How does the nose work?
The nose is an important part of one’s body as it connects the lungs to the atmosphere. The process of breathing starts in one’s nose. The air gets into one’s lungs through the nose. The nose helps in filtering, humidifying, warming or cooling the air that comes through it. This way the nose makes sure that the air getting into one’s lungs is clean.
A special coating of mucosa or a moist tissue, covers the area inside one’s nose and comprises many mucus producing glands. As virus, bacteria, allergens, dust or other dangerous particles come inside the nose, the mucus actively traps them. The mucus is a fluid that is thin or thick, clear or opaque, and can be irregular or constant. It consists of antibodies or enzymes, which eliminates unwanted viruses, bacteria or allergens. The mucus lining also contains tiny hair-like structures called cilia. The cilia are in motion all the time. Cilia moves the collected dangerous particles and the mucus that they are trapped in though one’s nose into the back of the throat. It is then swallowed and destroyed by the acid in one’s stomach. Mucus and particles can also be coughed up or sneezed out.
When the outside temperature turns cold, the speed of this process slows down. Lot of times, the mucus stays in one’s nose and then drips or dibbles out.
Why is mucus important?
Mucus is important to keep one’s nasal passages moist and working properly. Not only does the mucus stop dangerous particles from getting into one’s lungs, but it also contains antibodies to aid in destroying bacteria. If too much mucus is produced, one’s body wants to get rid of it. This results in coughing and spitting the excess mucus out. Also blowing it out of one’s nose.
What is a runny nose?
A runny nose gets triggered when a cold virus, bacteria or an allergen (like pollen or dust) enters one’s body through the nose. This virus, bacteria or allergen tends to irritate the lining of one’s nose and sinuses, as a result of which the nose starts to produce a lot of clear mucus. This mucus traps the virus, bacteria or allergen and aids in flushing them out of one’s nose and sinuses. While a runny nose can have many triggers, it often occurs due to swelling or inflammation of the tissues inside one’s nose. This condition is known as rhinitis.
The excess fluid that is produced is usually drained from one’s nose, down the back of one’s nose (postnasal drip) or both. While the nasal mucus can have a variety of colors, the clinical term for a runny nose with thin, clear fluid is rhinorrhea.
After two or three days, the mucus may change color and become white or yellow. At times the mucus may also turn a greenish color. All of this is normal and does not mean an infection is present inside the nose.
Symptoms, causes and home remedies for runny nose
The following are the symptoms of a runny nose:
- Sore throat
- Excessive mucus production
- Nasal discharge
- Difficulty breathing
- Nasal congestion
- Bouts of sneezing
- Headache or facial pain
What are the long term effects of a runny nose?
Based on the cause of the runny nose, the long-term effects may vary. Nasal irritation and nasal obstruction can impact one’s quality of life, if the condition of runny nose is long term. An obstructed nasal passageway tends to affect one’s sleep quality. In some rare cases, acute infections of the sinuses can lead to more critical diseases if left untreated. A runny nose may also impact the health of one’s ears and hearing ability as the drainage pathway for the middle ear is through the back of the nose.
When does a runny nose indicate infection?
A runny nose with any of the below mentioned symptoms combined with a sore throat might indicate infection:
When to consult a doctor for a runny nose?
Consult a doctor if:
- One has a runny nose that doesn’t clear up after 10 days
- One has high fever
- One has symptoms of a bacterial infection
- One has bloody nasal discharge
- One has clear nasal discharge following a head injury
- One has drainage from only one side of a nose and is green or foul-smelling
- One has a sore throat or white or yellow spots on the throat or tonsils
- One has runny nose accompanied by blurred vision or swelling on any part of the face
How can a runny nose be prevented?
A runny nose can be prevented by following the simple steps listed below:
- One should wash their hands often after coughing, sneezing or blowing nose
- One should avoid close contact with people (like hugging, kissing or shaking hands)
- One should throw away used tissues after blowing or wiping the nose
- One should stay away those who already have a cold or infection
- One should practice eating healthy
- One should exercise regularly
- One should cough and sneeze into their elbow
- One should clean and disinfect common surfaces (like tables and countertops, toys, door handles and bathroom fixtures)
A runny nose also known as rhinorrhea in the morning is often triggered by allergic rhinitis. Allergic rhinitis is a condition where the swelling of the mucus membranes takes place. It is caused by the excess production of mucus due to exposure to some sort of allergen while one is sleeping. This allergen could be anything starting from dust to dust mites to pollen to waste of rodents or roaches.
The prime job of a nose is to add moisture to the air which one is breathing, so that it is less harsh on the delicate tissues at the back of the throat. As the nose humidifies the incoming air, it tends to produce more liquid or moisture depending on how dry the air is. In cold weather, there is very little moisture present in the air. This is the reason why one has a runny nose during cold weather.
A runny nose cannot cause nose bleeds on its own. The repeated blowing of a nose, however, can be disturbing to swollen and delicate mucous membranes. This commonly causes nosebleeds. If one develops a nosebleed, he/she should pinch the nose and hold their head back.
Rhinitis, which is the inflammation or swelling of one’s nasal tissues, can sometimes cause complications including a middle ear infection.
A runny nose in itself is not contagious. But if one has other signs of a cold or a flu accompanied by a fever, chills, or a sore throat then runny nose may be contagious and can be passed from person to person.
Clear liquid is the normal drainage and a sign of a runny nose. Clear nasal discharge is common in cold weather. Other types of runny noses triggered by allergy or infection may also run clear or be colored based on the specific cause of the nasal discharge.
Inhaling steam 2 to 4 times a day (not more than a minute) is good for a runny nose.
A runny nose generally lasts for 7 to 10 days. If it lasts more than 10 days, then it is recommended to consult a doctor to avoid any kind of complications.