Whether it's large or small, button-like or beak-like, your nose is important to your health. It filters the air you breathe, removing dust, germs and irritants. It warms and moistens the air to keep your lungs and tubes that lead to them from drying out. Your nose also contains the nerve cells that help your sense of smell. When there is a problem with your nose, your whole body can suffer. For example, the stuffy nose of the common cold can make it hard for you to breathe, sleep or get comfortable.
Many problems besides the common cold can affect the nose. They include
- Deviated septum - a shifting of the wall that divides the nasal cavity into halves
- Nasal polyps - soft growths that develop on the lining of your nose or sinuses
- Rhinitis - inflammation of the nose and sinuses sometimes caused by allergies. The main symptom is a runny nose
Nasal discharge is any mucus-like material that comes out of the nose.
Considerations of Nasal Discharge
Nasal discharge is common, but rarely serious. Drainage from swollen or infected sinuses may be thick or discolored.
Excess mucus may run down the back of your throat (postnasal drip) or cause a cough that is usually worse at night. A sore throat may also result from too much mucous drainage.
The mucous drainage may plug up the eustachian tube between the nose and the ear, causing an ear infection and pain. The mucous drip may also plug the sinus passages, causing sinus infection and pain.
Causes of Nasal Discharge
- Bacterial infections
- Hay fever
- Head injury
- Nasal sprays
- Small objects in the nostril (especially in children)
Keep the mucus thin rather than thick and sticky. This helps prevent complications, such as ear and sinus infections, and plugging of your nasal passages. To thin the mucus:
- Drink extra fluids.
- Increase the humidity in the air with a vaporizer or humidifier.
- Use saline nasal sprays.
Antihistamines may reduce the amount of mucus. Be careful, because some antihistamines may make you drowsy. Don't use over-the-counter nasal sprays more often than 3 days on and 3 days off, unless told to by your doctor.
OVERUSE OF ANTIBIOTICS
Many people think that a green or yellow nasal discharge means a bacterial infection, which requires antibiotics. This is NOT true. Colds will often begin with a clear nasal discharge, but after several days it usually turns creamy yellow or green. Colds are caused by viruses, and antibiotics will not help. A green or yellow nasal discharge is not a sign that you need antibiotics.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
- Drainage is foul smelling, one-sided, or a color other than white or yellow
- Nasal discharge follows a head injury
- Symptoms last more than 3-weeks
- Symptoms last more than 10-days in a child under 3-years old
- There is fever with nasal discharge
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
Your health care provider may perform a physical examination, including an examination of the ears, nose, and throat.
You may be asked questions about your symptoms and medical history, such as:
- Is the discharge thin and watery, or is it thick?
- Is it bloody?
- What color is it?
- How long has the nasal discharge been present?
- Is it present all the time?
- What other symptoms are also present?
- Is your nose stuffy or congested?
- Do you have a cough or headache?
- Do you have a sore throat?
- Do you have a fever?
Tests that may be performed include:
- CT scan of the head
- X-rays of the skull and sinuses
For allergic rhinitis, the health care provider may prescribe antihistamines. Antibiotics should only be prescribed for bacterial infections.
Alternative Names for Nasal Discharge
Runny nose; Postnasal drip; Rhinorrhea