What Is Nasal Congestion?
Your nose is stuffy, runny, even feels like a cold is coming on. That’s nasal congestion, and you’re right, it might be caused by a cold – or a sinus infection, or allergies.
Nasal congestion can also be caused by tobacco smoke or anything that irritates or inflames the nasal tissues. For some people, a chronically runny nose for no apparent reason — a condition called nonallergic rhinitis. Doctors sometimes have trouble figuring out exactly what condition you have.
The Different Types of Congestion
Here are symptoms of three typical conditions to help you determine the cause of your congestion.
Sinus congestion can cause an aching sensation and fullness in your face. You may have post-nasal drip, green (or yellow) nasal discharge, fever, sinus pressure or a headache. Your face may also feel tender, and a doctor will see pus draining near the sinuses
Bacteria or viruses trigger sinus infections. Colds, allergies, asthma, and other health conditions can also cause them. Sinus infections can clear up on their own without treatment. However, if the condition has lasted longer than seven to 10 days, you may need an antibiotic.
A virus causes a cold – bringing with it a stuffy nose and runny discolored mucus. You may have a sore throat, cough, sneezing, fatigue, or a headache. Colds often trigger a mild fever, but it’s so mild that people may think they have allergies instead.
People usually deal with a cold virus up to 10 days. However, if the cold symptoms last longer, it may be a sinus infection. Talk to your doctor as you may need treatment.
Allergies cause nasal congestion as well as sneezing, runny nose (clear, watery discharge), and itchy nose and eyes. You won’t have a fever. Indoor and outdoor allergens trigger the allergic reaction. Mold, dust, and animal dander, as well as pollen and ragweed, are typical allergens.
Seasonal allergies are typical in the spring and fall. If specific indoor allergens are bothersome, you may experience symptoms year-round. An allergist can provide treatment.
Getting Relief from Congestion
When you’re stuffed-up, your nasal tissues become inflamed and irritated. They produce more mucus to flush out the irritation, which is the nasal discharge, aka, runny nose.
Everybody experiences congestion – children and adults. For some, it’s serious enough to disturb their sleep. Infants with congestion can have a difficult time feeding.
Nasal congestion can be irritating, causing real misery. Getting it under control isn’t that difficult – but you’ve got to figure out what is causing the blockage. Then you can find the right treatment.
While you may suffer from allergies and infections, the problem may be compounded by structural problems with your nose and sinuses.
When you’re stuffed up, try to keep your nasal passages and sinuses moist. While it might seem that dry air would help clear up a runny nose, it has the opposite effect. Drying out the membranes only keeps them irritated.
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Tips to get relief
- Keep your nasal passages moist. Steam can break up congestion and provide relief – whether it’s a warm shower, a warm shower, or warm soup. Steam humidifies dry mucus and helps move it out. Another option: place a warm, wet towel on your face, as it may open your nasal passages.
- Use a vaporizer or humidifier. Or breathe from a pot of warm water. Drinking lots of fluids will help thin out the mucus, which can help prevent blocked sinuses.
- Rinse with salt water. Pollution, dust, and fragrances can get into your sinuses, causing congestion. A saltwater saline rise can help get rid of these irritants. Choose either an over-the-counter saline nasal spray or a saline rinse from a neti pot, which allows you to pour saline water through your sinuses.
- Use a nasal steroid spray. Available over the counter, these sprays can help reduce the inflammation that adds to congestion. However, the inflammatory reaction can be self-perpetuating, as overuse of the sprays can cause the inflammation. Decongestant nasal sprays can also be problematic. Use local steroid treatments and, if necessary, antibiotics to break the cycle.
- Keep your head propped. In bed, prop up a couple of pillows to keep your head elevated which helps improve breathing.
- Avoid chlorinated pools. The water can irritate your nasal passages.
- Avoid cigarette smoke. Secondhand smoke can increase your risk for chronic sinus congestion.
- Get allergies under control. Get tested for allergies, avoid the triggers – or take allergy medication.
- Lose weight. Research shows that people who are obese may be more likely to have more allergies or chronic sinusitis than people who aren’t. Losing weight may help control your sinus problems.
Try Complementary Therapy
Chinese medicine and acupuncture have helped many find relief. Research shows that an 8-week acupuncture treatment program can help improve symptoms and quality of life in people with chronic sinus congestion. A big bowl of pho (a Vietnamese soup) can also open up sinuses.