Q&A: Why does my nose run when I exercise?

Question: My nose almost always runs when I work out. Usually it is thin and watery but sometimes thicker. It can be embarrassing since I’m constantly blowing my nose like I’m sick. -Barbara in St. Pete Beach, Florida

Answer: The nasal mucous glands can get inappropriately activated during a number of otherwise normal scenarios. The term rhinitis refers to inflammation or drainage from the nose. About 4 out of 5 cases of rhinitis are due to infection or allergy. 10-20% though may be due to what is called vasomotor rhinitis, which is an inappropriate firing of the nerves triggering the nasal mucous glands. People with this disorder may get a watery runny nose when they eat, go into a cold wind, get exposed to strong odors, or even get certain kinds of headaches.

Medical treatments are usually partially effective. The activity of certain medicines like ipratropium or older-generation antihistamines make them the most effective treatment (this activity is called anticholinergic, as it blocks certain types of nerve endings). The nasal sprays Atrovent and Astelin are commonly prescribed for this, and work moderately well, however have a short half life and must be reapplied 2-4 times daily.

There is no widely accepted surgical treamtent for vasomotor rhinitis as of yet. There has been some limited excitement about endoscopic vidian neurectomy to surgically cut the misfiring nerve where it exits the brain. This is still a technique in its infancy, attempted by very few surgeons, considered experimental and probably still too risky and expensive to be justified routinely.

Barbara good luck with your workouts. Ask your doctor about Atrovent spray before working out, and keep your towel handy 🙂