Science Questions

How can I stop a runny nose?

Tue, 24th Nov 2015

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Amanda Adams asked:

Hi! I listen to your show every day on the way to work (A long with a few other science ones) and I've got a good question that no one I know seems to know the answer to. I've had a runny nose and attendant sinus and throat trouble for about a week. Why does my nose run so long, and why can't I turn it off? Is there really no better way than just blowing my nose every few minutes and waiting for it to stop?






Felicity Bedford was keen to nose the answer so she spoke to GP Adam Forman to find out...

Adam -   The nose acts as a very sensitive organ to control the temperature of air and the particles in the air being inhaled.  So on a cold day, more blood will be sent to the lining of the nose to warm the air up and this produces mucus, hence the runny nose.  Likewise for toxic chemicals or even the chemicals in the hot chili, the same process will happen.  The lining of the nose will become injected blood and the lining will produce more mucus and a runny nose.

Felicity -   OK, so thereís not much I can do about cold air and toxins but what happens if I have an allergy like hayfever?

Adam -   Then the cells in the lining of the nose will produce a histamine reaction, which causes swelling of the lining of the nose, hence the runny nose. This can be controlled, either by avoiding the allergen or any toxic chemicals but also an allergic reaction can be controlled by a local medical treatment, a nose spray, dampening down the histamine reaction or by taking drugs.

Also, you may have a runny nose because youíve been crying a lot. The tear ducts in the eye run drain into the nose and hopefully this can be cured quickly with a hug or help from a loved one.

By far the most common cause of a runny nose is a virus, otherwise known as the common cold. And this, unfortunately, has no treatment apart from patience and forbearance and a lot of tissues.

Felicity -   Thanks Adam. So, Amanda, if nasal sprays and hugs donít work for you, I guess itís time to go tissue shopping. Next week weíll be journeying into the cosmos to answer Jessí question...

Jess - What would happen if I plucked a guitar in space?


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If your nose runs and your feet smell, you have a serious anatomical problem.

I'll get my coat..... alancalverd, Sat, 26th Sep 2015

I will give you my best answer without exploiting your distress for a cheap laugh. I am currently getting over a cold while in the midst of a heat wave. Hardly seem fair does it?

Your nose is running as part of your body's effort to defend itself. In the case of an allergic reaction then the way to stop it is to deal with the allergy.

If, as me, you are in dubious battel with a cold virus your nose is running so you don't get pneumonia and drop off the twig. The snot is flowing because it contains antibodies from the humoral arm of your immune system. IgA is in the first line of shock troops. The snot also mechanically removes virus particles so they can attack the other people on the tube.

Stopping the snot is ill-advised. It will stop once the danger is over. Until then take steamy showers, drink Labsong souchong tea for hydration, and be sure to go in to work because the boss deserves a case of that stuff too. if the snot turns green or you get a fever you should phone your doctor

Pecos_Bill has a bright red bandana to blow his nose with. He has stayed home today so he can rest and annoy despicable people.  Yippie-Ki-Yi-Yay!

Upon reflection and another half liter of Labsang tea, I note that you have sinus trouble, if that is previously diagnosed - and not your personal impression - and if you are too messed up to work, I would request a consult from EENT or whatever they call the critters in England. If you haven't been previously diagnosed then I would take another week's time to see if it doesn't improve.

Always assuming that you can avoid tobacco smoke and stuff like that. if you can't avoid it. then I'm afraid you may well just need to learn to whistle. Pecos_Bill, Sat, 26th Sep 2015

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