agents responsible for all kinds of upper respiratory infections.


This is also caused by a viral infection and is a significant cause for rhinorrhea in children. Infants are the most common sufferers of the same.


Sinusitis is a significant reason for causing rhinorrhea. It may manifest itself in both acute and chronic forms. The acute form comes into fore when one suffers from cold and flu wherein the sinuses or the nasal passages swell. And the chronic form of the condition is seen in case where a person suffers from nasal growths triggered due to an infection or a deviated nasal septum, which is known as nasal polyps according to medical science.


Irritants such as nail polish remover, paint fumes, cosmetics, garbage, fumes and dust are some of the main irritants that cause rhinorrhea.

Spicy Foods

Food items and products rich in spices such as capsaicin, chilli peppers and other chemicals also lead to an inflammation of the nasal tissues, thereby causing the nose to discharge watery mucous frequently.

Head Injury

An injury to the brain and other traumatic experiences may significantly cause rhinorrhea. The nature of this cause may be quite severe. In fact, a basilar skull fracture may be cited as the primary reason for causing cerebrospinal rhinorrhea.

Environmental Factors

Irritants present in the environment such as compounds of disulfide to be found in garlic, shallots and onions, chill and cold air, CS gas or tear gas used as riot control agents, and dry weather are some of the basic reasons behind causing a runny nose. A hypersensitive reaction to such irritants manifests itself in the form of vasomotor rhinitis.

Other Causes

Some of the other reasons for the occurrence of severe rhinorrhea include cystic fibrosis, whooping cough, nasal tumours, hormonal changes, cluster headaches, measles, chicken pox, and some other serious genetic and respiratory disorders like Kartagener syndrome, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). Those suffering from Wegener’s Granulomatosis may also cause rhinorrhea.

Rhinorrhea Diagnosis

The symptoms of rhinorrhea are a source of indication for the nature and kind of rhinorrhea that one suffers from. The physical examination of rhinorrhea involves an inspection of the face and the nose, especially the area over the maxillary and frontal sinuses. The nature and colour of the nasal mucosa discharged is also taken in for inspection. The rhinorrhea test involves a cell culture of nasal secretions and acid-labile RNA nonenveloped virus test.  However, patients suffering from invasive sinusitis, diabetes, and immunocompromised diseases may have to undergo for a CT scan for a proper diagnosis to understand whether one suffers from chronic rhinorrhea or recurrent one.

Rhinorrhea Treatment

The treatment of rhinorrhea depends on the underlying cause of the same. Usually it does not require any treatment as it stops by itself but it may have to be dealt seriously in case it is triggered by serious neurological and physical complications.

Medical Treatment

Medically, rhinorrhea can be treated with the help of antihistamines like Claritin, Zyrtec, Tylenol Cold, Tavist, and Benadryl. Topical decongestants such as oxymetazoline and pseudoephedrine also have similar effects. These help in either stopping the discharge or restricting its overflow to a considerable extent. Along with antihistamines and decongestants, sympathomimetics may also help deal with rhinorrhea. The use of nasal sprays such as vasoconstrictor may also be effective in treating rhinorrhea for a limited period but its overuse may ironically aggravate rhinorrhea and may also lead to rhinitis medicamentosa. Such sprays help in fighting rhinorrhea caused due to allergies. All such medications are available over the counter but it is advisable to take them under the supervision of a doctor. They especially provide for an effective CSF rhinorrhea treatment.

Besides the aforementioned, one may also go for nasal irrigation which involves cleaning and rinsing the nose with saline water. One may be alleviated from the problem by increasing the volume of fluid intake and increase in the humidity in the air. This may be done by drinking lots of fruit juices or water and using a warm or cool mist humidifier. The basic motive in this attempt is to make the mucus thin.

Home Remedies

Rhinorrhea can be treated at home using a neti pot for the purpose of cleaning and rinsing the nose and flushing the nasal cavity. The net pot holds saline solution made at home using salt and purified water. In case of the unavailability of net pot, one may substitute it with a shot glass or a bulb syringe.

One may also go for a herbal steam bath. It entails one to inhale the moist air that evaporates out of a boiling pot of water with added drops of eucalyptus oil and covering the head with a towel like forming a tent over the head. Humidifier is also a device that helps in rhinorrhea recovery at home. These home remedies are especially helpful in case of rhinorrhea caused due to cold and flu.

Moreover, avoiding spicy foodstuffs and alcoholic and caffeinated beverages also proves to be effective gustatory rhinorrhea treatment.











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