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Nasal Congestion

Nasal Congestion happens when something irritates the tissues lining the inside of your nose. It starts a chain reaction of irritation, inflammation, swelling, and mucus production, making it harder to breathe through your nose. If left untreated, nasal congestion can cause sinusitis, nasal polyps, or middle ear infections.

What is stuffy nose?

Nasal congestion occurs when something irritates the tissues lining the inside of your nose. It starts the chain reaction of irritation, inflammation, swelling and mucus production, making it difficult to breathe through your nose. Nasal congestion typically goes away after a few days, but congestion that lasts for a week or longer can be a sign of infection. If left untreated, nasal congestion may cause sinusitis, nasal polyps or middle ear infections.

How does nasal congestion affect my body?

A stuffy nose is not a symptom to sneeze at. If your nose is stuffy, you may be dealing with:

You may have trouble breathing through your nose.
Mucus may be flowing from your nose, also known as a runny nose.
You may have started to breathe through your mouth because you can’t get air through your nose.
Babies with a stuffy nose may have trouble breastfeeding or taking a bottle.

Sometimes a stuffy nose is the first sign that your body is fighting a viral or bacterial infection. Rarely, a tumor or polyp in your nose can cause your nose to feel stuffy.

Who does it affect?

At any given time, approximately 12% of the population of our country has nasal congestion.

What are the symptoms of nasal congestion?

Nasal congestion can cause additional symptoms such as:


What triggers nasal congestion?

To put the short answer, it is possible for many things to trigger a stuffy nose. This is because your nose is in the forefront when it comes to protecting your body from intruders. Your nose takes in air that can carry dirt, particles and allergens. On the inside of your nose is a battalion of hair and cilia (small hair-like structures) that trap intruders and send them into your nostrils. When you sneeze or blow your nose, you banish intruders from your system. Sometimes your nose hair and eyelashes don’t catch all intruders. When this happens, the tissue lining the inside of your nose becomes inflamed and begins to swell. Next, your immune system kicks in and fills your nose with mucus aimed at clearing out the intruders. Swollen nasal tissues and mucus combine to block your nose, making your condition worse.

What are the most common causes of nasal congestion?

Nasal congestion usually occurs with conditions such as rhinitis. There are two types of rhinitis – allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and non-allergic rhinitis.

Allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis or hay fever is how your body reacts to allergens. Allergens are tiny particles in the air. Common allergens include:

Pollen: Trees and plants may produce pollen when they bloom in spring, summer and autumn, reaching your nose and causing an allergic reaction.
Dust mites: Even in the cleanest environments, there may be dust mites living in carpets, furniture and bedding.
Mold: Mold sends spores that can cause allergic reactions.
Pet hair: Some people are very allergic to the fur of their furry friends.

Non-allergic rhinitis

Non-allergic rhinitis — and nasal congestion — occurs when inflammation causes fluid to build up in your nasal tissues, swelling them. This inflammation may be because you have a viral illness or have been exposed to certain triggers. Triggers can be:

Environmental: Stress, exposure to smoke, paint fumes or spicy foods are examples of substances that can cause nasal congestion.
Medications: If you take certain medications for high blood pressure or pain, nasal congestion may develop.
Hormonal: Hormonal changes such as puberty or being pregnant can trigger nasal congestion.
Infections: Sinus infections (sinusitis) or common cold can cause nasal congestion.
Enlarged adenoids: Adenoids are glands located just behind your nasal passage. They help catch germs. Sometimes adenoids swell and cause nasal congestion.

How does your doctor diagnose nasal congestion?

Your doctor diagnoses nasal congestion by evaluating your symptoms and checking your nose, ears, and throat. They may do further testing to rule out other possible causes such as:

Throat culture: This test checks for certain bacteria in your throat. Providers do this test by swabbing the back of your throat with a long cotton swab.
Computed tomography (CT) scan: Your provider may request a CT scan to look for blockages in your nose.
Nasal endoscopy: Your provider may use a special camera to look inside your nose.

How does your doctor treat nasal congestion?

Your doctor will treat nasal congestion according to the specific cause. For example, if you have a stuffy nose because you are allergic to cats, you have some form of allergic rhinitis. Avoiding cats and taking medication to control your symptoms may ease your condition.

If your congestion is some type of non-allergic rhinitis, you can manage your condition by identifying what triggers the congestion and taking medication to control the symptoms. Some medications or other treatments that providers may recommend include:

Nasal Congestion

Nasal Congestion

Treatments for non-allergic rhinitis

Treatment of allergic rhinitis

People with allergic rhinitis can take antihistamines or corticosteroids to soothe inflamed nasal tissues. Other treatments for congestion caused by allergic rhinitis include:

Decongestant nasal sprays: This treatment can relieve your stuffy nose. Do not use decongestant nasal sprays for more than three days. Using them for longer than three days can potentially worsen your stuffy nose.
Anticholinergic nasal sprays: This treatment can reduce the mucus in your nose.

Can I prevent nasal congestion?

Many things can cause nasal congestion. You may not be able to prevent the condition, but you can reduce how often you experience this problem:

What can I expect if I have nasal congestion?

You can expect nasal congestion to continue throughout your life. Doctors cannot cure this condition, but they can treat symptoms and recommend self-care to relieve symptoms.

How to clear a stuffy nose?

Ways to relieve nasal congestion include:

When should I seek care?

Nasal congestion typically goes away within a few days. If not, you may have a bacterial infection. You should seek care if you have the following symptoms:

Your nasal congestion lasts more than 10 days.
The mucus coming from your nose is green, yellow, or has blood in it.
You have fever.
Your newborn baby has a stuffy nose that is keeping them from breastfeeding or taking a bottle.

Nasal congestion is a common problem with many causes. Many people have seasonal allergies that put their immune systems in overdrive and stuffy noses. Your nose can get stuffy if you spend time around smoke or paint fumes, if you’re under stress, if you’re pregnant, or if you’re a teenager. Nasal congestion can make you feel miserable a few days before your nose settles. See your doctor if your nose remains stuffy for more than 10 days. They will control the infection, or better yet, suggest ways to clear the congestion and breathe easier.