Common Causes of Nasal Congestion

Nasal congestion is often a symptom that we develop as a result of having a virus such as the common cold or flu. However, these particular viruses are not the only reasons why nasal congestion occurs. It can also be the result of things like seasonal allergies (which are especially prevalent this time of year thanks to the spring season and subsequent increase of pollen in the air), enlarged adenoids, sinus related issues (such as infection, polyps, or deviated septum), and more. Below we’ll take a further look at some of these conditions, why they cause us to become congested, and what you can do to find relief.

If the common cold or a flu virus is why you’re likely feeling so stuffed up lately, it is, unfortunately, one of those things that will simply have to take its course. When you have a cold, it’s not uncommon for blood vessels within the sinuses to become inflamed, which is what then causes you to have that congested, hard-to-breathe-through-the-nose feeling. A helpful at-home remedy you can try in order to find relief is steam — whether it’s taking a hot shower or leaning over a bowl of steaming hot water for 10 or 15 minutes at a time. You can also try using a saline nasal spray to keep the nasal passages moist, while decongestant nasal sprays can also be helpful in giving you temporary relief. That being said, some of the decongestant sprays may actually wind up doing more harm than good, so it’s important that you follow proper dosing instructions. The same “rules”, so to speak, also apply if you suffer from allergies. If your allergies are seasonal, you may want to consider taking an over-the-counter allergy relief medication, such as Reactine, as you may notice a significant improvement in your symptoms. If your allergies are not related to the change in weather, it could be worthwhile to see an allergist who can determine what, exactly, you are allergic to.

Chronic sinusitis is another condition that will cause nasal congestion and make it difficult for you to breathe. Things like nasal polyps and deviated septum are often to blame for nasal congestion and other sinus-related issues. Along with nasal congestion, other symptoms of chronic sinusitis can include possible obstruction, thick coloured drainage from the nose (which will sometimes go to the back of the throat — also known as postnasal drip), reduced sense of small and/or taste, in addition to pain and swelling around the eyes, nose, cheeks or forehead, as well as ear pain and sore throat. Chronic sinusitis can also be brought on by recurring sinus infections, which require antibiotic treatment. Prior to developing chronic sinusitis, it is not uncommon for people to have several episodes of acute sinusitis. Once chronic sinusitis comes into play, you can be referred to an ENT (ear, nose and throat specialist) for evaluation. Sinusitis is often diagnosed based on the symptoms the patient experiences, though a diagnosis can also be confirmed though other methods such as medical imaging (CT scan or MRI) to help pinpoint inflammation or obstruction, or by a nasal endoscopy in which a thin, flexible tube is inserted through your nose. This allows doctors to have a better look inside your sinuses. Once sinusitis has been diagnosed, treatment often begins with things like nasal corticosteroid sprays and saline nasal irrigation. If these types of treatment methods do not help, you could be a candidate for endoscopic sinus surgery, which can be performed to remove tissue or polyps that could be causing obstruction, in addition to enlarging narrow sinuses to help promote better drainage.

Originally published at on May 8, 2019.



Dr. Ali Ghahary is a Family Physician in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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