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Cold Season

Doctors Reveal the 5-Minute Tricks That Stop a Runny Nose Fast

Find out the healing sip you already have in your pantry

If you’ve ever had a cold or allergies, it can feel like there are not enough tissues in the world to soothe your sniffles. Not only do you want relief, you want relief fast. And if you’re like us, you’ve probably wondered how to stop a runny nose in 5 minutes. Here, experts weigh in on what’s irritating your nose and reveal the best natural fixes (plus drugstore remedies, too!) that can quash symptoms in a hurry.

What causes a runny nose?

“The nose’s job is to assess the outside environment and tell the body whether there is danger,” says David. W. Jang, MD, associate professor of head and neck surgery at Duke University School of Medicine.

Contrary to popular belief, runny noses are not necessarily seasonal. They can occur whenever the lining of your nose is irritated or inflamed. And that happens more often than you may think, since the nerves on the inside of your nose are some of the most sensitive in the body. While a cold or allergies are a top trigger, some people get a runny nose when eating certain foods. For others, it’s cold or dry air. Triggers typically fall into one of four categories:

1. Illnesses

Cold, flu, COVID-19 and other infections can all cause runny nose and other familiar sick-day symptoms. It’s all part of the body’s attempt to clear the virus. These runny noses are more common during peak virus season (think fall and winter), but you can get sick and get stuck dealing with a runny nose any time of year. 

Related: Doctors Share the Best Ways to Relieve Sinus Pressure in the Ears + What You Should *Never* Do

2. Allergies

“Allergies are a top cause of runny noses,” says Saint Anthony Amofah, MD, chief clinical officer at Community Health of South Florida. These runny noses can be seasonal (if you’re allergic to pollen) or happen all year long (if you’re allergic to dust mites). It happens when allergy-triggering particles inflame the sensitive nose lining. (Click through to learn how to give old pillows a deep clean to outsmart indoor allergies.)

3. Foods

If you get a runny nose from eating certain foods or drinks, you’re not alone. “There are sensory nerves in the back of the nose that can trigger it,” explains Meha Fox, MD, assistant professor in the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Baylor College of Medicine. Different people are sensitive to different things, but spicy food is the most common culprit.

A bowl of spicy chili peppers (which can cause a runny nose) and veggies on a wooden table with bread

4. Irritants

This category of triggers includes anything in the air that your nose doesn’t like. Perfume might make you sneeze and start your nose running, while cigarettes can set off symptoms for others. “It could be bad air quality, pollutants, car exhaust or factories,” adds Dr. Jang. This is also caused by particles in the air irritating the nose lining.

Related: Activating These 7 Sinus Pressure Points Gets Rid of Pain Quickly and Naturally, Docs Say

How to stop a runny nose in 5 minutes

To stop a runny nose in a hurry, try one of these simple tricks that takes 5 minutes or less.

1. Flush your sinuses

Doctors say the age-old trick of flushing out your nose by pouring warm, sterile salt water in one nostril and out the other is one of the best ways to stop a runny nose in 5 minutes. “Saline irrigation with a neti pot or any other method cleans out any irritants — it’s a pretty quick fix,” says Dr. Jang. By removing the irritants from your nasal passage, you’ll quickly quell symptoms. One to try: NeilMed NasaFlo Neti Pot (Buy from Amazon, $14.67).

Tip: New to using a Neti Pot? Check out the quick how-to video below.

2. Sip green tea

You already know that a warm cup of tea is super soothing when you aren’t feeling well. And if you choose to brew a cuppa made with green tea, you’ll stem runny nose symptoms with every comforting sip. “Green Tea is helpful in many different ways,” says Dr. Amofah. “The antioxidants help reduce inflammation. And the caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, which constricts the arteries that supply the mucous lining in the nose,” he says. Not a fan of green tea? Coffee or chocolate may also help. (Have an irritated, scratchy throat, too? Click through to see the best tea for sore throat.)

3. Slip on a mask

If you’re allergic to outdoor triggers like pollen or grasses, there’s a simple way to stop your runny nose in 5 minutes. “Wear a mask when you’re outside,” says Dr. Fox. The same type of surgical mask doctors use to ward off illness works for stopping a runny nose caused particles swirling in the air.

4. Drink up

It’s estimated your body produces about 1 liter of mucus every day. Most of the time, it runs down the back of your nose and throat unnoticed. But when your mucus thickens, it can start to leak out your nose rather than its normal route. The fix? Drinking a few extra glasses of H2O. This thins your mucus, helping to thwart a runny nose “Try to double the amount of water you normally drink,” says Dr. Amofah. So if you usually drink five glasses of water each day, aim for 10 to fight a runny nose.

A woman with long, grey hair drinking a glass of water to help stop a runny nose in 5 minutes

5. Try ginger

A study in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies found taking 500 mg of ginger extract daily worked as well as an antihistamine at easing symptoms of allergic rhinitis, an inflammatory condition of the nasal passages triggered by allergens that causes sneezing and a runny nose. Credit goes to ginger’s anti-inflammatory 6-gingerol and 6-shogaol compounds, which block the release of inflammatory molecules that spur symptoms.

Related: Ginger Shots Are One of Nature’s Best Immune-Boosting Tonics, Say Experts — Don’t Brave Sick Season Without Them

6. Switch on a humidifier

Your nose, which is super sensitive, likes a very particular amount of humidity in the air. But if you live in a cold, dry climate — or are running the heat indoors, which saps moisture — you can develop a runny nose. The easy way to help stop a runny nose in 5 minutes? Switch on a humidifier.

“A humidity level of about 50% is most helpful for a runny nose,” says Dr. Fox. Try placing in your nightstand in your bedroom, on an end table in your living or any area of your home where you spend the most time.

Tip: On the go? Consider a wireless, rechargeable humidifier you can easily tuck in your car’s cupholder or set at your office desk. One to try: Hew Dewy Portable Cool Mist Humidifier (Buy from Amazon, $59.95).

Related: Why MDs Recommend Having a Humidifier in Your Bedroom — 6 Surprising Health Benefits

7. Try vitamin C this way

Swap your regular nasal spray for one with vitamin C and you’ll outsmart a runny nose. A study in Ear, Nose & Throat Journal found that vitamin C sprays significantly ease symptoms like a runny nose and congestion. The nutrient works as a natural antihistamine. Plus it reduces the swelling and inflammation that irritates sinuses.

8. Grab an extra pillow

If you have a runny nose that’s making it hard to sleep, an extra pillow may turn off the tap to help you rest. “The added height can help things by moving the fluid down the throat instead of out the nose,” says Dr. Fox.

A woman in a sweater and jeans fluffing a pillow on her bed to help stop a runny nose in 5 minutes

The best medicine for a runny nose

If natural remedies aren’t quite providing the relief you were hoping for, consider these drugstore sprays that can help.

1. Antihistamine spray

“These sprays are more effective than antihistamine pills for symptoms in the eyes and nose, like a runny nose,” says Dr. Fox. Until last year, you needed a doctor’s prescription to get relief from these sprays. But they’re now available over the counter. Antihistamine sprays help stop a runny nose by blocking the chemicals that make your nose run when you have allergies. One to try: Astepro Allergy Spray (Buy from CVS, $8.99).

2. Steroid spray

This type of spray calms a runny nose by reducing swelling and inflammation in the nasal passages. “Over-the-counter steroid sprays can really help with runny noses, but I always encourage folks to check in with their doctor first,” says Dr. Amofah. One to try: Flonase Sensimist Spray (Buy from Amazon, $15.98). Dr. Fox likes Flonase Sensimist because it isn’t made with alcohol, an ingredient that can dry out nasal passages and make a runny nose worse.

A woman closing her eyes while holding a nasal spray bottle, which helps stop a runny nose in 5 minutes

3. Oxymetazoline spray

Oxymetazoline helps a runny nose by narrowing the blood vessels in the nasal passages. While this type of spray delivers fast and effective relief, it should only be used as a last resort.

“I only recommend them if the runny or stuffy nose is interfering with normal functioning, like when people can’t sleep or can’t work,” says Dr. Fox. She tells patients to use no more than two sprays a day for three days. After that, you may experience rebound congestion that’s more miserable than what you started with. One to try: Afrin No Drip Severe Congestion Nasal Pump Mist (Buy from Amazon, $15.87).

When to visit a doctor

Most of the time a runny nose can be safely treated at home and will resolve on its own. But if your runny nose lasts more than two weeks, or you’re just feeling crummy, you should see your doctor to check for an illness or allergies.

“If you have a clear runny nose on one side only, get that checked out, too,” adds Dr. Jang. “It could be a cerebrospinal fluid leak.” That’s when there’s a small hole in the membrane that separates the brain from the nose. If it isn’t treated, bacteria can get to the brain and cause meningitis. “It’s rare, but it’s something to be aware of,” says Dr. Jang.

For more ways to ease cold and allergy symptoms:

8 Natural Ragweed Allergy Remedies That Deliver Relief Fast — Without Side Effects

How to Stop a Cold in Its Tracks: MDs Share Their Top Tips So You Can Feel Better Fast

Ginger Shots Are One of Nature’s Best Immune-Boosting Tonics, Say Experts — Don’t Brave Sick Season Without Them

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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