Q+A: Why this runny nose whenever I run?

Our experts answer real-life questions

Posted: 9 September 2000
by Patrick Milroy

Q No matter what the weather – hot or cold, dry or wet – my nose drips constantly as I run. As you’d expect, it’s a serious nuisance. What could be causing this problem? Could it be something in my diet?

A You’re not alone. Nasal discharge becomes a persistent problem for many runners. It is well recognised that exercise, and the increase in metabolism associated with it, causes the mucous membranes or internal skin tissue within the nose and sinuses to produce more mucous than when at rest. Some of this helps to soak up inhaled particles of dust and dirt. But as you have noticed, if too much is produced it can become a serious nuisance and a cause of nasal obstruction.

From a medical point of view it may be that you suffer from rhinitis. The mucous membrane lining the nose becomes swollen, so that airflow is obstructed, and its glands become overactive. This causes the excess mucous production, often accompanied by a water discharge.

Rhinitis can be caused by a couple of things. Firstly, it could be due to a treatable ear, nose and throat problem such as nasal polyps, an additional growth of tissue, chronic sinusitis or other infection. On the other hand, the rhinitis may be caused by an allergy – such as hayfever, dust or perhaps pollution.

Happily, it’s usually possible to treat these conditions: an infection will respond to antibiotics, and chronic rhinitis is usually controlled by nasal steroids in the form of a spray. (Don’t worry, these steroids are permissible under IAAF rules.)

Some people do like to blame their diets, particularly those rich in dairy products, but I know of little scientific evidence to support this claim. A visit to your GP or an ear, nose and throat surgeon should lead to a more definite diagnosis and cure.

Dr Patrick Milroy, RW Medical Advisor

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I get hay fever in June, every year, and I totally cut out all dairy products (eggs, milk, cheese, butter, cream, mayonnaise, custard, and anything containing any of the above such as cakes, pastry etc). The Doc says there may be no scientific proof that cutting dairy out reduces runny nose syndrome - but it works for me.

It takes a few days to kick in but afterwards there is an immediate benefit - a dry nasal orifice. No ill effects at all. Except you crave milk etc after about a month / six weeks.
Posted: 04/06/2007 at 11:44

Hmm. I have the same problem.

But would I rather wipe my nose in a disgusting manner on my sleeve or give up eggs and cheese?

Sorry the eggs won!!

Good idea though. Glad its worked for you and thanks for the advice.
Posted: 04/06/2007 at 12:52

Mmmmm - give up milk, cheese, eggs, mayo, cakes, or fire a few snot rockets when no-one's looking?

I'm with Stoxy on this one!
Posted: 04/06/2007 at 13:00

I just could not give up all of those things!!!!!!
Posted: 04/06/2007 at 13:01

Believe me you would glady do it if you had a significant mucus problem spoiling your running - a problem doesnt rate as a real problem unless you really need a solution and right now.

Cutting dairy isnt so difficult.

After all milk is purpose designed only for baby cows really, cheese is off or rotten milk (sometimes to the extent thats its covered in or contains blue fuzz!), eggs are slimy stringy blobs like a coagulating heamorrage, butter is like discharge, cakes are what Dawn French lives on, etc etc. Its all a matter of perspective.

Who wants to be like a snotty toddler when you can be a self disciplined and aware adult?

Posted: 04/06/2007 at 13:59

I just use the tramp's hanky.
Posted: 04/06/2007 at 14:03

Er right thanks for that self-righteous drivel Jeremy. I am self-disciplined and aware enough to be about to do my sixth half marathon. So Ill eat what I like and continue to wipe my nose on my sleeve and ignore people who are either a. from the publicity department of the vegan society or b. up their own @rse.

Posted: 04/06/2007 at 14:18

Posted: 04/06/2007 at 14:19

Very funny.
Posted: 04/06/2007 at 14:19

Couple bits of kitchen roll down yer shorts ...runny nose sorted!
Posted: 06/06/2007 at 20:47

Snot rockets rule
Posted: 07/06/2007 at 11:04

There's a huge difference between the amount of snot produced by running and the amount of snot that someone with mega-hayfever/allergies can produce.

Hubby has the level of hayfever that means he is permanently on antihistamines, has a steroid nasal spray, and still used Sinutab, Airwaves gum, and a small rainforest worth of tissues. And that's in winter.

If your snot is not allergy related, then cutting out dairy isn't going to make a blind bit of difference. Your body will increase it's fluid production during exercise to clear out the tubes and allow oxygen transfer.

However, I will be suggesting that hubby tries the dairy thing - if nothing else to try to reduce the associated snoring!
Posted: 07/06/2007 at 11:11

So what if milk is intended for baby cows? It tastes nice, and if full of calcium, and goes very well with meusli (and in tea).

Cheese with blue fuzz is the best kind - bring on the Stilton :-) And St Agur, and Shropshire blue, and Cambazola.....

I prefer my eggs cooked, so they whites are firm and the yolk is creamy, or scrambled to a pale, delicious mound on (buttered)toast.

I don't know what kind of discharges you have Jeremy, but you need to see a doctor if they're like butter ;-)

The occasional cake won't turn you into Dawn French, and is a nice treat. Especially a really good chocolate one!

I'd rather dribble snot than miss out on all those delicious things.

The aware, disciplined adult in me knows that the exercise I take more than out-weighs the indulgence in good food.

Posted: 07/06/2007 at 11:16

Isn't that what your sleeves are for? Wiping your nose on?
Posted: 07/06/2007 at 11:17

The aware, disciplined adult in me knows that the exercise I take more than out-weighs the indulgence in good food.
Agreed Wilkie.

Isn't that what your sleeves are for? Wiping your nose on?

And if my nose stops running will I no longer be redfaced, sweating, and generally unattractive when I run??
Posted: 07/06/2007 at 11:28

Methinks Jeremy is on the wind-up.

New forumite, no posting history, appears and starts an arguement ?

My troll alarm has just gone off !
Posted: 07/06/2007 at 11:35

I think you're right sopm. I shouldnt have taken the bait!!
Posted: 07/06/2007 at 11:46

Don't be so hard on yourself - he was being very annoying and patronising and I think you put him down pretty well.
Posted: 07/06/2007 at 11:50

Cheers sopm!!
Posted: 07/06/2007 at 11:50

I don't have any allergies (I don't think)but I do have asthma and have terrible problems with a runny nose when I run. It gets so bad I can't breath and have to blow my nose. I always just put it down to the asthma and do like Moffie said and run with some kitchen roll down my shorts (I have fallen over though while trying to blow my nose, which wasn't so clever!)
Posted: 07/06/2007 at 14:36

Thanx I'm just off now ....kitchen towel at the ready!
Posted: 08/06/2007 at 10:06

I have just been diagnosed as a hay fever sufferer - horrid runny nose and a cough. Am struggling with the hills at the moment I think because my breathing is not good. I am going to try this cutting out the dairy produce, even though it means no chocolate - aaaah - being able to eat chocolate without gaining weight is my biggest reason for running!! And by the way, eggs are not dairy products!
Will let you know if there is any improvement.

Posted: 08/06/2007 at 13:04

Biggest prob with my breathing today caused by thousands of midges, tryin not to swallow the little blighters....should hav used the kitchen towel to swot em i guess!
Posted: 08/06/2007 at 18:17

crikey, i know what you mean. i run with a friend so (being girls) we chat as we run and usually swallow quite a few!!! Yuck. Have stopped running near the canal because it is fly city at this time of year. Suppose its protein though!!
Posted: 08/06/2007 at 19:07

Yeh u right better than eatin dairy!
Posted: 09/06/2007 at 15:37

Now now Moffie, I think you trying to resurrect an old fight there!?!?!
Posted: 09/06/2007 at 15:48

Nah not me.....I'm too aware and self disciplined for that!!
Posted: 09/06/2007 at 16:10

Hee hee! you been out today? very hot. i am due to go tomorrow and gearing myself up to get up very early before the heat and the flies!!
Posted: 09/06/2007 at 17:00

Go later...protein good for yer muscles!
Posted: 09/06/2007 at 17:06

stop it now before we make someone annoyed! are you a serious runner? have you done many races so far this year? i am more of a fun runner although i am doing the mablethorpe marathan this september and just a 10k in a couple of weeks. will probably do a half sometime before september. not pushing for fabulous pb's though, just doing it to keep fit.
Posted: 09/06/2007 at 17:24

Soz if i annoyed anyone out there!...serious..em...depends on the day! If you're doing a marathon, that's always serious...better ditch the no dairy idea now!
Posted: 09/06/2007 at 22:51

well to be honest, as a true chocoholic, i am not getting on very well with it at all! anyone know of any tasty non-dairy chocolate! so wot races have you done? or are you just running to keep fit ( and to eat what you like!!)?
Posted: 09/06/2007 at 23:08

Yeh like keeping fit, but no matter what can never really eat what I like cos that would be masses of stuff! Done a few 10k runs but am pretty solitary in my running. May do half soon. Hope you managed to get up and out this morning!
Posted: 10/06/2007 at 17:55

fraid not as i drank too much last night! did manage to get lots of miles in on my bike though so don't feel too guilty - less chance of eating flies on bike as not so much huffing and puffing so that's a bonus! I did the Worksop half last year - october or november time - it's a nice one, and not hilly - good fast run with friendly runners and good marshalls.
Posted: 10/06/2007 at 20:11

Getting back to the runny noses - last week away on walking holiday and keep a permanent supply of Bounty (kitchen roll not chocolate bar) (maybe will try the chocolate bar instead in future)to wipe my mucous excesses, about my person. Stopped for an ice cream which haven't had for about 2 years and hey presto I couldn't stop the nose running and my eyes watering. Never had it so bad before. Came to the conclusion that it was the ice cream and not the cold.

I have runny nose everytime I eat so think it is definitely food related.

Anyone have anything similar????????
Posted: 13/06/2007 at 16:25

I’ve had this problem for a while now. I thought it was just a side effect of being a running / cycling smoker, so put up with it and kept firing the snot out of nostrils as and when they blocked up (very frequently).  Anyhow, I was expecting this to clear up when I stopped – but it hasn’t – so I googled and found this thread.

At first I was happy – a nasal spray which will prevent this?  Fantastic!  Oh.. a nasal spray which I’ll have to use forever… not so good.

This got me thinking on the merits of continuing to ‘snot-shot’ Vs continuously sniffing it up.

Fire it out = easier, plus you drop off some small amounts of weight.

Sniffing it up = a bit more tricky (for me) initially, but might get easier with practice.  You’re also carrying more weight (albeit fractionally).

So I returned to google again to try and find out the nutritional value / breakdown of nasal mucus – was it dead weight to be lost, or was it worth the effort of erm.. re-internalising it.

I found that it’s 95% water.  Additionally, it has a high carb content.

“Respiratory tract mucous glycoproteins are large, extended molecules, which have a high carbohydrate content. They are polydisperse, with variation occurring largely in the content of sulfated sugars and sialic acid. Factors such as cell of origin, chronic lung disease, and pharmacologic effects influence the density of these anionic (acidic) groups. Variation in acidic properties may influence the physical and virus-binding properties of mucus. “

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7428951

So water + carbs… could be handy on a longer run.  Admittedly, there’ll possibly be a lot of stuff in there which you don’t want to digest.


 (written in a bit of a rush)


Posted: 23/03/2011 at 15:34

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