Both a runny nose and headache are common symptoms. They can be caused by a range of different illnesses and conditions.

Together, too much fluid or sticky mucus in the nose can cause pressure in your sinuses. This can trigger headache pain. Sometimes, a runny nose and headache might not be linked at all, but can happen at the same time.

1. Cold and flu

A runny nose is a common symptom of both a cold and the flu. These illnesses are caused by viruses. A viral infection can irritate your nose and throat. This causes fluid to build up in your sinuses and nasal passages, making them swollen.

Pressure and swelling in your sinuses can lead to a headache. Other flu symptoms, such as a fever, may also cause headache pain.

Other cold and flu symptoms include:

  • fever
  • chills
  • sore throat
  • fatigue
  • muscle aches
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • sore eyes
  • loss of appetite

2. Sinusitis

Sinusitis is inflammation in the sinuses around your nose. A cold or flu can make your sinuses swollen, tender, and inflamed, as can bacterial sinusitis. This can block the nasal and sinus passageways and make them fill up with mucus.

Sinusitis is usually caused by a cold virus. It will normally get better by itself in less than 10 days. If the swelling and fluid buildup lasts for a longer time, your sinuses may also get a bacterial infection.

Sinusitis causes a runny nose and throbbing face and headache pain. These symptoms happen because of the mucus buildup, blockages, and pressure in the sinuses.

Other symptoms of sinusitis are:

  • difficulty breathing through your nose
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • thick, yellow, or green mucus from the nose
  • pain, tenderness, and swelling around the eyes, cheeks, and nose
  • pressure or pain in your forehead that worsens when bending down
  • earache or pressure
  • cough or sore throat

3. Allergies

An allergic reaction happens when your immune system overreacts to substances called allergens. Pollen, dust, and animal dander are common allergens.

If you have allergies, your immune system response may cause a runny nose.

Allergies are also linked to headaches. This may happen due to nasal or sinus congestion. This is when there’s too much fluid or blockage in the tubes that run from your nose to your throat. The pressure in your sinuses can trigger migraine and sinus headaches.

4. Ear infection

Ear infections can be caused by a virus or bacterium. An infection can spread to the ear canal from a sore throat or lung infection. They also commonly cause fluid to build up in the ear canal.

Fluid from an ear infection may drain into the throat and lead to a nasal infection, causing a runny nose. Pressure and pain from the fluid buildup in the ear can cause headaches.

Ear infections are more common in babies and toddlers because the eustachian tubes between their middle ear and throat are more horizontal. Adults have more vertical eustachian tubes. This helps to prevent ear infections because it’s easier for fluid to drain out.

Other symptoms of ear infections are:

  • fever
  • fluid draining from ear
  • trouble sleeping
  • loss of hearing
  • loss of balance

5. Respiratory syncytial virus

Respiratory syncytial virus, also called RSV, causes an infection in your nose, throat, and lungs. Most children get this common virus before age 2. Adults can also get RSV.

In most healthy children and adults, respiratory syncytial virus causes mild cold-like symptoms. This includes a stuffy or runny nose and a slight headache.

Very small children and older adults may get more seriously ill from this virus. Other symptoms may include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • snoring
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite

6. Occupational asthma

Asthma that’s caused by breathing in irritating substances while at work is called occupational asthma. It may be caused by:

  • dust
  • gases
  • smoke
  • chemical fumes
  • scents

Symptoms are similar to other types of asthma. However, occupational asthma symptoms may improve or go away once you’re away from the trigger. On the other hand, if you continue to have exposure to the irritating substance, your symptoms may continue and worsen over time.

You may get a runny nose and headache pain from occupational asthma. This happens because substances in the air irritate or inflame the lining of your nose, throat, and lungs.

Fluid and swelling increase the pressure in your sinuses causing headaches.

Other symptoms include:

  • chest tightness
  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing

7. Nasal polyps

Nasal polyps are soft teardrop-shaped growths in the lining of your nose or sinuses. They’re typically painless and noncancerous.

You might get nasal polyps because of irritation from allergies, infections, or asthma.

Some nasal polyps don’t cause symptoms at all. Having larger, or too many nasal polyps, can cause blockages in your nose and sinuses. This leads to swelling and a backup of fluid and mucus.

You might get a runny nose and sinus pressure that causes headaches.

Other symptoms include:

  • difficulty breathing through your nose
  • pressure around the eyes
  • breathing problems
  • frequent sinus infections
  • a reduced sense of smell

8. Migraine headaches

Migraine involves a severe headache attack that might happen several times a month or once in a while.

Some people with migraine attacks may have auras (such as seeing bright or wavy flashes of light). Migraine can also cause other symptoms, including a stuffy and runny nose.

Causes of migraine aren’t well-understood but may be triggered by:

  • bright light
  • loud noises
  • stress
  • a lack of sleep
  • too much sleep
  • strong smells

Changes in hormones, drinking alcohol, or certain foods can also contribute to this condition. Migraine symptoms include:

  • nasal congestion
  • clear fluid from the nose
  • throbbing or pulsing pain
  • changes in vision
  • sensitivity to bright light
  • nausea
  • vomiting

9. Pregnancy

Someone who’s pregnant may also experience a runny nose and headache. This is common in early pregnancy.

Changing hormones make your nasal passages swell. This may lead to nasal congestion, pressure behind the eyes and in the forehead, and sinus headaches.

Headaches can worsen if you have nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. This can lead to dehydration and poor nutrition, triggering headache pain.

Some pregnant women also have migraine attacks. These may cause severe pain, sensitivity to light, vomiting, and seeing auras.

10. Brain fluid leak

Brain fluid is also called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). It can leak if there’s a tear or hole in the soft tissue covering over the brain or spinal cord.

A brain fluid leak in the head can cause a runny nose and headache pain.

A brain fluid leak can happen without any reason. It may be caused by a fall, injury, or blow to the head or neck. A tumor can also cause a brain fluid leak.

Other symptoms include:

  • headaches that lessen when laying down
  • chronic nose drip
  • a salty or metallic taste in your mouth
  • fluid from the ear
  • nausea and vomiting
  • neck stiffness or pain
  • ringing in the ears
  • loss of balance

If your runny nose and headache pain don’t go away within two weeks, see your doctor to find out what might be causing these symptoms.

You may need a nose or throat swab test to rule out a bacterial infection. A scratch skin test can help diagnose any allergies.

Your doctor may recommend blood tests and imaging scans of the head and face to check for other diseases. Looking into the ear can diagnose a middle ear infection. A nasal endoscopy can help find nasal polyps in the nose.

Antibiotics can’t cure cold and flu viruses. For these types of viral infections, you most likely won’t need any prescription medication.

If you or your child has a bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic such as:

Ask your doctor if over-the-counter medications are right for you. Help relieve your runny nose and headache pain with:

  • decongestants
  • saline nasal spray
  • nasal steroid spray
  • antihistamines
  • pain relievers

At-home care is also important for soothing a runny nose and headache pain:

  • get plenty of rest
  • drink plenty of fluids (water, broth, etc.)
  • use a humidifier if the air is dry
  • use a warm or cool compress on your eyes

Help prevent ear, nose, and throat infections or reduce allergies with these tips:

  • wash your hands with soap and water several times a day
  • avoid touching your face or eyes
  • sneeze into the front of your elbow area rather than your hands
  • stay indoors when the pollen count is high
  • close windows during high pollen season
  • avoid known allergens
  • rinse out your nose and mouth several times a day
  • line your nostrils with a very thin amount of petroleum jelly to help stop allergens from entering the nose and sinuses

See your doctor if you or your child has:

  • a fever of 103°F (39.4°C) or higher
  • severe headache pain
  • difficulty breathing
  • persistent coughing
  • severe sore throat
  • severe sinus pain
  • ear pain
  • chest pain
  • pain around eyes
  • cold symptoms that last longer than one to two weeks
  • a recent fall, injury, or trauma to the head or neck

If you’re pregnant, tell your doctor about any headache pain you have. Headaches can sometimes be linked to high blood pressure during pregnancy. This is more likely if you have headache pain after week 20 of pregnancy.

See you doctor immediately if you have:

  • severe headache pain
  • chronic headaches
  • dizziness
  • blurred vision
  • changes in vision

A runny nose and headache are caused by a variety of illnesses and conditions. The most common causes of a runny nose are a cold, the flu, and allergies. Most colds and the flu go away without treatment.

See your doctor to find out the cause of your runny nose and headache pain. These symptoms might be signs of a more serious problem, especially in:

  • babies
  • children
  • older adults
  • pregnant women

A runny nose and headache could be signs of a sinus or ear infection caused by a bacterium. If this is the case, you’ll need to see your doctor for antibiotics.