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Nose Always Running? 12 Surprising Reasons You Have the Sniffles

If you can’t stop reaching for the tissues, one of these causes might be behind your runny nose.

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You’ve overused nasal spray

Decongestants are helpful in drying out your nose when you have a cold, but your runny nose might actually get worse if you start to rely on them too much. “If they’re overused for more than a few days, when you stop, the nose is used to it and gets a rebound effect,” says Elie Rebeiz, MD, chair of the otolaryngology department at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.

Man and woman drinking craft beer at a bar.iStock/hoozone

You’re drinking alcohol

The barley in beer and some chemicals in wine can cause allergies, but the reasons aren’t totally clear, Dr. Rebeiz says. “It’s not only the allergy, but it can cause nasal mucus lining to get congested and feel runny, and it feels like they need to sniff,” he says.

Woman with bright blue eyes blowing her nose.iStock/Wavebreakmedia

It’s your body’s way of salivating

When some people age, the nerves to their saliva glands might rewire, so instead of drooling when they see or smell food, their nose will start to run. “They have to wipe their nose all the time at the dinner table,” Dr. Rebeiz says.

Charcuterie board of cheeses, olives, and bread.iStock/Jasmina007

You’re eating bread and cheese

It’s unclear whether it’s because of an allergy to the food or a fermenting product in the cheese, but some people start to sniff when they eat bread and cheese, Dr. Rebeiz says.

Man blowing his nose with a tissue in bed.iStock/AndreyPopov

You just woke up

Humans produce a liter of mucus every day, which comes out of the sinus and lines the nose, Dr. Rebeiz says. The mucus could collect in nasal passages while you’re lying in bed, then spill out when you get up, he says. Start your day off with these 24 ways to brighten your morning.

Woman sleeping in bed in the morning.iStock/andresr

You sleep with the heat on

You might also need to blow your nose in the morning because you were breathing in dust while you were asleep, which is especially common if you keep your heater on. “In most bedrooms, especially in the winter…with people who have forced hot air as heating systems, dust is blowing out into their bedrooms as they inhale, and that causes congestion,” Dr. Rebeiz says. To remove as much dust in the bedroom as you can, try baby wipes on hard surfaces or one of these other 15 expert dusting strategies.

Pregnant woman holding her belly.iStock/g-stockstudio

You’re pregnant

When a woman’s hormones change during pregnancy—especially during the first or second trimester—her nose might start to get runny, and her allergies might get worse. “If there are no underlying problems, it usually goes away within a few weeks after she delivers,” Dr. Rebeiz says.

Box of tissues on a hardwood floor.iStock/david-franklin

There’s a growth in your nose

Over the years, congestion from allergies might cause swelling in the nose, which eventually could turn into a moist, shiny piece of tissue called a polyp. It’s a benign growth, but it could keep you from clearing your nasal passages, Dr. Rebeiz says. “They collect mucus and can’t clear it up,” he says.

Woman sitting on the couch blowing her nose.iStock/Wavebreakmedia

You have a chronic sinus infection

If you’re constantly going to the doctor with a sinus infection, you might have a chronic condition. “The driving reason for getting sinusitis is when you have undiagnosed allergies that haven’t been properly treated—it leads to a backup of mucus in the passages,” Dr. Rebeiz says. “You get infections again and again.” If you think you have chronic sinusitis, he recommends getting allergy tests and treatment, which will probably keep your infection from returning. If you don’t have allergies but are always stuffed up, rule out these 7 reasons for chronic nasal congestion.

Man sitting on a couch blowing his nose with a tissue.iStock/Antonio_Diaz

You have acid reflux

When a person has reflux laryngitis, acid comes up from the stomach and travels through the esophagus and into the throat and the back of the nose. The person might start to sniffle without feeling the indigestion usually associated with acid reflux, Dr. Rebeiz says. “They typically have heartburn, but they can have it without heartburn,” he says. It often occurs without typical heartburn symptoms. Another reason for sniffles may be seasonal allergies—here’s how to know if allergies are causing your heartburn.

Wicker box of tissues on a table.iStock/amnarj2006

You’re eating spicy foods

Smelling a spice like pepper could irritate your nose. “One, it will make you sneeze, but also it will make your nose congested and runny and cause people to sniffle,” Dr. Rebeiz says.

Person pulling a tissue out of a tissue box.iStock/Soraluk

You have anxiety

As a nervous tick, some people constantly reach for tissues. “At work, it’s probably related to stress and anxiety, and they do it unconsciously,” Dr. Rebeiz says. “People around them notice it.” If stress is behind the sniffles, you probably won’t have the urge to dab your nose if you concentrate on your breathing and stay aware of what you’re doing, he says. Sometimes anxiety medications can help, as can these 7 natural ways to ease anxiety.

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Medically reviewed by Robert Sporter, MD, on October 27, 2019