Physical Symptoms
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How Anxiety Causes Runny Nose

Faiq Shaikh, M.D.
How Anxiety Causes Runny Nose

When your nose is running, it's usually because your body is responding to some type of pathogen or worried that it may respond to a pathogen. Mucus is your body's way of trying to catch germs before they enter your nose, and remove them before they get you too sick. It's also released as a result of histamine - a reaction in the body caused by your immune response that is necessary to keep you healthy.

Anxiety is essentially long term stress, and long term stress can have an effect on your immune system. That's why some people with anxiety get a runny nose as a symptom. While it may not be one of the most important ones, it can be enough of an inconvenience that it causes you more distress than you're ready to deal with.

The Causes of a Runny Nose

Some anxiety symptoms make you feel sick, or fearful that something is terribly wrong with your health. A runny nose is not generally one of them. Anxiety does appear to cause a runny nose, but it's never going to be the only symptom or the most problematic one. 

When your nose is running it's more of an irritant than an actual worry, but for those with anxiety every irritant makes life a little bit worse and can increase self-consciousness that creates more anxiety. So it's no wonder that people with anxiety care this much about how their nose feels. The question is: What causes this runny nose and what can be done to stop it?

Adrenal Fatigue and Cortisol

Your runny nose is really just allergies. Even if you didn't think you had allergies in the past, it's easily possible that you had very mild allergies that were otherwise unnoticeable. Most people are allergic to some types of pollen, dust, etc., and many more develop those allergies over time.

Cortisol - which is a stress hormone that has a tremendously damaging effect on the body - is actually useful when it comes to controlling allergies, because it has anti-inflammatory properties and inhibits the immune system. 

Other Effects of Anxiety on Mucus

Allergies are always going to be the primary factor in the development of a runny nose when no other symptoms are present. But they are unlikely the only factor. There are several other issues that may be at play.

In fact, the simple reduction in your immune system may cause you to catch cold more often as well, or fight off mild illnesses. Your runny nose may be an indication that you're sick, and you simply aren't sick enough to warrant a doctor's visit or notice any other symptoms.

Anything that affects your hormones and immune system like stress does may also cause them to become imbalanced, and this, in turn, could conceivably trigger histamine production which increases nasal mucus.

But another thing to keep in mind that your runny nose may be perfectly normal as a response to cold, allergies, etc., and not caused by anxiety at all. However, often those with anxiety are more aware of things like a runny nose because they have a tendency to focus on negative feelings, and this may make you feel as though your nose is running more often when it actually isn't.

Solutions for a Runny Nose From Anxiety

Generally doctors recommend that you treat a runny nose from anxiety like you would treat a runny nose from allergies. Consider allergy medications or natural remedies like honey. See if there is an affordable air filter that you can place in your home to take allergens out of the air, and also make sure you're dusting often and vacuuming so that allergens do not build up.

You should also start working on reducing your anxiety right away. It will not only reduce your runny nose - it will improve your quality of life as well.

Article Resources
  1. Fritz, I., and Rj Levine. Action of adrenal cortical steroids and nor-epinephrine on vascular responses of stress in adrenalectomized rats. American Journal of Physiology—Legacy Content 165.2 (1951): 456-465.
  2. Sapolsky, Robert M., and Michael J. Meaney.Maturation of the adrenocortical stress response: neuroendocrine control mechanisms and the stress hyporesponsive period. Brain Research Reviews 11.1 (1986): 65-76.
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