Does a runny nose mean I've failed at social distancing?
April 1, 2020 7:18 AM   Subscribe

We've been sheltering in place for over 2 weeks now and I just got a runny nose. I'm not worried that it's Coronavirus, but it made me wonder how I got it - does this mean I failed at social distancing or do we harbor colds for weeks in our bodies before showing symptoms?

I have small children in the home and they are at the age where we are usually running through runny noses and sore throats non-stop as it is. We've been sheltering in place, but also taking walks/biking every day to get the kids energy out and there has been 1 stop at the store for each parent. I feel like we have been doing our best to social distance while we are out, but now that I have a runny nose and sore throat - it made me wonder, do colds sit around for weeks in your body before showing symptoms or did I fail at social distancing and pick up a rando-runny nose while out and about. Probably impossible to know for sure, but if anyone has details on the common cold incubation etc., I'd welcome that news.
posted by Toddles to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Could it be allergies? I have had a runny nose for two weeks thanks to allergy season.
posted by muddgirl at 7:27 AM on April 1, 2020 [40 favorites]

Best answer: Everyone I know who gets spring allergies is getting their spring allergies. I asked them because I have the same symptoms. Popping a benadryl fixes mine.
posted by fritley at 7:32 AM on April 1, 2020 [7 favorites]

Best answer: A "cold" is a generic term that refers to a wide group of viral infections. This paper should give you an idea of how long various viruses in this group incubate before symptoms develop.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:00 AM on April 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: It's probably allergies! I've had a scratchy throat for a couple of days that has not helped my anxiety at all! But also, I've literally not interacted with the outside world for more than a week, and I'm even being careful bringing in the mail. So it's definitely allergies. But I hear you! Things that used to blend into the background of our lives are suddenly forefront, requiring conscious evaluation that we've never given them before.

But it's just allergies, don't sweat it.
posted by dbx at 8:07 AM on April 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I recently cleaned my fridge & found some moldy strawberries. When I dumped them in my compost bin I accidentally inhaled a plume of mold. The next day I was really sick. Like nasal congestion, cold sweats, breathing problems etc., very flu-like. If I didn't make the connection to the strawberries I would have been terrified.

I also sometimes get sick if I do a deep clean in a dusty room. In my younger years it would have presented as traditional allergies ( itchy eyes, runny nose) and easily managed by antihistamines. Now it feels exactly like a standard issue cold.

TLDR Allergy symptoms can morph throughout life.

I hope that helps a bit. It must be incredibly difficult with children in your care. :(
posted by i_mean_come_on_now at 8:07 AM on April 1, 2020 [6 favorites]

Could be allergies or it could be something you picked up at the store. Did you wash your hands thoroughly when you got home? Did you wash everything you bought at the store? Did you make the mistake of washing your hands after you got home but before you unpacked the shopping? (I did that today). Are you wiping down door handles? Have you had any deliveries or mail in the time you've been isolating? Most viruses can't survive long outside a host body but they can survive for several hours or days depending on the virus and surface.
posted by missmagenta at 8:26 AM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Wikipedia: rhinitis
Nonallergic rhinitis refers to rhinitis that is not due to an allergy. The category was formerly referred to as vasomotor rhinitis [...] In vasomotor rhinitis, certain nonspecific stimuli, including changes in environment (temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, or weather), airborne irritants (odors, fumes), dietary factors (spicy food, alcohol), sexual arousal, exercise, and emotional factors trigger rhinitis. There is still much to be learned about this, but it is thought that these non-allergic triggers cause dilation of the blood vessels in the lining of the nose, which results in swelling and drainage.

Non-allergic rhinitis can co-exist with allergic rhinitis, and is referred to as "mixed rhinitis"...
So by my non-health professional reading it could be pretty much any cause. But it's notable that many of the possible medical causes have nothing to do with any infection.
posted by XMLicious at 9:24 AM on April 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

I've had a runny nose off and on this past month, and my last encounter with a non-household person was two weeks ago - and that was brief with both parties masked. I don't know what the deal is. I've also had a clearly psychogenic low fever that comes and goes - I mean, I get very stressed, I get a 99.5 fever for forty minutes, it goes down as I calm down, etc. I also cough when I read too much scary news.

I am putting almost everything minor down to weird stress right now, TBH. I am fantastic at somatizing symptoms when I'm anxious, even symptoms that wouldn't seem somatizable.
posted by Frowner at 9:47 AM on April 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I get non-allergic rhinitis all the time. Things that can trigger it include hot beverages, cold weather, exercise, strong emotion, spicy food, coming inside from outside... without other symptoms I don’t think a runny nose means anything.
posted by mskyle at 10:10 AM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

My nose is stuffy and my throat sore all the time these days because I'm spending like 23.5 hours a day inside a house with forced air heating and dust.
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:20 AM on April 1, 2020 [6 favorites]

I get a runny nose from chemotherapy drugs. OK, you probably would have noticed if you'd started chemo, but it makes me wonder whether other medications could have the same effect. And maybe you wouldn't have noticed in the past because you wouldn't have been social distancing or worried about COVID-19.
posted by FencingGal at 10:26 AM on April 1, 2020

Also bear in mind that social distancing isn't quarantine, it doesn't mean nobody is going to get sick. If you have got a cold it doesn't mean you've failed at social distancing. The point is to slow the spread of disease, not eradicate it completely. Limiting your contact with people doesn't prevent you spreading disease, if you have it, but it reduces the number of people you can potentially infect. If someone did cough on your groceries that's still spreading to a lot less people than if they were moving about freely in the community
posted by missmagenta at 10:48 AM on April 1, 2020 [6 favorites]

sometimes I get a runny nose if I eat too much dairy, just as a datapoint.

Yesterday I thought I had chest congestion and the day before I was worried about my runny nose, and last week I slept funny and had a stitch in my ribcage and thought I had shortness of breath for a couple days, and I've been trying to get my husband to decide if he thinks I periodically feel feverish because I feel hot (or cold!) occasionally, but really I think it's just a scary time out there and we're all being super vigilant about everything our bodies are doing.
posted by euphoria066 at 2:08 PM on April 1, 2020

Response by poster: These are all great answers - considering them all 'best'! Honestly it didn't even occur to me that I might have a runny nose and sore throat from anything other than a cold. Thanks for setting me straight!
posted by Toddles at 2:24 PM on April 1, 2020

Google "pollen count yourcity", you might find some information on what your current pollens are. There's probably at least one that has spiked recently, you might be allergic to one of those.
posted by yohko at 3:45 PM on April 1, 2020

Maybe just relax and consider that if your nose is running, it may simply be because it's working the way it should be. Multiple things will cause this, 99% nothing to worry about. If you nose never runs, then you should worry.
posted by dustpuppy at 5:30 PM on April 1, 2020

My throat was sore the other day, popped a NyQuil and it was gone the next morning. Been staying in for the last two weeks, other than grocery shopping and errands.

I don't think you have anything to worry about at this very point :) but do keep an eye on your overall health any any other symptoms that may appear.
posted by dubious_dude at 6:47 PM on April 1, 2020

I just want to point that the infamous "seasonal allergies" can pop up without warning anytime in your life. I never had them until the spring of my 50th year, and have had them ever since. Even if you've never had allergies before, pollen may have just decided it was your time.
posted by lhauser at 6:57 PM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I was never more persistently sick than when I worked a seasonal job at a Christmas decor company (a huuge 250k+ sq ft operation) in the NYC area. About half the job was 'fluffing' fake Christmas trees and wreaths that we pulled out of boxes by touching and bending all the little wire fake branches. The leaves are all plastic and really static-y and covered with the dust of 1-10 years of hanging out in every crowded department store in the area during flu season. The rest of the job was hauling all that crap up and down ladders and getting our faces all jammed up in them. Yeah, for certain there are a f-ton of viruses that can hide and live about freaking forever.
posted by sexyrobot at 7:21 PM on April 1, 2020

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