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Welcome to our health education library. The information shared below is provided to you as an educational and informational source only and is not intended to replace a medical examination or consultation, or medical advice given to you by a physician or medical professional.

Nasal Congestion

Nasal congestion, more commonly referred to as stuffy nose, results when nasal membranes and surrounding blood vessels become swollen with excess fluid, thereby blocking the nasal passages. Nasal congestion by itself is not an illness; rather it is a symptom of an allergy, a cold or other disease. Depending on its cause, the condition may range from mild to severe and may or may not require medical intervention.

What causes nasal congestion?

Blood vessels in the nose swell as a response to irritating stimuli such as allergens, cold or dry air, stress, spicy food, bacteria or viruses, bright lights, tobacco smoke and even some medication. When blood vessels in the nasal cavity swell, they excrete additional mucous and block the nasal passages.

Nasal congestion is most commonly associated with the common cold and influenza. A stuffy nose is often felt along with a general feeling of lethargy, an itchy or sore throat and a cough. Among the other ailments that may have nasal congestion as a symptom are sinusitis, bronchiolitis, chickenpox, hay fever, headache, measles, nasal polyps, nonallergic rhinitis, roseola, rubella, respiratory synctial virus and whooping cough.

Allergies are a potential cause of nasal congestion. These allergies may be triggered by cold air, dry air; dust mites; certain foods such as soy, milk, peanuts, shellfish or wheat; latex; molds; perfume; pet dander; pollen; stress; and tobacco smoke.

Ironically, some medications — even those intended to dry up excessive mucous — also cause nasal congestion. Too much dependence on some medications may trigger what is called the rebound effect, where the body does not respond anymore to the medicine and, instead, exhibits increasingly worse symptoms of an ailment. It has been found that too much use of nasal decongestants, narcotics, beta blockers, diuretics and birth control pills may cause nasal congestion.

What are the symptoms of nasal congestion?

The most common symptom of nasal congestion is a feeling of stuffiness in the nasal passages. A person with a congested nose may find it hard to breathe normally. In some cases, nasal congestion may be accompanied by a runny nose.

How is nasal congestion diagnosed?

A doctor checking for nasal congestion will take down the patient’s symptoms and recent medical history. He/She may also conduct a routine physical examination to rule out other possible ailments.

How is nasal congestion treated?

Simple nasal congestion that is not related to an allergy or illness may be relieved by gently blowing one’s nose and drinking lots of water. If the congestion is caused by allergens, the symptoms may be relieved by avoiding the irritant and with the use a humidifier, nasal decongestants, nasal sprays or over-the-counter medications. Relief from nasal congestion that is related to an illness will depend on the treatment of the ailment. In the case of allergy or illness, it is best for the patient to consult with a doctor for appropriate treatment.

What are the complications of nasal congestion?

For most adults, nasal congestion causes only mild to moderate irritation. For infants, however, the condition may cause serious health problems and may even be life-threatening. Infants younger than six months may find it difficult to nurse when their nasal passages are congested. Nasal congestion may also cause serious breathing problems. A soft rubber nasal suction bulb that is readily available in pharmacies may be used to remove mucous blocking an infant’s nose.

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