WHAT IS NASAL CONGESTION?
Nasal congestion is a common symptom that could be caused by several conditions and environmental factors. In most instances, it improves over time. However, it could also be treated using a combination of medications or home remedies. Nasal congestion, also known as a stuffy nose, is often a symptom of another health problem such as a sinus infection. It might also be caused by the common cold.
Nasal congestion is marked by:
- A stuffy or runny nose
- Sinus pain
- Mucus build-up
- Swollen nasal tissue
Home remedies might be enough to alleviate nasal congestion, particularly if it is caused by the common cold. However, if you experience long-term congestion, you may require medical treatment.
CAUSES OF NASAL CONGESTION
Congestion is when your nose becomes stuffed up and swollen. Minor diseases are the most common causes of nasal congestion. For example, a cold, the flu, and sinus infections could all cause stuffy noses. Disease-associated congestion usually improves within one to two weeks.
If it lasts longer than 10 – 14 days, it is often a symptom of an underlying health issue. Some explanations for long-term nasal congestion might be:
- Hay fever
- Noncancerous growths, known as nasal polyps, or benign tumors in the nasal passages
- Sinonasal tumors, though this is rare
- Chemical exposures
- Environmental irritants
- A long-lasting sinus infection, called chronic sinusitis
- Anatomic variants, like a deviated septum, inferior turbinate hypertrophy, or concha bullosa
- Enlarged adenoids
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease, particularly in infants
Nasal congestion might also occur during pregnancy, usually during the end of the first trimester. Hormonal fluctuations and increased blood supply that occur during pregnancy might cause this nasal congestion.
These changes might affect the nasal membranes, causing them to become inflamed, dry, or to bleed.
HOME REMEDIES FOR NASAL CONGESTION
Home remedies could help when you are experiencing nasal congestion.
Humidifiers that add moisture to the air might help to break up mucus and soothe inflamed nasal passageways. However, if you suffer from asthma, ask a doctor before using a humidifier.
Propping your head up on pillows could also encourage mucus to flow out of your nasal passages.
Saline sprays are safe for all ages, but for babies, you may choose to use an aspirator, or nasal bulb, afterward, depending on how well the saline flushes out the nasal passages. An aspirator is used to clear any remaining mucus from the baby’s nose.
A neti pot is a kind of nasal irrigation device that is designed to help flush mucus from the nasal cavity using a saline solution.
In addition to a neti pot, nasal irrigation devices are also commonly available as squeeze bottles, which some people might find easier to use
These devices are often used to clear congestion and reduce inflammation, which might be beneficial for those with allergies or an upper respiratory infection.
Keep in mind that you should only use filtered or distilled water, as using tap water can increase the risk of infection.
Additionally, be sure to clean your neti pot or nasal irrigation device thoroughly after each use, replace it regularly, and speak to a doctor before using the device on children.
TREATMENT FOR CONGESTION
After a doctor has determined the cause of chronic nasal congestion, they could recommend a treatment plan. Treatment plans usually include over-the-counter or prescription medication to resolve or alleviate symptoms.
Medications used to treat nasal congestion are:
- Oral antihistamines for treating allergies, like loratadine (Claritin) and cetirizine (Zyrtec)
- Nasal sprays that contain antihistamines, like azelastine (Astelin, Astepro)
- Nasal steroids, involving budesonide (Rhinocort), fluticasone (Flonase), or triamcinolone (Nasacort)
- Over-the-counter or prescription-strength decongestants, involving nasal sprays, drops, or tablets
Keep in mind that certain nasal decongestant sprays, like Afrin, should not be used for more than three days in a row, as it can cause nasal congestion to recur or worsen.
If you have nasal polyps in your nasal passages or sinuses that are keeping mucus from draining out, a doctor may prescribe oral steroids, allergy medications, steroid rinses, or biologics to help relieve symptoms. In some cases, a doctor might also recommend surgery to remove them.
If there are tumors in your nasal passages, a doctor may perform a biopsy to determine if they are malignant and may recommend surgery for removal.
Surgery might also be recommended for a deviated septum if other treatment methods are unable to relieve symptoms.
WHEN SHOULD YOU SEE A DOCTOR?
Sometimes, home remedies are not enough to ease congestion, especially if your symptoms are caused by another health condition.
In this case, medical treatment might be needed, especially if your condition is painful and interfering with your everyday activities.
If you have experienced any of the following, see a doctor right away:
- Congestion lasting longer than two weeks
- Congestion followed by a high fever lasting more than three days
- Green nasal discharge accompanied by sinus pain and fever
- A weakened immune system, asthma, or emphysema
You should also see a doctor right away if you have had a recent head injury and are now having a bloody nasal discharge or a constant flow of clear discharge.
INFANTS AND CHILDREN
Nasal congestion is a common problem in children and infants. However, because infants breathe mostly through their nose during the first few months of life, nasal congestion can potentially interfere with feeding and cause breathing problems, though this is uncommon.
For these reasons, it is best to contact a pediatrician right away if your infant has nasal congestion. This is especially important for infants under three months old and those with other symptoms, like a persistent cough, fever, or breathing problems.
The pediatrician could then work with you to find the best treatment options for your baby.
Nasal congestion rarely causes major health issues and is most often caused by the common cold or a sinus infection. Symptoms generally improve right away with proper treatment.
If you experience chronic congestion, talk to a doctor to investigate the underlying problem and determine the best course of treatment.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from nasal congestion, our expert providers at Specialty Care Clinics