Nasal congestion, or “stuffy nose,” is a term that refers to an obstruction to the flow of air in and out of the nose. In contrast, the term “runny nose” refers to a discharge (fluid) that comes from the nostrils.
Less commonly, anatomical obstructions (eg, a deviated nasal septum, foreign bodies) can lead to nasal congestion.
In rare cases, tumors of the nasal passages or chronic medical conditions can be the cause of nasal congestion.
The most common causes of nasal congestion are:
Very common in the colder months.
In the paranasal sinuses.
Known as drug rhinitis.
In addition to inflammation, nasal congestion is also the result of dilation (enlargement) of the large blood vessels (veins) in the nose that reduce the volume of the nasal cavity and reduce airflow. Contrary to the common belief that excess mucus is the main cause of a stuffy nose, it is in fact the swelling of the nasal lining (mucosa) that leads to nasal congestion.
Given the high prevalence of the common cold (it is 100%; each person has at least one cold a year), this is the main cause of a stuffy or congested nose.
Normally, the cold or catarrh only requires symptomatic treatment and resolves in about 7 to 10 days, but in about 15% of cases it lasts more than 10 days and becomes acute sinusitis and then in addition to nasal congestion, additional symptoms appear, such as runny nose (or post-nasal drip, which is when the mucus drips into the back of the throat), facial pain and decrease or loss of smell. If these symptoms persist for more than 3 months it is called chronic sinusitis.
How is nasal congestion treated?
Nasal congestion treatment is based on the use of drugs or health products that alleviate the symptoms, that is, that improve the permeability of the mucous membranes.
The most commonly used medications are nasal decongestants: sprays that contain substances such as oxymetazoline, phenylephrine, pseudoephedrine and similar substances which are vasoconstrictors, that is, they reduce the diameter of the blood vessels and thus reduce the blood supply to the nasal mucosa, which in turn reduces swelling.
Be very careful with these preparations, since using nasal decongestants for more than three or four days can cause a rebound effect, that is, more congestion than before using the spray.
Often in such cases, the patient thinks he or she has relapsed again and uses decongestants again, even more than the last time, falling into a vicious circle.
This leads to suffering from a disease called Rhinitis Medicamentosa, also known as chemical rhinitis, which is a chronic inflammatory process of the membranes of the nasal mucosa, resulting from the prolonged use of vasoconstrictor agents. It is difficult to cure and it accounts for a high percentage of ENT visits.
Another therapeutic option to combat nasal congestion is seawater and physiological saline, products that play a significant role in relieving nasal congestion, although as decongestants they have little efficacy in the case of sinusitis.
Now there is a 100% natural nasal spray that reduces nasal congestion and drains the mucus retained in the paranasal sinuses, thus relieving all the symptoms of sinusitis (rhinosinusitis) without producing tolerance or rebound effect.
FAQs about nasal congestion
Anything that irritates or inflames the nasal tissues can cause nasal obstruction. The most common causes are infections, such as colds, flu, or sinusitis, and allergies.
The duration depends on the cause. If your nasal congestion is due to a viral or bacterial infection, it is likely to last as long as a cold or flu (about 7 days).
If the cause is an allergy, it can last longer, as long as you remain in contact with the substance (allergen) that causes the allergy.
Other causes, such as sinusitis, can lead to chronic nasal congestion.
Finally, the abuse of decongestants can, paradoxically, produce chronic nasal congestion as they “dry up” the mucosa and produce a condition called rhinitis medicamentosa.
Nasal congestion is prevented by avoiding the causes that prevent it, that is, with good hygiene (for example, frequent hand washing) to avoid catching colds and flu.
If nasal congestion is caused by allergies, you should avoid allergens (such as dust, pollen and smoke) that can irritate the nasal passages. Good nasal hygiene (seawater nasal rinses) with saline solution can also help to avoid nasal congestion due to allergy.
It is not uncommon to have only one nostril blocked. The most common causes are nasal or sinus polyps and chronic sinusitis.
Alternate nasal obstruction usually indicates mucosal inflammation that manifests itself in the normal nasal cycle.
Exercise strongly influences nasal airflow, as it causes decongestion of the mucosa, with an increase in the volume of the nasal airways. The improvement in congestion produced by exercise is transitory, with a greater decrease during the first 10 minutes after cessation of the exercise and with a return to congestion about 20 minutes after the end of the exercise.
In addition to significantly decreasing quality of life, chronic congestion in children can lead to what is known as “adenoid facies” (stunned or groggy face) after children have been breathing poorly through their noses for a long time, altering the shape of their face. These children always breathe with their mouths open, and speak in a hyponasal voice, appearing at first glance to be dazed.
A stuffy nose is more annoying than serious but can sometimes be a sign of trouble, especially if it lasts a long time or occurs in young children.
It is advisable to consult with the doctor when:
- In addition to nasal congestion, there is fever (> 38 ºC)
- Symptoms last more than 10 days
- Purulent mucus appears
- Nasal discharge is yellow or green (a sign of infection)
- There is facial pain or pressure
- You can see that the child is breathing with difficulty
Runny nose (rhinorrhea) and nasal congestion are very common problems that usually occur together although sometimes they appear separately.
In addition to decongestants, the abuse of which causes drug rhinitis (see explanation above), drugs that affect the autonomic nervous system have a vasoconstrictive effect (they reduce the size of blood vessels) and therefore can cause nasal congestion.
Thus, for example, aspirin, some anti-inflammatories such as indomethacin, naproxen, and ibuprofen are (NSAIDs), some drugs to lower blood pressure, some hormones, and various psychotropic drugs (they act on the central nervous system) cause nasal congestion.