Many health conditions, including a cold, the flu, allergies or a sinus infection, can cause a runny nose and sneezing. These conditions stimulate increased nasal mucus, causing stuffiness and a runny nose. In addition, irritation of the lining the nasal passages often triggers sneezing. Allergies also lead to release of a chemical called histamine, which frequently leads to sneezing and a runny nose. Several home remedies may be helpful in providing relief from these common symptoms.
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Flushing the nasal passages with salt water drops, sprays or solutions can be useful for softening thick mucus and promoting its clearance from the nose. Expelling nasal mucus can also temporarily clear irritants from the nose, which may help relieve sneezing. Ready-to-use saline nasal drops or sprays of solutions (Ayr, Simply Saline, NasoClear) can be used, or a salt water solution can be made at home. A neti pot (NasaFlo, SinuCleanse) -- a small teapotlike device used to irrigate the nasal passages -- can also be used to flush the nose.
Adhesive nasal strips (Breathe Right) are small, springlike bandages that are applied to the bridge of the nose and can help widen the nasal passages. While most commonly used to relieve snoring, nasal strips can help open the nasal passages that are blocked by mucus and relieve swelling of the nasal lining tissue. This can make breathing easier and significantly relieve nasal congestion. It can also relieve sneezing and a runny nose by making it easier to expel mucus from the clogged nasal passages.
Hot Liquids, Steam and Mist
Hot liquids, such as broth or tea, might be helpful for relieving a runny nose and sneezing. While the research is limited and inconclusive, these fluids may help loosen mucus so that it can be more easily expelled from the nose and mouth. Breathing the steam from the liquids may contribute to this effect. Some suggest that steam or humidified air can soothe irritated tissues in the airways and decrease the thickness of the nasal mucus. However, there is not conclusive proof that cool mist or steam is helpful.
Warnings and Precautions
In addition to home remedies, over-the-counter antihistamines (Benadryl, Claritin, Zyrtec, Allegra) and decongestants (Mucinex, Sudafed) can be helpful for sneezing and a runny nose. Nasal sprays (Afrin, Nasacort, Flonase) can also be useful for these symptoms. The choice of medicines depends on whether your symptoms are due to a cold, the flu or allergies. Talk with your doctor about using over-the-counter medications if you have heart problems, high blood pressure, are pregnant or breastfeeding or regularly take prescription medications. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that cough and cold medicines should not be used for children younger than age 6 unless your doctor advises you to give a specific medication.
See your doctor for a runny nose and sneezing lasting longer than 7 to 10 days. Anyone experiencing a fever, chills, chest pain, difficulty breathing, a rash, severe head or neck pain, or unusual drowsiness in addition to a runny nose or sneezing should seek immediate medical attention as these symptoms could signal a potentially serious problem.
- Current Diagnosis and Treatment Pediatrics, 22nd Edition; William W. Hay, Jr., M.D., et al.
- World Health Organization: Cold and Cough Remedies for the Treatment of Acute Respiratory Infections in Young Children
- Current Diagnosis and Treatment Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery, 3rd Edition; Anil K. Lalwani, M.D.
- HealthyChildren.org: Coughs and Colds: Medicines or Home Remedies?
- American Family Physician: Treatment of the Common Cold in Children and Adults