What causes nasal congestion?
Nasal congestion occurs because the linings of your nasal passages become inflamed or swollen, making it more difficult for air to pass through them. This is what creates that ‘stuffy’ or blocked feeling. Your body may also produce more mucus than usual, causing a runny nose as well as a blocked one.2
While it can be irritating, in the majority of cases nasal congestion isn’t serious and causes nothing more than some discomfort.1 Depending on the cause of your stuffy nose, you may also experience sinus congestion at the same time.
What causes nasal congestion?
Anything that irritates your nasal passages can cause congestion, but the most common triggers are: 3, 4
- Allergies or hay fever (‘allergic rhinitis’)5
- Cold and flu viruses
- Sinus infection
- Exposure to irritants such as chemicals, smoke or perfume
- Dry, cold air
- Certain medications (such as those used to treat high blood pressure)
- Hormonal imbalances (such as during pregnancy)
How Long Does Nasal Congestion Last?
Most cases of nasal congestion caused by a virus will resolve. For adults, speak to your doctor if:2
- Your nasal congestion gets worse or symptoms last more than seven days
- You have a high fever
- Your nasal discharge is yellow or green and you also have sinus pain or fever (this may be a sign of bacterial infection)
- You have blood in your nasal discharge, or a persistent clear discharge after a head injury
For children, seek medical attention if:2
- Your child is younger than two months old and has a fever
- Your baby's runny nose or congestion causes trouble nursing or makes breathing difficult
How Can I Prevent Nasal Congestion?
You can reduce the risk of catching viral infections like the cold or flu by washing your hands frequently, avoiding any close contact with people you know are sick, and keeping up a healthy lifestyle – meaning lots of sleep, a nutritious diet and daily exercise.8 However, other causes of nasal congestion, such as allergies, may require specific medication or treatments.5
Treating Nasal Congestion – How to Help Get Rid of a Stuffy Nose
If you’re suffering with a stuffy or blocked nose, there are a few at-home remedies you can try to help give yourself some relief.
- Decongestants – Decongestant medicines can provide temporary nasal congestion relief. These work by reducing the inflammation in your blood vessels to create more space in your nasal passages, making it easier to breathe through your nose.9
- Moisture – Dry air makes nasal congestion worse, as the lack of moisture in the air can dry out the membranes in the nose, causing mucus to thicken. This can potentially lead to congestion, blocked sinuses and infection, so look to increase humidity in the air you’re breathing.3,10 You can use a humidifier, turn on a hot shower and sit in the bathroom, or place your face over a bowl of hot water with a towel over your head.
- Rinsing – Using a saline (salt water) solution or other nasal irrigation devices to rinse your nasal passages of excess mucus or other irritants can help to reduce inflammation.4
- Keep your fluids up – Drink water and other fluids regularly, as this will help to thin out any nasal mucus that might be causing a runny nose.10
- Prop your head up – When you go to bed, prop up your head a little with an extra pillow so that nasal mucus can flow down and out, allowing you to breathe better.10
- Try acupressure – Similar to acupuncture, which uses needles to treat or prevent illness, acupressure pinpoints spots on the body to stimulate in order to relieve a variety of symptoms—no needles involved.12 You can do acupressure on yourself to help relieve allergy symptoms like nasal congestion and runny nose. Apply firm, gentle pressure at the base of your nose and at the top of each of your inner eyebrows. Spend about three minutes holding each point.12
What Is a Runny Nose?
If you are experiencing a runny nose, you’re likely encountering a mucus buildup that drips out of your nose.13 If you have nasal congestion, you may experience a runny nose.13
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1. Nasal Congestion. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/17980-nasal-congestion. Accessed 31/03/20.
2. Nasal congestion. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/nasal-congestion/basics/definition/sym-20050644. Accessed 31/03/20.
3. Nasal Congestion (Possible causes). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/17980-nasal-congestion/possible-causes. Accessed 31/03/20.
4. Non-allergic rhinitis. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/non-allergic-rhinitis/. Accessed 31/03/20.
5. Allergic rhinitis. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/allergic-rhinitis/. Accessed 31/03/20.
6. Common cold (Symptoms & causes). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/symptoms-causes/syc-20351605. Accessed 31/03/20.
7. Sinusitis (sinus infection). NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sinusitis-sinus-infection/. Accessed 31/03/20.
8. Healthy Habits to Help Prevent Flu. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/actions-prevent-flu.htm. Accessed 31/03/20.
9. Decongestants. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/decongestants/. Accessed 31/03/20.
10. Nasal Congestion (Care and Treatment). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/17980-nasal-congestion/care-and-treatment. Accessed 31/03/20.
11. Nose Blowing Propels Nasal Fluid into the Paranasal Sinuses. Infectious Diseases Society of America. https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/30/2/387/382446. Accessed 5/27/2021.
12. Try This Easy 6-Minute Acupressure Exercise for Allergy Relief. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/try-this-easy-6-minute-acupressure-exercise-for-allergy-relief-video/. Accessed 5/27/2021.
13. Runny Nose. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/runny-nose/basics/definition/sym-20050640. Accessed 5/27/2021.