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Q and A on Runny Nose or Rhinorrhea: Is It Allergy? Causes of Nasal Congestion, Stuffiness

Is Runny Nose an Allergy?

Only about 43% of the runny nose is caused by allergies.1

Is Runny Nose an Allergy?

What is Runny Nose?

Runny nose is most common and irritable symptom. The runny nose is a condition described as a mucosal or purulent secretion draining through the nose. Runny nose is caused by rhinorrhea or rhinitis. Allergic runny nose causes mucus discharge and runny nose caused by infection causes purulent discharge.2

What is Runny Nose?

What is Rhinorrhea?

Rhinorrhea follows the irritation of nasal mucosa. Nasal mucosal irritation is often caused by allergens. Rhinorrhea may or may not be associated with runny nose. Secretions of nasal mucosa may not discharge in front of nose and may discharged in mouth known as post-nasal discharge. Rhinorrhea is collection of mucosal secretion in nasal cavity.

What is an Allergen?

Allergens are irritants, which causes inflammatory allergic reaction of the mucosal tissue and smooth muscles.

What Are The List Of Allergens Causing Runny Nose?

Runny Nose Can Be Due To The Following List Of Allergens:

  • Pollens
  • Dust
  • Mold
  • Perfume
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Peanuts
  • Animal dander. Dander is shed of animal skin and hair.

What is Allergic Reaction?

The allergic reaction results in swelling of mucosa, secretion of the viscous fluid by mucosal membrane and sometime spasm of smooth muscles. Allergic reaction to pollen is also known as Hay Fever. Inflammatory reaction of mucosal membrane follows secretion of mucosal viscous fluid, which is discharged from nose as Runny Nose.

What is “Hay Fever”?

Term “Hay Fever” is often used when runny nose is associated with stuffy and blocked nose resulting in difficult breathing. “Runny Nose” or “Hay Fever” is a common condition. The term hay fever does not suggest presence of fever with runny nose. Runny nose in hay fever is associated with nasal congestion, stuffiness and eye irritation.

What Causes Nasal Congestion and Stuffiness?

Inner surface of nose is lined by mucosal epithelial cell. Irritation of nasal mucosal epithelial cells causes retention of fluid around mucosal epithelial cells resulting in mucosal edema. In addition the surrounding blood vessels get dilated resulting in nasal congestion. The dilated blood vessels in nasal cavity are known as nasal congestion. The nasal passage is blocked by edematous (swollen) mucosa and congestion resulting in difficulty in breathing.

What Causes Itching Of Eye When Present With Runny Nose?

Allergen particles irritates eye mostly conjunctiva (white surface) of the eye.

How Common is Runny Nose?

Runny nose is observed all over the world in 30% of the population. Runny nose is less often seen in USA about 8 to 10% then few other countries. The annual cost of prescription and on the counter medication is near 3.5 billion dollar.

What is Rhinitis?

Rhinitis is an inflammatory condition of nose. The nasal mucosa is inflamed because of irritation by allergen or viral and bacterial infection.3 Rhinitis is associated with runny nose. Rhinitis may cause several other symptoms.

What Are The Symptoms Of Allergic Rhinitis Associated With Runny Nose?

Allergy was considered as cause of the rhinitis in 43% of the symptomatic patients.1 Symptoms of allergic rhinitis are as follows-

  • Symptoms Related To Nose-
    • Runny Nose
    • Sneezing
    • Nasal Congestion
    • Nasal Stuffiness
    • Loss of Sensation Of Smell
  • Related to Eyes-
    • Itching Of The Eye
    • Excessive Tear
    • Allergic Conjunctivitis
  • Symptoms Caused By Postnasal Dripping-
    • Cough
    • Asthma or bronchospasm

What Are The Causes Of Non-Allergic Runny Nose?

Causes of Non-Allergic Runny Nose Are As Follows-

  • Cold temperature
  • Bright light
  • Sinusitis- Inflammation and infection of maxillary and frontal sinus, inflammatory secretions discharged into nose.
  • Cluster headache
  • Churg-Strauss Syndrome
  • Viral Infection-
    • Influenza
    • Respiratory Syncytial Virus
    • Flu
  • Bacterial Infection


  1. Sneezing and runny nose: should allergy testing be routinely performed? Can IH1, Islam A1, Taştan E1, Celik H1, Felek SA1, Karasoy DS2, Samim EE1. Indian J Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2013 Aug;65 (Suppl 2): 267-70.
  2. Blocked, runny or stuffy nose. Bridger AJ. Aust Fam Physician. 1978 Feb;7(2):133-40.
  3. The runny nose. Daneshbod Y1, Mahdavi A, Mirfazaelian H. Intern Emerg Med. 2014 Feb 18.
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:April 21, 2022

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