Nasal congestion or stuffy nose is when you feel like your nose is blocked and you can’t breathe well. A stuffy nose is due to a swelling of blood vessels in the mucous lining of the nose. It is often a symptom of the common cold, other infections that affect the upper airways or allergic reactions.
It can keep you up at night or make you uncomfortable during the day. Warm showers and drinking warm tea or water can relieve a stuffy nose.
The causes of a stuffy nose can include:
- Allergies to dust, pollen, chemicals or other substances that you are allergic to.
- Common cold.
- In the third trimester of pregnancy, hormonal changes and increased blood supply can cause a stuffy nose.
- Injuries to the nose.
- Presence of small objects like beads, buttons, or nuts in children's nostrils.
- Abnormal growths in the nose like nasal polyps.
- Side effects of some medications like aspirin.
Your stuffy nose will usually go away within a week or less. If the symptoms last more than a week, it may point to an underlying disease.
In most cases, you do not need to see a doctor if you have a stuffy nose, as you can manage it yourself. However, see your healthcare provider if:
- Your nasal congestion does not get better in a week.
- You have blood coming out of your nose.
- You have a discoloured discharge from your nose with facial pain.
- Your baby has nasal congestion and is having difficulty breathing.
- You have a high temperature along with nasal congestion.
You can prevent a stuffy nose by practising personal hygiene (like handwashing with soap and coughing into your bent elbow). If you have seasonal allergies, your healthcare provider can recommend an anti-allergy medicine to help reduce how many times this happens.
You can do the following at home to help ease your nasal congestion:
- Drink warm fluids or soups. They are important for relieving and soothing the effects of a stuffy nose.
- Fruits rich in vitamin C (e.g. oranges) and zinc (e.g. cashew nuts and beans) may not stop you from getting a cold, but they help you recover quickly.
- Saline nasal drops are beneficial in children whose nose may be stuffy. Follow your healthcare provider's advice on its use.
- Adults can use nasal drops containing steroids for less than a week. Overusing these drops can cause the nose to become stuffy again.
- Using mild pain relievers can reduce discomfort and irritation. Do not use this together with other cold remedies as many of them contain paracetamol too.
- Put your face over hot water in a bowl and put a towel over your head for some time to inhale the steam.
- Use mentholated rub, balms, or other methylsalicylate rubs to warm your hands, legs and nasal passage.
- Inhale essential oils like tea tree oil or eucalyptus oil.
- Drink about 6 to 8 glasses of water daily and take warm showers.
- You can use a humidifier to add moisture to the air if your nose feels dry. Some humidifiers may also warm the air by releasing steam that soothes breathing. You can replace this with steam inhalation if the cost is an issue.
You can use menthol inhalers, cold remedies (they often contain paracetamol, do not use more than one type), anti-allergy medicines (e.g. antihistamines like piriton or loratadine) and some other medications to treat a stuffy nose. Paracetamol and aspirin may be used to treat any accompanying fever or pain. Depending on the cause of your stuffy nose, your doctor may recommend antibiotics, steroid sprays, or even surgery.
It is important to avoid the substances that cause your stuffy nose, including avoiding pollen by wearing surgical masks and wearing warm clothes in cold weather. It would help if you watched children closely to prevent the insertion of objects in the nose.
Self-care is usually very effective in treating a stuffy nose, as most cases will resolve on their own.