Nasal congestion, also called a stuffy nose, is often a symptom of another health problem such as a sinus infection. It may also be caused by the common cold.
Nasal congestion is marked by:
- a stuffy or runny nose
- sinus pain
- mucus buildup
- swollen nasal tissue
Home remedies may be enough to alleviate nasal congestion, particularly if it’s caused by the common cold. However, if you experience long-term congestion, you may need medical treatment.
Congestion is when your nose becomes stuffed up and inflamed. Minor illnesses are the most common causes of nasal congestion. For instance, a cold, the flu, and sinus infections can all cause stuffy noses. Illness-related congestion usually improves within one week.
If it lasts longer than one week, it’s often a symptom of an underlying health issue. Some explanations for long-term nasal congestion may be:
- hay fever
- noncancerous growths, called nasal polyps, or benign tumors in the nasal passages
- chemical exposures
- environmental irritants
- a long-lasting sinus infection, known as chronic sinusitis
- a deviated septum
Nasal congestion may also occur during pregnancy, usually during the end of the first trimester. Hormonal fluctuations and increased blood supply that occur during pregnancy may cause this nasal congestion.
These changes may affect the nasal membranes, causing them to become inflamed, dry, or to bleed.
Home remedies can help when you’re experiencing nasal congestion.
Propping your head up on pillows can also encourage mucus to flow out of your nasal passages.
Saline sprays are safe for all ages, but for babies you’ll need to use an aspirator, or nasal bulb, afterward. An aspirator is used to remove any remaining mucus from the baby’s nose.
Sometimes, home remedies aren’t enough to relieve congestion, particularly if your symptoms are caused by another health condition.
In this case, medical treatment may be needed, especially if your condition is painful and interfering with your everyday activities.
If you’ve experienced any of the following, see your doctor right away:
- congestion lasting longer than 10 days
- congestion accompanied by a high fever lasting more than 3 days
- green nasal discharge along with sinus pain and fever
- a weakened immune system, asthma, or emphysema
You should also see your doctor right away if you’ve had a recent head injury and are now having bloody nasal discharge or a constant flow of clear discharge.
Nasal congestion can be more threatening in infants than in older children and adults. Symptoms can interfere with infant feedings and can even lead to fatal breathing problems. It may also prevent normal speech and hearing development.
For these reasons, it’s important to contact your pediatrician right away if your infant has nasal congestion. Your doctor can then work with you to find the best treatment options for your baby.
After your doctor has determined the cause of chronic nasal congestion, they can recommend a treatment plan. Treatment plans often include over-the-counter or prescription medication to resolve or alleviate symptoms.
Medications used to treat nasal congestion include:
- oral antihistamines to treat allergies, such as loratadine (Claritin) and cetirizine (Zyrtec)
- nasal sprays that contain antihistamines, such as azelastine (Astelin, Astepro)
- nasal steroids, such as mometasone (Asmanex Twisthaler) or fluticasone (Flovent Diskus, Flovent HFA)
- over-the-counter or prescription-strength decongestants
If you have tumors or nasal polyps in your nasal passages or sinuses that are keeping mucus from draining out, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove them.
Nasal congestion rarely causes major health problems and is most often caused by the common cold or a sinus infection. Symptoms usually improve right away with proper treatment.
If you experience chronic congestion, speak to your doctor to investigate the underlying problem.