Runny nose and Parkinson's

Rhinorrhea is the medical name for a runny nose. Research has shown that it’s more common in people with Parkinson’s than the general population. We find out more.

Rhinorrhea literally means ‘fluid from the nose’ and can refer to anything flowing from it. 

When you have a runny nose, mucus drips out of it. The colour of the mucus can vary depending on what is causing your nose to run. But if you have rhinorrhea, your body usually produces a thin, watery fluid.

What causes your nose to run normally?

The 2 most common reasons for your nose to run is if you have a cold or have an allergy. You might also experience it if the air is very cold.

When you have a cold, your nose produces more mucus to help clear out any harmful bacteria that could get past the mucus lining of your nose and respiratory system. As you begin to feel better, your immune system stops sending these requests and you stop producing as much mucus.

If you have an allergy, your immune system thinks that something is harmful, even when it's not. Like when you have a cold, your immune system sends messages to your nasal mucus glands to produce more mucus and get rid of the bacteria.

In Parkinson’s, you may still have a runny nose, but not have a cold or be affected by allergies. 

Nose running and Parkinson’s

Research suggests that if you’re older and have Parkinson’s, you’re more likely to experience rhinorrhea. How long you’ve had Parkinson’s doesn’t seem to be a risk factor in developing this symptom.

Sometimes, Parkinson’s medication can cause people to have a runny nose. Apomorphine, a type of dopamine agonist, is known to do this.

It’s not clear why people with Parkinson’s are more likely to experience rhinorrhea and more research is needed to understand the symptom. Some researchers believe it’s because Lewy bodies affect the parts of your brain that help you smell. Lewy bodies are tiny protein deposits that develop inside some nerve cells in the brain, causing these cells to die. 

Loss or reduction of smell (anosmia) is also common in Parkinson’s and can be one of the earliest symptoms people notice. But research suggests that losing your sense of smell and experiencing rhinorrhea aren’t linked - you can have one symptom without the other.  

How can rhinorrhea affect you? 

If you have a runny nose, you may notice it more at certain times of the day, or that it gets worse when you’re doing certain activities. It can often happen when you’re eating a meal, for example. You may find this embarrassing and stop you enjoying a meal with family or friends, or from going out at all.

Rhinorrhea can also affect people at night. The mucus may make you feel like you’re choking and cause you to cough. This can lead to disrupted sleep for both you and anyone you share a bed or room with.

How can you manage rhinorrhea?

Rhinorrhea can be a difficult and frustrating symptom to manage. There are over-the-counter medications that may help, such as:

  • anticholinergic sprays - these can reduce the amount of mucus your nose produces
  • nasal sprays - these can reduce swelling, which can help relieve a runny nose
  • antihistamines - these can come in different forms, such as tablets, capsules, liquids and nasal sprays. The medicine can help stop the symptoms of an allergic reaction, including a runny nose.    

These medicines are not always effective and they often need to be taken several times a day to make any difference. In some cases, they can cause changes in mood, thoughts and behaviour.

If you have rhinorrhea, you should speak to your specialist, Parkinson’s nurse or your pharmacist.