A runny nose is a common symptom that we all experience several times in life with infections like the cold, irritation from airborne irritants like smoke and with allergies triggered by exposure to dust and pollen. Although we expect to have a running nose for a short period of time, there are cases where the mucus is excessive. It can reach a point where mucus is dripping continuously out of the nose and may lead to even weeks of discomfort.
In some cases the dripping from the nose is not mucus. Instead it may be fluid from around the brain which enters the nose. This can occur when there is a severe head injury and should be taken seriously as it may lead to life threatening complications.
Reasons for Dripping Mucus from the Nose
The inner lining of the nose is made up of epithelium known as the nasal mucosa. It has many small glands that produce mucus. Even when your nose is dry, these glands are secreting mucus but in small quantities. This mucus is necessary for good nasal health as it plays several important roles in the nasal cavity.
The mucus moisturizes the nasal lining which would otherwise quickly dry up due to the air moving through the nose. It also helps to trap dust and microbes so that it does not each the lower airways and lungs. When this mucus hardens along with the dust, microbes and dead skin cells, it forms small hard masses which we often refer to ‘boogers’. This is normal for nasal secretions.
Read more on nasal mucus.
When the lining of the nose becomes irritated then the small mucus-producing cells within it become overactive. As a result it releases extra mucus which is often thin. However, it can sometimes be thick and the color may vary from clear to white, yellow, brown and even green. There may even be blood from the nose. This excessive mucus and unusual colors may all be signs of some underlying nasal condition.
Dripping Nose and Other Symptoms
A runny nose or dripping nose is a symptom of some various nasal diseases. It is known as rhinorrhea and is often accompanied by other nasal symptoms like:
- Nasal pain and/or burning
- Itching of the nose
- Diminished sense of smell
In addition it may be accompanied by symptoms like fever, malaise, headache, watery eyes, redness of the eyes, sore throat and a cough among a host of other symptoms depending on the underlying cause.
The color of the mucus may also indicate a possible cause of nasal inflammation. White and yellow mucus tends to occur with infections or prolonged inflammation due to other causes. Green mucus is usually an indication of chronic inflammation. Blood is a sign of trauma or a severe infection.
Causes of Dripping Nose
There are several possible causes of a dripping nose. Most have the same effect on the nasal lining, causing it to become inflamed. This inflammation of the nasal lining is known as rhinitis and if it involves the sinuses then it is known as sinusitis. Both usually occur together which is known as rhinosinusitis.
Injury to the nose is one possible cause of dripping nasal mucus. It may involve mechanical injury like a blow to the nose, with vigorous picking of the nose and sniffing tobacco. Sometimes it can occur with chemicals like when chlorine enters the nose during swimming in a pool. Any type of injury can lead to inflammation of the nasal mucosa with symptoms like a runny or dripping nose arising.
Infections are another common cause of a dripping nose. It is often due to viruses like the common cold and respiratory syncytial virus particularly in children. At other times it can be bacterial in nature especially with acute bacterial sinusitis. Less commonly, fungi can infect the nose and paranasal sinuses as well and tend to cause chronic infections.
Nasal irritation may be caused by a number of different substances, particularly with environmental toxins like smoke, smog, pesticides and other substances. It affects most people irrespective of individual allergies. The irritation to the nasal mucosa usually only lasts for as long as the irritant is present.
Allergies are an abnormal immune response to harmless substances. It only affects some people who have immune hypersensitivity. A common allergic nose condition is allergic rhinitis. Most cases of allergic rhinitis only occur at certain times of the year is referred to as hay fever. Nasal allergies commonly react to dust, pollen and animal fur/hair.
Read more on allergic rhinitis.
Acid reflux is another common but often overlooked cause of nasal irritation. Sometimes reflux can be so severe that the acid may reach the nose, especially when lying flat. Since acid is highly corrosive, it can irritate and even damage the nasal lining. As a result it may lead to inflammation of the nasal mucosa with excess mucus being secreted.
A foreign body in the nose is a common problem in young children where tiny objects like balls and beads may be inserted into the nose. Sometimes these objects may become trapped in the nasal cavity. This not only obstructs the nasal passages but may irritate it and lead to symptoms like a runny nose.
A number of drugs can affect the nasal mucosa and lead to symptoms like a runny nose. However, one group of drugs that may specifically trigger rhinitis are the drugs that may be used to treat it, such as corticosteroid sprays and nasal decongestants. If used excessively or for a prolonged period of time then it can cause rebound rhinitis.
Another possible cause of a dripping nose is an a traumatic head injury where the bone that separates the nose from the cranial cavity (where the brain is housed) is ruptured. The fluid that surrounds the brain (cerebrospinal fluid) may then leak into the nasal cavity and drips out of the nose. The dripping in this case is not due to nasal mucus. The condition is known as CSF rhinorrhea.