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Nasal Congestion - Causes and Ways to Relieve It

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Nasal Congestion - Causes and Ways to Relieve It

4 min read


Nasal congestion is a very common symptom seen and can be associated with various medical conditions, from the common cold to the side effects of medications.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Akshay. B. K.

Published At July 11, 2022
Reviewed AtJune 29, 2023

What Is Nasal Congestion?

Nasal congestion is the obstructed or restricted breathing through the nose due to the inflammation of blood vessels lining the tissues of the nose. It may or may not be accompanied by discharge from the nose. Nasal congestion can be irritating in the case of adults and older children. It needs to be considered serious when it affects breastfed babies as it interferes with feeding and disturbs the sleep in children.

What Causes Nasal Congestion?

Nasal congestion can be caused by various conditions like infections, allergies, and sometimes irritants like pollution from cars and tobacco smoke. Also, any growth inside the nasal cavity can cause breathing obstruction.

Causes of nasal congestion include:

  • Common Cold- A common cold is a viral infection that affects the upper respiratory system, and the patients will have runny noses, sneezing, and sore throat other than stuffy noses.

  • Allergies- Allergies occur when our body’s immune system reacts to a foreign particle entering our system. This reaction ranges from mild to moderate. The most commonly seen allergens causing nasal congestion are pollen, dust mites, and pet dander.

  • Acute Sinusitis- It is a condition in which the sinuses are inflamed and swollen and cause blockage to drainage of mucus resulting in mucus buildup. In this case, along with nasal congestion, the patient will have a runny nose and pain around the eyes, nose, cheek, or forehead region.

  • Chronic Sinusitis- It is similar to acute sinusitis but persists for over a period of more than three months.

  • Nasal Polyps- This is a tear-shaped non-cancerous growth inside the nasal cavity that can obstruct the air passage, and hence the patient can have nasal congestion. Nasal polyps are formed as a result of chronic inflammation due to conditions like asthma, allergies, immune disorders, or recurring infections. This is commonly seen in adults, and surgery is indicated in such cases, depending on the severity.

  • Deviated Nasal Septum- It is a condition in which the nasal septum that separates the two chambers of the nasal cavity is deviated to one side, making the air passage of one side narrow, and such patients might face difficulty in breathing. The treatment for such a condition is the surgical correction of the defect.

  • Enlarged Adenoids - Adenoids are the lymph tissues that are present between the nose and the back of the throat. Adenoids are enlarged in cases of infection and usually return back to their normal size when the infection subsides, but in some cases, the enlarged adenoids remain the same size post-infection. In such cases, it can block the airway, and surgical removal of the adenoids is indicated.

  • Influenza (flu) - Influenza is a viral infection that affects the respiratory system, including the nose, throat, and lungs. Other than nasal congestion, the flu can show other symptoms such as fever, chills, sore throat, runny nose, and cough.

  • Nonallergic Rhinitis- It is a condition in which the patient has nasal congestion, runny nose, and sneezing without any known cause.

  • Eosinophilic Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis (EGPA) -Also known as Churg-Strauss syndrome, in which there is inflammation of blood vessels. Other symptoms of this disease include adult-onset asthma, nasal allergies, sinus problems, rash, gastrointestinal bleeding, and numbness of hands and feet. The treatment advised is steroidal medicines to limit the symptoms.

Other causes include:

  • Medication for hypertension, erectile dysfunction, depression, seizures, etc.

  • Overuse of decongestant nasal spray.

  • Changes in temperature and humidity.

  • Hormonal changes.

  • Foreign body in the nose.

  • Tobacco smoke.

  • Pregnancy.

How to Relieve Nasal Congestion?

Nasal congestion can greatly affect your daily routines and can be irritating sometimes. Here are some ways to quickly relieve nasal congestion:

  • Use of Humidifier:

A humidifier is primarily an electric device that turns the water into moisture which in turn increases the humidity of the air. It is often seen that this humidity in the air can soothe irritated tissue and decrease the inflammation of the blood vessels. It is an easy method to reduce sinus pain and relieve nasal congestion. In some conditions use of a heated humidifier can help the discharge of congested mucus and thus relieve the symptom.

  • Shower:

Have you ever noticed that taking a warm shower would help you breathe better when you have a stuffy nose?

Yes, the reason is that taking a warm shower would reduce the inflammation and thin out the mucus.

  • Saline Nasal Spray:

What the saline nasal spray does is, introduce moisture into the breathed air and thus provide comfort while breathing.

Take medical advice before taking decongestant nasal sprays.

  • Stay Hydrated:

Stay hydrated if you suspect the flu or cold. Drinking optimum level water will lead to thinning of the mucus and thus can be easily pushed out, thus less mucus, less inflammation and better breathing.

  • Warm Compress:

To make a warm compress, soak a towel in warm water and squeeze out the excess water from it; place this towel over the nose and the forehead. The warmth from this will comfort pain in the sinus and reduce the inflammation in the nostrils.

  • Medications:

Over-the-counter medicines that can be used for nasal congestion like antihistamines, decongestants, or allergy medications.

Consult a doctor if the symptoms do not relieve after taking medicines for more than three days.

  • Proper Positioning of Head:

It is worsened when lying down, so keep an upright position or keep your head in an elevated position while sleeping to reduce the discomfort.

When to See a Doctor?

Consider consulting a doctor for the following reasons:

  • If the congestion persists for more than ten days.

  • If it is accompanied by a high fever and chills for more than three days.

  • When there is green discharge or foul-smelling discharge along with nasal congestion.

  • When there is pain around the eyes, cheek, and forehead which persists even after taking medications.

  • Severe throat pain.


Nasal congestion is a very common symptom seen in various medical conditions which do not require medical attention every time. Even though nasal congestion is a common symptom but could be a sign of a serious medical condition; in case you find the symptoms persist for a longer duration than it should, then you should consult an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist. Even though nasal congestion is common but could be a sign of a serious medical condition. Nasal congestion can affect the quality of life and decrease the performance of a person.

Frequently Asked Questions


How to Get Rid of Nasal Congestion?

Nasal congestion can be gotten rid of by using a humidifier, saline spray, taking a hot shower or steam inhalation, drinking plenty of fluids, draining the sinuses using a neti pot, using a warm compress, taking over-the-counter medications, using decongestants and allergy (antihistamine) medication. Swimming in chlorinated pools needs to be avoided as they can irritate the nasal passages. 


What Is Meant by Nasal Congestion?

Nasal congestion occurs when an irritant irritates the tissues lining the inner surface of the nose. This irritation can trigger inflammation, swelling, and mucus production, making it difficult to breathe. It is also referred to as ‘rhinitis’ or ‘stuffy nose.’ ‘Rhino’ in Greek means the nose, and ‘tis’ means inflammation.


How Long Does It Take To Get Relief From Nasal Congestion?

Nasal congestion can take around five to ten days to resolved. If it persists for more than a week, then it could signify the presence of an infection. In untreated cases, nasal congestion may lead to nasal polyps, sinusitis, or middle ear infections.


Should One Be Afraid of Nasal Congestion?

Nasal congestion is normal and can be a result of the common cold, flu, or allergies. It usually resolves within a week, and some might experience nasal congestion during a particular time of the year or on exposure to a particular irritant. This is called allergic rhinitis. One should be worried about nasal congestion if it extends beyond ten days.


Can Sinus Congestion Be Cured?

A majority of sinus infections get cured on their own without the need for antibiotics. In case of a bacterial sinus infection that lasts over seven to ten days, antibiotic therapy may be required. Sinus infections caused by viruses can be cured within two weeks but cannot be treated with antibiotics.


How to Gain Relief From Nasal Congestion Within 30 Seconds?

A saline nasal spray is beneficial to get relief from nasal congestion. These are unmedicated nasal sprays that moisten the nasal passages and flush out excess mucus, allergens, irritants, and germs. Another method suggested by Gymfork is to push the tongue flat against the palate (roof of the mouth), accompanied by pushing the finger against the skin between the eyebrows. Holding this posture for about 20 seconds can offer relief from nasal congestion by stimulating the pressure points.


What Is the Best Medicine to Relieve Congestion?

A decongestant containing the active ingredient pseudoephedrine is effective in relieving nasal congestion as it acts on the small blood vessels in the nasal passages, and reduces swelling, and dries up the mucus, making breathing a little easier. Another decongestant containing phenylephrine can also offer relief from a stuffy nose. The above decongestants should not be taken more than four times a day.


Is There Any Natural Remedy to Relieve Nasal Congestion?

A few natural remedies include using a humidifier, doing steam inhalation, using saline nasal spray, neti pot, warm compress, adding spices to food like pepper, ginger, garlic, and powdered turmeric, and keeping the head elevated to prevent mucus accumulation in the sinuses, use of essential oils containing eucalyptus, peppermint, oregano, and rosemary, and staying hydrated is also important.


What Are the Symptoms of Nasal Congestion?

Symptoms of nasal congestion include sneezing, cough, headache, the feeling of fullness in the nose or face, difficulty in breathing, runny nose, and sore throat. Even simple home remedies can help relieve nasal congestion.


What Is the Sleeping Position to Be Followed in Case of Nasal Congestion?

One must lie with the head elevated as this can drain the mucus and relieve pressure from the sinus. Lying flat enhances the blood flow to the head, which increases nasal congestion.  The person can lie on their back and use an extra pillow to keep the head elevated. Taking an anti-allergic medicine (antihistamine) before going to bed can offer relief from a runny nose and sneezing.  


Can Vicks Relieve Nasal Congestion?

Vicks is a popular ointment containing menthol, eucalyptus oil, and camphor. All these ingredients have a very strong, minty smell, which is so powerful that it tricks the brain into thinking that breathing appears to be better. However, Vicks does not offer relief from nasal or sinus congestion. 


What Foods Are Good for Sinus Infections?

Bright-colored fruits and vegetables like kiwi, pumpkin, berries, sweet potatoes, papaya, and pineapple are laden with antioxidants. Pineapple contains enzymes that break down the accumulation on the sinuses and reduce inflammation. Other foods include drinking hot soup and broth containing ginger, garlic, turmeric, leafy greens, and miso, drinking tea and honey, and consuming citrus fruits and seafood.


Why Does Nasal Congestion Worsen at Night?

Lying flat enhances the blood flow to the head, which makes it difficult for the nose and sinuses to drain, causing nasal congestion. Due to this, the mucus accumulates in the head, making it difficult to breathe and resulting in a sinus headache in the morning. One must lie on their back with the head elevated using an extra pillow as this can drain the mucus and relieve pressure from the sinus.


Is Nasal Congestion a Serious Issue?

One need not worry about nasal congestion. It can be a result of the common cold, flu, or allergies. Nasal congestion can take around five to ten days to resolve. If it persists for more than a week, then it could signify the presence of an infection. In untreated cases, nasal congestion may lead to nasal polyps, sinusitis, or middle ear infections.
Dr. Akshay. B. K.
Dr. Akshay. B. K.

Otolaryngology (E.N.T)


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