Nasal congestion, also called a "stuffy nose," occurs when nasal and adjacent tissues and blood vessels become swollen with excess fluid. This causes the feeling of a "stuffy" or plugged-up nose. Nasal congestion may or may not come with mucus discharge, better known as a "runny nose."
While nasal congestion is mostly an annoyance for older children and adults, it can be serious for young children who can’t sleep because of it, as well as for. infants, who might have difficulty feeding as a result.
At Oasis Ear, Nose, and Throat in Surprise, Arizona, Dr. James Osborne and Dr. Bryan Smedley take your nasal congestion very seriously. They and their team offer both surgical and nonsurgical treatments for a number of underlying conditions that can stop your nose right up. Here’s what they want you to know about the common causes of a stuffy nose, as well as what you can do to ensure you breathe more easily.
5 common causes of nasal congestion
Nasal congestion can come from a wide variety of medical or environmental problems, and it can be acute or chronic, trivial or serious. While most are easy-to-treat conditions that resolve by themselves after a short time, some result from structural deformities in the nasal passages or more serious underlying conditions and require more intensive or advanced care. The five most common causes of nasal congestion include:
1. Airborne allergies
Allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, is an allergic reaction that causes sneezing, a sore throat, and, of course, nasal congestion. Some of the key airborne allergens include tree pollen, pet dander, dust mites, and mold. You may feel awful, but the condition is not contagious, and allergy medications and shots can give you relief.
2. Acute sinusitis
This short-term inflammation of the sinuses most often also includes a sinus infection. The sinuses produce a thin mucus that drains out of narrow channels in the nose, cleaning the area as it moves. Unfortunately, the sinuses can become blocked by the fluid and swell from irritation, which may lead to infection.
Symptoms may resolve on their own within about 10 days, but it may take up to three or four weeks for the tissue to return to normal. Treatments include saline or steroid nasal sprays and decongestants.
3. Cold and flu viruses
Colds and the flu are caused by viruses, and both count nasal congestion among their many symptoms. There’s no treatment; instead, you have to manage the symptoms, which generally resolve in a week or two. You can use the following OTC medications to get you through:
- To reduce fever and pain: analgesics such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen; aspirin can cause complications
- To dry out the nose: antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl®), which can make you sleepy, or loratadine (Claritin®), which is non-drowsy but may not be as effective
- To unblock the nose: oral decongestants such as Sudafed®, but these run the risk of many side effects; may be combined with antihistamines for a better result
- To relieve a runny nose or sinus pressure: nasal steroids like fluticasone (OTC Flonase®) or mometasone (prescription Nasonex®); antihistamines also help
- To loosen mucus production in nose and chest: expectorants like guaifenesin (Robitussin®, Mucinex®)
- To reduce coughing: antitussives such as dextromethorphan
- To relieve a sore throat: lozenges (such as Cepacol®) or gargling with warm salt water a few times a day; analgesics also help
4. Nasal polyps
Nasal polyps can grow on the lining of your nasal passages. Soft, painless, and noncancerous, they hang down like a teardrop and result from chronic inflammation associated with asthma, allergies, or a recurring infection. While small polyps may not cause symptoms and need no treatment, large polyps or groups of polyps can block the nasal passages, causing congestion.
At Oasis ENT, we offer SINUVA as a nonsurgical treatment for our patients with nasal polyps. We can place this nasal insert in our office, and it delivers anti-inflammatory medication directly to the polyps for up to 90 days.
5. Chemical or environmental irritants
Irritants come in many forms, including tobacco smoke, car fumes, perfumes, and household cleaners. All can stop up the nasal passages, making breathing difficult. You can use antihistamines to help dry the tissue, but your best bet is to avoid the irritants in the first place. Strategies include wearing a mask when you’re cleaning, asking for nonsmoking rooms when you check into a hotel, and keeping windows shut when air quality is poor.
If you’re suffering from nasal congestion and need some relief, call Oasis Ear, Nose, and Throat at 623-234-4640 to schedule an appointment, or book online with us today. We can help you breathe easier.