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Nasal Congestion Causes and Treatments

Learn about nasal congestion as a symptom of the cold and flu.

A stuffy, blocked nose, or difficulty breathing through your nose, are all signs of nasal congestion.1, 2 There are a number of causes of nasal congestion, but the good news is there are also several different treatment options available to help you get the relief you need.

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.

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.
  • 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 acupressureSimilar 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

Next Steps

If you're wondering how to get relief from cold and flu symptoms, including a stuffy nose, there are Theraflu products that can help.

Try Theraflu Sinus & Pain to help with sinus congestion and pressure, a runny nose, sneezing and headache. You can also try Theraflu Nighttime Severe Cold & Cough Hot Liquid Powder for tackling symptoms of a runny and blocked nose.

Theraflu products come in a range of treatments, including Theraflu Hot Liquid Powders and Theraflu ExpressMax syrup and caplets.

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