Nasal congestion is one of the most common health problems affecting a large population around the world. It affects everyone regardless of age, ethnicity, and gender. Nasal congestion is defined as the inflammation and swelling of the nasal cavity which causes breathing difficulty through the nose. This condition has developed due to infections, allergies, the common cold, and many more. In this short but very informative article, we will cover the causes, signs and symptoms, as well as the management, treatment, and diagnosis of nasal congestion.
Causes of nasal congestion
Nasal congestion can arise due to several factors including:
Allergies: Allergies occur when the immune system of the body reacts to foreign substances resulting in symptoms including watery eyes and itching.
Common cold: The main causes of the common cold or flu are viral infections that affect the upper respiratory tract, nose and throat resulting in an inflammatory response in the nasal passages, leading to the blockage of the nose. Sneezing and a runny or blocked nose are common symptoms.
Irritants: Pollution, dust, smoke, and chemical fumes are environmental irritants that affect a large population, and result in an inflammatory response in the body and the development of nasal congestion.
Sinusitis: Sinusitis refers to the inflammation of the tissue lining of the sinus cavity (the cavity connected with the skull and nasal passage) which may develop into growths on the nasal lining called nasal polyps.1
Signs and symptoms of nasal congestion
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of nasal congestion include the following:
- Stuffy nose
- Mucus discharge
- Bleeding from the nose
- Watery eyes
- Difficulty breathing through the nose
- Weaker sense of smell
Management and treatment for nasal congestion
Nasal congestion can be managed by medication or home remedies and the treatment will depend on the cause of the nasal congestion.
- OTC medication: To relieve nasal obstruction, over-the-counter medication or nasal sprays are one of the most promising medications available
- Pharmacotherapy: Medication can be prescribed according to the cause of the nasal congestion such as antihistamines, antibiotics, and steroidal medication
- Surgery: Surgery is required in the chronic sinusitis condition to clear the passage for sinus drainage. Somnoplasty is one of the methods used in nasal congestion
- Home remedies: Some of the home remedies effective against congestion include steam inhalation, rinsing the nasal passage with saline liquid, and keeping the nasal passage moist1
Diagnosis of nasal congestion
For diagnosis, ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctors will check your symptoms and take your medical history by asking some questions. Further investigations to determine the cause of nasal congestion can be conducted including undergoing an allergy test, nano endoscopy, CT (computerised tomography) scan, or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) if needed.2
How can I prevent nasal congestion
Nasal congestion can be prevented by practising a good hygiene routine, staying hydrated which helps to moisten the nasal passages and avoiding irritants that trigger allergic reactions including smoke, perfume, dust, and air pollution. If you already have allergies, it is advisable to take medications and to try to avoid close contact with people who are sick.3
How common is nasal congestion
As per a published study in 2018, conducted only in the United States, about 20% of the adult population suffers from nasal congestion. People with allergies and respiratory diseases such as asthma are at a greater risk of being affected. The prevalence of nasal congestion is higher in people associated female at birth.4
Who is at risk of nasal congestion
People who already have allergies, weak immune systems, respiratory diseases, are smokers, have nasal polyps or have close interactions with sick patients who are affected by the same problem are at a higher risk of developing nasal congestion.
When should I see a doctor?
It is always advisable to visit a doctor if you are feeling unwell and in discomfort, have one side of the nose that is blocked, have difficulty with breathing and have bloody discharge coming from the nose.
Many people suffer from nasal congestion due to allergies, infections, the common cold, and environmental irritants. OTC and prescribed medication are used in the treatment of nasal congestion but preventative measures are much more effective for avoiding the discomfort such as maintaining a good hygiene routine, drinking water and avoiding things that can cause allergic reactions. If you experience recurrent episodes of nasal congestion, consult with your doctor.3
- Corey JP, Houser SM, Ng BA. Nasal congestion: a review of its etiology, evaluation, and treatment. Ear Nose Throat J [Internet]. 2000 Sep [cited 2023 Apr 7];79(9):690–702. Available from: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/014556130007900908
- Benninger M. Diagnosis and management of nasal congestion: the role of intranasal corticosteroids. Postgrad Med. 2009 Jan;121(1):122–31. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3810/pgm.2009.01.1961
- Nasal congestion: Sometimes more than just a stuffy nose [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. [cited 2023 Apr 7]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/nasal-congestion/basics/definition/sym-20050644
- Bhattacharyya N, Gilani S. Prevalence of potential adult chronic rhinosinusitis symptoms in the united states. Otolaryngol--head neck surgery [Internet]. 2018 Sep [cited 2023 Apr 7];159(3):522–5. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1177/0194599818774006