How to Help Stop a Runny and Blocked Nose

Top tips to prevent cold and flu symptoms

No one enjoys having a blocked or runny nose. It can interfere with your ability to work, sleep and just generally enjoy life. But what actually causes a blocked or runny nose, and how can you stop it ? Find out more below.

What Is a Runny or Blocked Nose?

A runny nose occurs when you have a continuous discharge of nasal mucus coming through your nose. A blocked nose (or nasal congestion) is when you have an unpleasant stuffy feeling in your nose that can’t be cleared by simply blowing it.

What Causes a Runny or Blocked Nose?

Runny and blocked noses are caused by swollen blood vessels lining your nasal passages. If your nose is blocked, it’s because inflammation has caused the blood vessels to swell, which stimulates the mucus gland in your nose. This can make your nose ‘run’, and often makes breathing through your nose more difficult.i

The medical term for a runny or a blocked nose is rhinitis. There are two main types: non-allergic and allergic.i, ii

Non-allergic rhinitis will affect most of us at some point in our lives and can have multiple different causes. Some of the most common causes are:i

Viral infections such as a cold or the flu, or sinusitis

Bacterial or fungal infections

Inhaling irritants such as smoke, perfume, dust or chemicals

Hormonal fluctuations such as during puberty, menopause or pregnancy

Overuse of nasal decongestants

Certain medications or recreational drugs

Allergic rhinitis, however, affects one in five people in the UK. It’s triggered by an allergy to a particular substance – such as pollen, dust or other common allergens.ii

When you have an allergy, your immune system mistakes a harmless substance for a harmful one and tries to fight it. It does this by releasing a chemical called histamine, which causes the lining of your nasal passage to swell and produce too much mucus – causing a blocked, runny feeling.iii Other common allergy symptoms can include watery and itchy red eyes, sneezing, and an itchy nose and throat.iii

How to Help Stop a Runny or Blocked Nose

    Discover the cause – If your runny or blocked nose isn’t due to an infection, make a note of when your runny or blocked nose occurs, how long it lasts and if you have any other symptoms. Once you know the cause, you can choose the right treatment. You can also reduce your exposure to potential allergy triggers such as pollen, perfumes, dust and animals.

    Get steamy – Breathing in moist air can soothe irritated tissues and thin nasal mucus so it’s easier to expel, easing sinus pressure.iv You can do this by inhaling steam from a bowl of just-boiled water for five to ten minutes, or by using a humidifier.

    Relax with a warm compress – Soak a facecloth in warm water, squeeze it out, place it on your forehead and rest. The warmth can ease sinus pain and help relieve inflammation.v

    Ask about medication alternatives – If you think your runny or blocked nose is a side effect of prescription medication, ask your GP about changing to a different medicine.

    Try decongestant medicationsDay & Night Nurse Capsules contain the decongestant pseudoephedrine, which narrows your blood vessels to combat swelling and congestion associated with cold and flu. It’s combined with pholcodine to combat coughing and paracetamol to relieve pain and general cold and flu symptoms.

    Try a nasal spray – There are several sprays available over the counter from pharmacies. Corticosteroid sprays and saline sprays both relieve inflammation.vi Decongestant sprays reduce swelling in the blood vessels in your nose. Always consult the label on your nasal spray before use and follow the dosage instructions.

    Drink plenty of fluids – This helps thin the mucus in your nasal passages, reducing inflammation and pressure in your sinuses.vii

    Add an extra pillow – You’re more likely to get a blocked nose at night as mucus pools at the back of your nose and throat when you lie down. Elevating your head with an extra pillow can help, improving your chances of a good night's sleep.

    Address allergies – Although colds and allergic rhinitis both cause similar symptoms of a runny or blocked nose, allergies are more likely to cause repetitive sneezing and itchy eyes, nose and throat. If you think you may have an allergy, consult your pharmacist who can advise on suitable over-the-counter treatments. You can also see your GP who may prescribe a wider range of allergy medications.

    Consult your doctor – This is only usually necessary if your blocked or runny nose persists for longer than a couple of weeks despite over-the-counter treatments. Your GP can refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist or an allergy specialist for further investigation.


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Top tips to prevent cold and flu symptoms