If you have noticed your nose tends to run when you eat or you have post nasal drip (mucus build up in the back of the nose), you may be wondering what is causing it. If you figure out the cause, you can take action to improve your symptoms. There are many things that can cause a runny nose after eating.
Fortunately, there are ways to get to the bottom of the issue, and determine what is causing your nose to run when you eat. There are also many effective treatments that can help reduce your symptoms.
What is rhinitis?
Rhinitis refers to inflammation of the lining of the nose, also called the nasal mucosa. Rhinitis often results in a runny nose and is caused by a number of different conditions.
Allergies (allergic rhinitis)
Allergic rhinitis refers to having a runny nose and/or congestion due to allergies. Typically, this refers to seasonal allergies from pollen, and more year round allergies due to pet dander, mold, or dust mites. When a runny nose occurs specifically after eating, it could be related to a food allergy.
Seasonal and household allergies
Seasonal allergies, also known as hayfever, are what we typically think of when we use the term “allergies”. With seasonal allergies, a person is allergic to pollen or mold in the environment, and their reactions may follow a predictable pattern that changes with the seasons. For some people, this may mean they’re more likely to have a runny nose after eating in the spring, summer, or fall, depending on their specific allergies.
Household allergies involve similar symptoms, but tend to be year-round. Household allergies cause people to react to pet dander, mold, and dust mites.
When a person has a food allergy, they may experience a runny nose as part of their reaction. However, food allergies usually involve more symptoms than just a runny nose such as:
- Shortness of breath
So, if a runny nose is your only symptom, it’s more likely that it’s being caused by something else.
Non-allergic rhinitis is the general term for nasal symptoms that occur for reasons other than allergy and is usually a diagnosis made after an allergic cause is ruled out with allergy testing.
Non-allergic rhinitis can occur due to irritation, often caused by extreme temperatures, low humidity, or smoke inhalation. Viruses like the cold and flu, as well as medications that affect certain hormones, are other potential causes of non allergic rhinitis.
Vasomotor rhinitis is another cause of rhinitis that is not related to allergy. When common causes have been ruled out, especially allergic rhinitis, and the cause is still unclear, vasomotor rhinitis is the usual suspect.
The term “vasomotor” refers to vasodilation and vasoconstriction, which are processes that widen and shrink blood vessels.
Common triggers of vasomotor rhinitis include:
- Temperature changes
- Perfumes and scents
- Smoke, cooking odors
- Dust, but not dust mite allergy
- Air pollution
Gustatory rhinitis is the name given to rhinitis associated with eating. This is a very common experience, and almost anyone who has had a spicy meal has found themselves sniffling afterwards. For some people, this can be a desirable effect, helping them clear their sinuses.
Common causes of gustatory rhinitis
There are several potential causes of rhinitis or a runny nose after eating, including allergies, irritation, spicy foods, and environmental triggers.
Common rhinitis symptoms after eating:
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Itchy nose
- More phlegm than usual
- Phlegm in your throat (Post nasal drip)
Gustatory rhinitis has been confirmed by many studies. A 1989 study found spicy foods caused increased nasal congestion compared to control foods.
If you suspect spicy foods are the cause of your runny nose after you eat, consider toning down the spice. Adding dairy products or other fat-containing foods to your meal can help reduce the impact of spicy foods. That’s why Indian restaurants often offer a yogurt dish called raita with their dishes.
3 ways to stop your nose running when you eat
1. Prevention - Rule out common causes
If you’ve noticed your nose tends to run when you eat, the first thing to do is to rule out common causes of a runny nose.
If you suffer from seasonal allergies, make sure those are under control. If you eat a Iot of spicy food, tone it down a bit and see if that helps. If it’s winter, try running a humidifier to see if your nose calms down.
If there’s no obvious common cause of your runny nose, move on to the next steps.
2. Single out and avoid your triggers
The next step is to find out what triggers your runny nose after eating. Is it a full-blown food allergy? A sensitivity?
When trying to find the cause of your symptoms, it might help to start a food diary. A food diary can help by logging the foods you ate and your level of symptoms to draw associations. You may notice a pattern just from this exercise alone. If there isn’t a clear pattern (such as getting the sniffles after that hot burrito you get every Friday), you will need to do more digging.
If you suspect your runny nose has something to do with a food allergy, it could help to take an allergy test. A blood test can help you identify potential trigger foods. Following that, you can experiment with eliminating the foods the test identifies you are sensitive to, and then reintroducing them to verify whether they are the cause of your symptoms.
If you’re not able to get an allergy test, you could try eliminating the most common food sensitivities, and reintroducing them one at a time. Here are most common culprits for food sensitivities:
- Lactose (most common)
- Gluten (wheat, rye, and barley)
- Casein (protein in milk products)
- Soy products
- Fish and shellfish
- Peanuts or tree nuts
- Sulfites (commonly found in red wine & beer)
- Food additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG)
3. Treat symptoms
Suffering with a runny nose all the time is no fun. There are different ways to manage a runny nose after eating depending on the cause of the problem. Regardless of the cause, you can always treat symptoms of a runny nose. The best treatment for only a runny nose due to vasomotor rhinitis is with a prescription nasal spray called Ipatropium bromide. An oral decongestant may also help in some cases but they can have some undesirable side effects so ensure you seek advice from your physician first.
If the cause is food specific:
If your runny nose is related to specific trigger foods, avoiding the food is key. If it’s due to an allergy of any sort, allergy medication may help.
If the cause is gustatory:
If you suspect you have gustatory rhinitis, avoiding or limiting spicy foods may help. You can also try incorporating dairy or another fat-containing food which can help dissolve the spice and lessen its impact.
If the cause is environmental:
If you think your runny nose could be related to environmental triggers, treat them accordingly. For dry air, you can try running a humidifier. Reduce the scented products you use in the home, and turn on the ventilation hood while cooking.
Keep in mind that treating the symptoms may make it harder to nail down the cause. It may be worth suffering through the symptoms for a bit while you figure out your triggers.
Having a runny nose after eating is unpleasant, but there are many things you can do to identify the source of the problem by eliminating foods from your diet, ruling out likely environmental situations and identifying co-occurring symptoms.
Once you’re aware of your trigger foods, you can try to avoid them while also treating any symptoms as they arise. If you find you can’t get a handle on your runny nose after eating, test your allergies with an allergen-specific IgE test such as imaware’s home allergy test. This test is designed to provide detailed results enabling you to engage a healthcare professional sooner. Armed with the data, a physician may then be able to refer you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist or an allergist for further help.