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

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