Nasal Congestion: Causes and Treatments

Kristin Hall, FNP

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 8/09/2020

Having a stuffed up nose can feel miserable. But if spending your day with a face full of snot is hard, sleeping with nasal congestion can feel impossible. 

Nasal congestion could be something you deal with seasonally, as allergies can trigger the sniffles and sneezing for many people. But nasal congestion can also be a sign of illness. 

Whether it’s the common cold or a painful sinus infection, understanding what’s behind your stopped-up nasal passages can point you towards finding relief. 

And if you’re unsure of what steps to take next, talking to a healthcare provider can help. 

Symptoms of Nasal Congestion

The symptoms of nasal congestion are unmistakable — it can feel like you’re trying to breathe through a straw, submerged in liquid, and it can sound pretty gross, actually. 

Your nose feels stuffed with snot, and while it may have more discharge than normal, that stuffiness is actually caused by inflammation of the tissues and blood vessels in and around your nose. 

The technical word for nasal congestion is rhinitis, and can also include runny nose, post-nasal drip (fluid draining down the back of your throat), itchy nose, sneezing and complete nasal blockage.

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Possible Causes 

There are several things that can cause nasal congestion and it’s related symptoms. Let’s discuss a few: 

  • Allergies. Allergic rhinitis is how your body responds to tiny particles in the air from pollen, animals, mold, dust and other allergens. 

    In addition to congestion, allergies can cause runny nose, sneezing and itchy and watery eyes. 

  • Common cold. The common head cold is caused by a virus. If your stuffy nose is caused by a cold, you may also experience sore throat, general malaise and a cough. 

  • Sinus infection. Sinusitis is a sinus infection, and nasal congestion is a very common symptom in this illness. 

    In addition, you’ll also feel pressure and pain throughout the sinuses, located in your nose, across your cheeks, behind your eyes and forehead. 

    The discharge from your nose may be greenish-yellow, if you have a sinus infection.

  • Nasal polyps. If your nasal congestion doesn’t seem to go anywhere or be tied to additional symptoms, nasal polyps are one possibility. 

    These are small noncancerous growths in your nose and sinuses. 

    While they aren’t inherently dangerous, they can cause sinus infections.

  • Other obstruction. When’s the last time you put something up your nose and forgot about it? 

    Hopefully it was when you were a kid. 

    Nasal foreign bodies are obviously more common in children, but will certainly feel like a clogged up nose.

  • Some medications. Rhinitis medicamentosa refers to an issue caused by medications designed to relieve nasal congestion. 

    If you use a spray decongestant for more than three to five days and then stop, you may experience “rebound congestion” or a temporary worsening of symptoms. 

Treating Nasal Congestion

How you treat your stuffy nose depends on the cause. 

Obviously, if you stuck a marble in there, SUDAFED® won’t help. 

But oral decongestants may provide some relief if your congestion is caused by a common cold. 

A healthcare professional  can help determine the best treatment given what’s behind your stuffy nose.

Other possible treatments include over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines for allergic reactions, topical or nasal spray decongestants, corticosteroids or saline rinses.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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