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Runny nose? Here's what to do
From MayoClinic.com
Special to CNN.com

You might have a runny nose because of a cold, the flu or seasonal allergies. If so, your runny nose problem will eventually clear up on its own. Here are some tips to help you relieve your runny nose and breathe more easily.

Runny nose: Where does all that mucus come from?

Glands in your nose and sinuses continually produce mucus — as much as 1 to 2 quarts a day! The mucus cleans and moisturizes your nasal membranes and helps fight infection. You're probably not aware of this until your body steps up mucus production, usually in an effort to clear cold or flu viruses or allergens from your nasal passages. Cold temperatures, spicy food and hormonal changes also can trigger a runny nose.

Is a runny nose serious?
A runny nose is usually just an annoyance. But it can be a sign of a more serious problem. See your doctor if:

  • Your symptoms last more than two weeks, or you have a fever lasting more than a few days along with your runny nose.
  • Your nasal discharge is green in color, and accompanied by sinus pain or fever. This may be a sign of a bacterial infection.
  • Your child's nose is persistently runny on one side only. This might be a sign that a small object is lodged in that nostril.
  • You have blood in your nasal discharge or a persistent clear discharge after a head injury.
  • You have asthma or emphysema, or you're taking immune-suppressing medications.

What will help a runny nose?
Sniffing and swallowing or gentle blowing is often the only treatment you need for a runny nose. But if the discharge is persistent and watery, an over-the-counter antihistamine may be helpful, primarily if your runny nose is allergy related. Be sure to follow the label instructions exactly. Some antihistamines make you drowsy and can interact with other medications and alcohol. And by slowing the flow of mucus, they cause germs to stay in your nasal passages longer.

For babies and small children, use a soft rubber suction bulb to gently remove the secretions. Placing a few drops of salt water (saline) in the nose first will help with the bulb suctioning. Don't give antihistamines to children unless your doctor recommends them.

Postnasal drip: Common companion to a runny nose

The mucus your nose produces travels in a thin film down the back of your throat. It traps allergens and germs and disposes of them through your digestive system. Normally, you swallow the mucus without knowing it. But when there's more mucus than usual, you may feel the postnasal drip accumulating in the back of your throat.

What will help postnasal drip?
In addition to being uncomfortable, postnasal drip can cause a cough, sore throat or constant throat clearing. To help relieve these symptoms:

  • Avoid irritants. Common irritants that may stimulate mucus production include cigarette smoke and sudden temperature changes — going from extreme heat into air conditioning, for instance.
  • Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated keeps your postnasal mucus thin and easier to swallow.
  • Use a humidifier. Dry air thickens and dries mucus in your nose and throat.
  • Try saline sprays or rinses. Saltwater rinses and saline sprays thin your mucus and get rid of irritants. You can buy saline nasal sprays in most drugstores. Or you can make your own. Dissolve about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt in 2 cups of warm water. Use a suction bulb to place the solution in your nose or put some of the warm salt water in the cup of your hand, and then sniff it up, one nostril at a time.
  • See your doctor. If the problem persists and other measures don't help, see your doctor for other options.

  • Influenza (flu)
  • Cold symptoms: Does drinking milk increase phlegm?
  • Video: Nasal irrigation (nasal lavage) for adults
  • Common cold
  • Hay fever
  • Cold remedies: What works, what doesn't, what can't hurt
  • September 14, 2007

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