Rhinitis, nasal congestion and runny nose → from prior reading on these terms I recognize somewhat inconsistency in regards to how people define them or use them in various articles.

I personally understand that nasal congestion ("blocked nose" or "shutted nose") and runny nose ("phlegmy nose") are both possible symptoms of Rhinitis.

A mammal with Rhinitis can have either nasal congestion or runny nose, or both; depends on the condition.

I further understand that there are sub types of both nasal congestion and runny nose symptoms.

My problem

In my opinion, a great source of confusion is that sub types of "nasal congestion" are usually presented as sub types of Rhinitis in general (instead as sub type of a sub type of Rhinitis), for example:

  • Rhinitis nonallregic (vasomotor)
  • Rhinitis allergic
  • Rhinits medicamentosa (can be a sub type by itself → of nonallergic ('vasomotor', because it also does with the motion 'motorics' of blood vessels similarly to with Rhinitis vasomotor)
  • Mixed Rhinitis: Having one or more types of Rhinitis at once

Interim notes

  • I understand that differentiating between Rhinitis vasomotor and Rhinitis allergic is done by scoping the color of the nasal mucus; usually, very red color means vasomotor and very yellow color means allergic but often it is hard to differentiate and a combined therapy (for both) is given.

  • In comparison to nasal congestion sub types, I don't know about runny nose sub types (if at all exist).

My question

What is the difference between Rhinitis, nasal congestion and runny nose?


1 Answer 1


This answer is about medical terminology as widely agreed and commonly used by medical professionals.

Rhinitis is a broad name of a disease or condition with inflammation of the mucosal lining in the nasal cavity (Cleveland Clinic, Malacards). Inflammation can be infectious, irritant, allergic, drug-induced, etc. (a more detailed list on American Family Physician).

Rhinitis is listed in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) and various subtypes have their own codes, for example, allergic rhinitis has the code J30.9. So, if it's in ICD-10, it can be considered a disease.

An example of a practical definition of disease:

Disease, any harmful deviation from the normal structural or functional state of an organism, generally associated with certain signs and symptoms and differing in nature from physical injury. (Britannica)

An abnormal structural state refers to pathology (tissue/cellular damage) and pathophysiology (abnormal functions). The main point of defining disease is to differ diseases from symptoms and signs. Diseases are described by concepts and mechanisms, while symptoms and signs are described on the basis of simple observation.

Illness is a disease from the patient's perspective:

Patients suffer ‘illnesses’; doctors diagnose and treat ‘disease.’ (ResearchGate)

A lay person with rhinitis would often describe his/her illness just by the most obvious symptom(s), like blocked or runny nose.

Condition is not a clearly defined term, but is kind of informal one-word umbrella term that can cover the terms disease, illness, syndrome and similar abnormal states. This is why there are usually no separate lists of diseases and conditions, but just lists of "diseases and conditions," such as the one on the Mayo Clinic website. So, one author can mention rhinitis as a disease and another as a condition.

Blocked nose and runny nose are both symptoms.

A symptom is any health-related abnormality a patient perceives (feels, observes) or reveals to a doctor in medical history (anamnesis).

A sign is a health-related disorder as detected by examiner.

Nasal congestion is the term more likely used by a doctor than a patient and refers to a thickening of nasal mucosa as a doctor observes it during a physical examination, so it is a sign.

Table 1 in the article Defining 'sign' and 'symptom' mentions several variations of the definitions of a sign and a symptom.

An abnormality, for example, blocked nose, can be a symptom and a sign at the same time, depending on who observes it.

In various medical texts, diseases can be classified by a cause (allergic vs nonallergic rhinitis), course (acute vs chronic), pathology (lobar pneumonia vs bronchopneumonia), pathophysiology (ischemic vs hemorrhagic stroke), etc.

Authors of health/medical texts may not always follow these official definitions and may create some "apples and oranges" situations by mentioning diseases, symptoms and signs in a single list.


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