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Chronic Runny Nose in the Elderly

Why does my nose run more as I get older? It can be the result of geriatric rhinitis or primary atrophic rhinitis. This imprecise term signifies the inflammation of the mucous membranes or lining of the nasal cavity due to the age-related changes in nasal physiology. Geriatric rhinitis can cause nasal congestion or obstruction, post-nasal drip, sneezing, itchy nose, and/or nasal crusting or dryness. A frequent runny nose can be debilitating but arming yourself with the proper information can be very helpful. In this post, we will review what you need to know about the chronic runny noses in the elderly, including causes, symptoms, and treatment.

What Causes a Constant Runny Nose in the Elderly?

We know runny noses are a nuisance, but what causes a drippy nose in the elderly? Causes of chronic runny noses in the elderly can range from environmental triggers to foods one eats.

The following can cause a very runny nose in the elderly:

  • Eating- An elderly runny nose when eating can come from various sources. A runny nose while eating in the elderly can occur due to:

    • Gustatory rhinitis, which is caused by spicy foods

    • Allergic rhinitis, which is an allergic reaction to certain foods

    • Anaphylaxis, is a life-threatening allergic reaction to foods where one should seek medical attention immediately

  • Environmental triggers- These can include pollen, mold, dust mites, cockroaches, and pet dander.

  • Vasomotor rhinitis- This makes older adults more sensitive to environmental, seasonal, and/or physical irritants and involves overstimulation of the nose’s blood vessels. This stimulation can cause periodic episodes of sneezing, watery drainage, and/or congestion.

  • Medications- Brand-name drugs and medications are known to cause rhinitis. These include the ones below.

    • Anti-inflammatories

    • Blood pressure-lowering drugs

    • Decongestant nasal sprays

    • Estrogen

    • Psychiatric drugs

    • Viagra

What Are Symptoms of Chronic Runny Nose in the Elderly?

In addition to a continuous runny nose in the elderly, geriatric rhinitis can result in various symptoms. Below are some other symptoms of geriatric rhinitis.

  • Chronic or uncontrolled need to clear the throat of mucus

  • Consistent feelings of nasal drainage

  • Decreased sense of smell and taste

  • Nasal crusting, namely during winter and in patients taking diuretics

  • Sense of nasal obstruction, most often while lying down

  • Vague facial pressure

What Are Treatments for Runny Nose in the Elderly?

Proper treatment for geriatric rhinitis can come from various medical sources. However, treatment depends on the type of rhinitis as well as the patient’s health and medical history. Here are some treatments for a persistent runny nose in the elderly. However, one should speak to their primary care physician, ENT, or otolaryngologist to determine the best treatment.

  • Home remedies- If a runny nose does not need serious medical attention, one can try some home remedies. These include the ones below.

    • Humidifiers

    • Staying hydrated with non-caffeinated beverages

    • Blot the nose rather than blow it

  • Medications- In addition to over-the-counter medications, older adults can also take the below medications with approval from a medical professional.

    • Anticholinergic sprays

    • Antihistamines

    • Immunotherapy

    • Intranasal corticosteroids

Surgery- If a patient has structural abnormalities, such as a nasal valve collapse or a deviated septum, they should see an ENT to determine if surgery is an option.




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