A congested, stuffy nose is a nuisance that can affect your ability to smell, taste and breathe. It is one of the most common complaints, especially when it persists or is accompanied by nasal discharge.
What Causes Nasal Congestion?
Congestion occurs when nasal tissues and blood vessels become swollen and inflamed. It has little to do with excess mucus, as many people believe. This swelling causes obstructed breathing.
Anything that irritates the nasal tissues can cause congestion. The list of possible causes is lengthy and includes infections (colds, influenza and acute or chronic sinusitis), allergies, structural abnormalities (deviated septum, enlarged adenoids/tonsils, nasal polyps or tumors), non-allergic rhinitis, dry air, cold temperatures, bright lights, cluster headaches, hormonal changes, medications, thyroid problems, spicy foods, tobacco smoke and stress.
Home remedies are usually effective in treating congestion. Decongestants (to shrink the blood vessels in the nasal passages) and antihistamines (to reduce the amount of mucus) provide quick relief, but they are only effective for a few days. If used longer, they may actually worsen the condition.
Saline nasal sprays are a better bet, especially when used in conjunction with a humidifier to moisten the air and keep nasal passages from drying out. Drink lots of fluids, especially hot tea, broth or chicken soup.
For infants and younger children – who rely on their nose for breathing – a stuffy nose can be dangerous. Try removing mucus from the nose with a nasal bulb (aspirator) and having your child lie on his or her stomach to help mucus drain. Try saline nose drops (either purchased from a drugstore or homemade by mixing one-quarter teaspoon salt with one-half cup lukewarm water).
Sometimes the nasal congestion is due to swelling of tissue within the nose that won’t respond to nasal sprays such as saline and nasal steroids. In these cases, your doctor may offer to perform an in-office procedure to shrink this tissue called coblation. This procedure is quickly and easily performed in the office under local anesthesia with same day return to work.