What are the causes and remedies for a runny or congested nose?

Symptom Database

A runny or congested nose can be a frustrating and uncomfortable experience. It can interfere with your ability to breathe properly, affect your sense of smell, and even lead to headaches and sinus pressure. Understanding the causes and remedies for a runny or congested nose can help you find relief and improve your overall nasal health.

The Anatomy of the Nose

Before delving into the causes and remedies, it is important to understand the anatomy of the nose. The nose is a vital part of the respiratory system, responsible for filtering, warming, and humidifying the air we breathe. It consists of the nasal cavity, which is divided into two passages by the nasal septum. The nasal passages are lined with a mucous membrane that produces mucus to trap dust, allergens, and other particles.

Causes of a Runny or Congested Nose


Allergies are a common cause of nasal congestion and a runny nose. When you come into contact with an allergen, such as pollen, pet dander, or dust mites, your immune system reacts by releasing histamines. These histamines cause the blood vessels in your nasal passages to swell, leading to congestion and increased mucus production.

Cold and Flu

A cold or flu virus can also cause a runny or congested nose. These viral infections can irritate the nasal passages and trigger an inflammatory response, resulting in nasal congestion and excessive mucus production.


Sinusitis, or a sinus infection, occurs when the nasal passages become inflamed and infected. This can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection, allergies, or a deviated septum. Sinusitis often leads to a stuffy or congested nose, facial pain, and thick nasal discharge.

Remedies for a Runny or Congested Nose

Nasal Irrigation

Nasal irrigation, also known as nasal rinsing or nasal douching, is a technique that involves flushing out the nasal passages with a saline solution. This can help remove excess mucus, allergens, and irritants, providing relief from nasal congestion. You can use a neti pot, squeeze bottle, or nasal spray to perform nasal irrigation.

Steam Inhalation

Inhaling steam can help loosen mucus and relieve nasal congestion. You can create steam by filling a bowl with hot water and leaning over it with a towel draped over your head to trap the steam. Adding essential oils like eucalyptus or peppermint can enhance the steam’s decongestant properties.

Over-the-Counter Medications

Over-the-counter medications, such as decongestant nasal sprays or oral antihistamines, can provide temporary relief from nasal congestion. However, it is important to use these medications as directed and avoid prolonged or excessive use, as they can lead to rebound congestion or other side effects.

Humidify the Air

Dry air can worsen nasal congestion, so using a humidifier or vaporizer can help add moisture to the air and alleviate symptoms. Be sure to clean and maintain your humidifier regularly to prevent the growth of mold or bacteria.

Avoid Triggers

If you have allergies, identifying and avoiding triggers can help prevent nasal congestion and a runny nose. This may involve minimizing exposure to pollen, dust mites, pet dander, or other allergens. Keeping your living space clean and using allergen-proof bedding can also be beneficial.

Elevate Your Head

When sleeping or resting, elevating your head with an extra pillow or using a wedge pillow can help reduce nasal congestion. This position promotes better drainage and can alleviate the feeling of a stuffy nose.

When to Seek Medical Attention

In most cases, a runny or congested nose can be managed with home remedies and over-the-counter medications. However, there are instances when medical attention may be necessary. You should consult a healthcare professional if:

  • Your symptoms persist for more than 10 days
  • You experience severe facial pain or swelling
  • You have a high fever
  • Your nasal discharge is thick, green, or bloody
  • You have difficulty breathing

These symptoms may indicate a more serious underlying condition that requires medical intervention.


A runny or congested nose can be bothersome, but understanding the causes and remedies can help you find relief. Whether it’s allergies, a cold, or sinusitis, there are various techniques and treatments available to alleviate nasal congestion and promote better nasal health. By incorporating these remedies into your daily routine and seeking medical attention when necessary, you can breathe easier and enjoy improved nasal function.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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