Nasal congestion refers to a stuffy nose. Many people think that a nose gets congested (stuffy) from too much thick mucus. This is incorrect. The nose becomes congested when the tissues lining the nose become swollen due to inflamed blood vessels.
Nose - congested; Congested nose; Stuffy nose
A stuffy nose is usually caused by a virus and typically goes away by itself within a week.
Newborn infants must breathe through the nose. Nasal congestion in an infant in the first few months of life can interfere with nursing and cause life-threatening breathing problems. Nasal congestion in older children and adolescents is usually just an annoyance, but can cause other difficulties.
Nasal congestion can interfere with the ears, hearing, and speech development. Significant congestion may interfere with sleep, cause snoring, and can be associated with episodes of not breathing during sleep (sleep apnea ).
In children, nasal congestion from enlarged adenoids has caused chronic sleep apnea with insufficient oxygen levels and right-sided heart failure. The problem usually goes away after surgery to remove the adenoids and tonsils.
Congestion can be caused by many of the same things that cause a runny nose, including:
Over-the-counter medicines may help relieve a stuffy nose and can make breathing more comfortable.
- Decongestants shrink the blood vessels in the lining of the nose. These medicine only relieve stuffiness, not a runny nose or other symptoms. Decongestant nasal sprays and drops should not be used for more than 3 days, because then they can make the congestion worse.
- Antihistamines may reduce the amount of mucus. Be careful, because some antihistamines make people drowsy.
These medicines do not treat the underlying condition. Many over-the-counter allergy and cold medicines contain multiple ingredients, so look carefully to see what is in the one you choose.
Medicines are not the only way to relieve a stuffy or runny nose. Often, gentler solutions are better. Try these steps to thin the mucus, which can help you breathe easier and get your nasal secretions back to normal:
- Use gentle saline nasal sprays.
- Increase the humidity in the air with a vaporizer or humidifier.
- Drink extra fluids. Hot tea, broth, or chicken soup may be especially helpful.
For a baby too young to blow his or her nose, an infant nasal aspirator (bulb) can help remove the mucus. If the mucus is thick and sticky, loosen it by putting two or three saline nose drops into each nostril. Don't insert cotton swabs into a child's nostrils. Instead, catch the discharge outside the nostril on a tissue or swab, roll it around, and pull the discharge out of the nose.
Congestion is often worse when you are lying down. Keep upright, or at least keep the head elevated. This is especially helpful for young children.
Some stores sell adhesive strips that can be placed on the nose when you are congested. These help widen the nostrils, making breathing easier.
Call your health care provider if:
Call your doctor if you or your child have any of the following:
- A stuffy nose along with swelling of the forehead, eyes, side of the nose, or cheek.
- A stuffy nose along with blurred vision
- Increased throat pain, or white or yellow spots on the tonsils or other parts of the throat
- Coughing episodes that last longer than 10 days
- A cough that produces yellow-green or gray mucus
- A stuffy nose that lasts longer than 2 weeks and significantly interferes with your life
What to expect at your health care provider's office:
Your doctor may perform a physical examination, focusing on the upper respiratory system, ears, nose, and throat.
Your doctor will ask questions, including:
- When did the stuffy nose begin? Is it always stuffy?
- What have you done to try to relieve the congestion? How well has it worked?
- What other symptoms do you have?
The following diagnostic tests may be done:
Over-the-counter medications may be recommended. Stronger, prescription medications may be advised. For treatment of severe hay fever, see hay fever .