If you have noticed your nose tends to run when you eat, 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, ranging from eating spicy food, to a food allergy, to seasonal allergies, to irritation.
Fortunately, there are ways to get to the bottom of the issue, and determine what is causing your runny nose while you eat. There are also many effective treatments that can help reduce your symptoms.
Why your nose runs when you eat
The technical term for a runny nose is rhinitis and it involves more than just reaching for the tissue box. Rhinitis refers to inflammation of the lining of the nose, also called the nasal mucosa. Rhinitis is very common, with nonallergic rhinitis affecting approximately 17 million Americans.
Rhinitis symptoms after eating:
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Itchy nose
- More phlegm than usual
- Phlegm in your throat (Post-nasal drip)
Common causes of rhinitis after eating
There are several potential causes of rhinitis or a runny nose after eating, including allergies, irritation, spicy foods, and environmental triggers.
Allergies (allergic rhinitis)
Allergic rhinitis refers to having a runny nose and congestion due to allergies. Typically, this refers to household and seasonal allergies to pollen, pet dander, mold, or dust mites. When it happens after eating specifically, 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:
- Shortness of breath
So if a runny nose is your only symptom, it’s more likely that it’s being caused by something else.
Oral allergy syndrome
Rhinitis can also be a sign of oral allergy syndrome, a set of symptoms that occurs when a person ingests a food that either contains pollen they are allergic to, or contains a compound that is similar to the pollen.
Generally, oral allergy syndrome occurs when a person eats raw fruits or vegetables that are trigger foods. It is common among people allergic to ragweed, birch pollen, or grass pollen.
If you experience a runny nose and itchy throat after eating raw fruits and vegetables, it’s worth speaking to a doctor about oral allergy syndrome.
Irritation (non-allergic or vasomotor rhinitis)
Non-allergic rhinitis is the general term for a runny nose that occurs for reasons other than allergy.
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 the hormones, are other potential causes of a runny nose without allergies.
Vasomotor rhinitis is another term that refers to rhinitis that is not related to allergy. When common causes have been ruled out, and the cause is unclear, vasomotor rhinitis is suspected.
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
Spicy foods (gustatory rhinitis)
Gustatory rhinitis is the term for rhinitis caused by eating spicy foods. 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.
Gustatory rhinitis has been confirmed by 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 lot 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 nasal congestion after eating. Is it a pollen-containing fruit triggering your seasonal allergies, as in oral allergy syndrome? 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, where you log the foods you ate and your level of symptoms. 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 to do with a food sensitivity, it could help to have an allergy test, which can help you identify potential trigger foods. Following that, you could try eliminating the foods the test says 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. It can be a long and tedious process, but it works.
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 with a decongestant or a nasal spray.
If the cause is food specific:
If your runny nose is related to specific trigger foods, avoiding the food is key. For oral allergy syndrome, cooking the offending foods can help. 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 an airborne allergy:
If you think it could be related to environmental triggers, treat the environment. 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.
The bottom line
Having a runny nose after eating sucks, 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, speak to a healthcare provider, who may refer you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist or an allergist.