If Your Nose Is Always Running While You Eat, Here's What Might Be Going On


Here's what might be going on if your nose is always running when you eat. <p>iStock</p>
Here's what might be going on if your nose is always running when you eat.


Every time I set the table, there are two napkins at my seat: One for wiping my face and the other for wiping my nose, which is likely to run during mealtime. While I accept this as a reality for me, I can't help but wonder from time to time: Why does my nose run when I eat?

It turns out I am not alone in this experience, though the prevalence of my condition is currently unknown (a 2022 study noted this happening in roughly 4 percent of over 558 participants, though 19 percent went unclassified, so this figure is likely to vary).

If, like me, you also experience a runny nose when you eat, there’s a medical term for the condition. It’s called gustatory rhinitis (gustatory is defined as “relating to or associated with eating or the sense of taste”) and while you may notice it most when eating spicy foods, it actually can occur no matter what you eat.

Why Does My Nose Run When I Eat?

Now that we know it has a name, why does gustatory rhinitis occur? According to Dr. Tania Elliott, MD, FAAAAI, FACAAI, a physician executive and medical expert for Xyzal and Nasacort, it all comes down to mucus.

“[Gustatory rhinitis] is caused because the heat or spice triggers mucosal cells that are lining the nasal passages to activate and stimulate mucus production,” explains Dr. Elliott. “Mucus is produced as a mechanism to try to protect the body from harmful substances.”

Researchers note that common foods that may trigger your nose to run when you eat include “hot chili peppers, red cayenne, Tabasco sauce, onion, chili, vinegar, red pepper, and mustard,” though it of course is not limited to this list. The same review notes that a diagnosis of gustatory rhinitis involves eliminating other diagnoses, and if you have idiopathic gustatory rhinitis—which occurs without a causal event—both nostrils will run. The three other types of gustatory rhinitis—"post-traumatic, post-surgical and gustatory rhinorrhea associated with cranial nerve neuropathy”—can occur in one or both nostrils.

Related: Should You Use a Neti Pot for Allergies?

It should be noted that gustatory rhinitis is different from when your nose runs because you are eating soup or something that is hot in temperature. According to Dr. Erich Voigt, MD, clinical associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at NYU Langone Health, this occurs because of the condensation of the steam vapors and is not related to inflammation.

While gustatory rhinitis can happen to people of any age—researchers suggest a prevalence in ages 20-60—Dr. Voigt notes that it “also seems to happen more commonly in the elderly.” A study from 2010 does specifically note gustatory rhinitis as a common nonallergic rhinitis that occurs in older adults, though again, there is no specific data that can give a conclusive number of its prevalence.

Related: What You Should Know About Your Sinuses and Allergies

Is Gustatory Rhinitis an Allergy?

While it would be understandable to think that gustatory rhinitis occurs because of an allergy, it actually isn’t, and this is important to note because it means that treatment is different. “It's a type of nonallergic rhinitis, where your nose develops inflammation but not because of an allergy,” explains Dr. Voigt.

Unlike other allergies, researchers note that gustatory rhinitis is not associated with other symptoms including sneezing, congestion or sinus pain; mucus is simply produced which causes the nose to run.

How Can I Stop My Nose From Running When I Eat?

Research suggests the simplest way to stop your nose from running when you eat is to eliminate trigger foods. While not an allergy, a nasal spray may also help.

Related: The Best Way to Use Nasal Spray

“You would not take the usual allergy medications for this problem, however there is an effective nasal spray called nasal ipratropium,” instructs Dr. Voigt. “This prescription medicine is available in 0.3% or 0.6% solutions [and] relieves a runny nose. You spray it into your nose to stop the glands from producing a large amount of fluid.”

The good news is that gustatory rhinitis is not serious and is unlikely to be a sign of something more serious going on (that is, unless it comes with additional symptoms). “If you have chronic nasal drainage, especially if it is coming mostly out of one nostril, whether you eat or not, it could be a sign of something more serious that needs to be further evaluated by a doctor,” shares Dr. Elliott.

Next up, read up on 10 allergy symptoms you should take seriously.