Health Library

Nasal discharge

Definition

Nasal discharge is any mucous-like material that comes out of the nose.

Alternative Names

Runny nose; Postnasal drip; Rhinorrhea

Considerations

Nasal discharge is common, but rarely serious. Drainage from swollen or infected sinuses may be thick or discolored.

Excess mucous 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

  • Bacterial infections
  • Colds
  • Flu
  • Hay fever
  • Head injury
  • Nasal sprays
  • Sinusitis
  • Small objects in the nostril (especially in children)

Home Care

Keep the mucous 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 mucous:

  • Drink extra fluids.
  • Increase the humidity in the air with a vaporizer or humidifier.
  • Use saline nasal sprays.

Antihistamines may reduce the amount of mucous. 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
  • Syptoms 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:

For allergic rhinitis, the health care provider may prescribe antihistamines. Antibiotics should only be prescribed for bacterial infections.

References

Bachert C, Gevaert P, van Cauwenberge P. Nasal polyps and rhinosinusitis In: Adkinson NF Jr, ed. Middleton’s Allergy: Principles and Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2008:chap 56.

Long SS. Respiratory tract symptom complexes. In: Long SS, Pickering LK, Prober CG. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2008: chap: 23. Verified as current

Orban NT, Saleh H,Durham SR. Allergic and non-allergic rhinitis. In: Adkinson NF Jr, ed. Middleton’s Allergy: Principles and Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2008: chap 55.


Review Date: 8/12/2011
Reviewed By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
adam.com
 
 
 
© 2014 Hamilton Health Care System, Inc. · PO Box 1900 Dalton, GA 30720-1900 · 706.272.6000
Site Map · Contact Us · Share This Page · Feedback · Public Notices · Campus Map - English · Campus Map - Spanish
The Hamilton Health Family: Hamilton Health · Bradley Wellness Center · Hamilton EMS · Royal Oaks · Whitfield Healthcare Foundation

American College of Radiology - Breast Imaging Center of Excellence Computed Tomography - Accredited Facility Magnetic Resonance Imaging - Accredited Facility Accredited Center logo Guardian Award logo Joint Commission logo