What causes nasal discharge and how can I treat it?

Symptom Database

Nasal discharge, commonly known as a runny nose, is a common symptom that many people experience at some point in their lives. It can be caused by various factors, including allergies, infections, and environmental irritants. Understanding the causes of nasal discharge and knowing how to treat it can help alleviate discomfort and promote a speedy recovery. In this article, we will explore the different causes of nasal discharge and provide effective treatment options.

What is Nasal Discharge?

Nasal discharge refers to the production of mucus from the nasal passages. Mucus is a thick, sticky substance that helps to trap and remove foreign particles, such as dust, allergens, and bacteria, from the respiratory system. When the body detects an irritant or infection, it produces excess mucus to flush out the unwanted substances.

Causes of Nasal Discharge


Allergies are a common cause of nasal discharge. When the body comes into contact with an allergen, such as pollen, pet dander, or dust mites, it releases histamines, which trigger an allergic reaction. This reaction can lead to nasal congestion, sneezing, and excessive mucus production.


Nasal discharge can also be a symptom of an infection, such as the common cold or sinusitis. Infections cause inflammation in the nasal passages, leading to increased mucus production and congestion. The color and consistency of the nasal discharge can provide clues about the type of infection present. For example, yellow or green mucus may indicate a bacterial infection.

Environmental Irritants

Exposure to certain environmental irritants, such as smoke, strong odors, or chemicals, can irritate the nasal passages and trigger excessive mucus production. This can result in a runny nose and nasal congestion.

Treatment Options for Nasal Discharge

Over-the-Counter Medications

Over-the-counter medications can provide relief from nasal discharge and associated symptoms. Antihistamines can help reduce allergic reactions and decrease mucus production. Decongestants can help alleviate nasal congestion by shrinking the blood vessels in the nasal passages. It is important to follow the instructions and consult a healthcare professional before using any medication.

Nasal Irrigation

Nasal irrigation, also known as nasal rinsing, involves flushing out the nasal passages with a saline solution. This can help remove excess mucus and irritants, providing relief from nasal discharge and congestion. Nasal irrigation can be done using a neti pot, squeeze bottle, or nasal spray.

Steam Inhalation

Inhaling steam can help loosen mucus and relieve nasal congestion. Boil water and pour it into a bowl. Place a towel over your head and lean over the bowl, inhaling the steam for a few minutes. Be cautious to avoid burns and keep a safe distance from the hot water.


Staying hydrated is essential for thinning mucus and preventing dehydration, which can worsen nasal discharge. Drink plenty of fluids, such as water, herbal tea, and clear broths, to keep the body hydrated and promote healthy mucus production.


Using a humidifier or vaporizer can add moisture to the air and help alleviate nasal congestion. Dry air can irritate the nasal passages and worsen nasal discharge. Ensure that the humidifier is clean and well-maintained to prevent the growth of mold or bacteria.

Avoiding Triggers

If allergies are the cause of nasal discharge, it is important to identify and avoid triggers whenever possible. This may involve minimizing exposure to pollen, dust mites, pet dander, or other allergens. Keeping windows closed, using air purifiers, and regularly cleaning bedding can help reduce allergen exposure.

When to Seek Medical Attention

In most cases, nasal discharge can be effectively managed at home with self-care measures. However, there are instances when medical attention may be necessary. It is advisable to consult a healthcare professional if:

  • The nasal discharge persists for more than 10 days
  • The nasal discharge is accompanied by severe facial pain or headache
  • The nasal discharge is thick, yellow, or green in color for more than a week
  • There is blood in the nasal discharge
  • There is a high fever

A healthcare professional can evaluate the symptoms, determine the underlying cause, and recommend appropriate treatment options.


Nasal discharge, or a runny nose, can be caused by allergies, infections, or environmental irritants. Understanding the underlying cause of nasal discharge is crucial in determining the most effective treatment options. Over-the-counter medications, nasal irrigation, steam inhalation, hydration, and avoiding triggers are some of the ways to manage nasal discharge. However, if the symptoms persist or are accompanied by severe pain or other concerning symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention. By taking appropriate measures, individuals can find relief from nasal discharge and promote a healthy respiratory system.

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