Nasal Congestion

Nasal congestion happens when the tissues in the nasal passages get inflamed with excess fluid and mucus. This triggers irritation in the nasal passage and difficulty in breathing through the nose. It may occur due to an infection, or external factors, such as allergies, smoke, or chemical fumes.

Alternate name

Nasal blockage or stuffy nose

Associated anatomy

The nose


Nasal congestion is caused due to inflammation in the nose. If this happens due to an infection, a cold or flu, it clears up in a week or two. But, if the congestion lasts for more than two weeks, it could be due to some underlying health issue.

The causes of nasal congestion are:

  • Allergies
  • Chemical exposure
  • Environmental irritants
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • Sinonasal tumours
  • Hay fever
  • Nasal polyps or non-cancerous growths in the nasal passages
  • Enlarged adenoids
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Hormonal changes
  • Sleep apnea
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Occupational asthma

Signs and symptoms

The symptoms of nasal congestion are:

  • Trouble breathing through the nose
  • Watery nasal discharge
  • Itchy eyes, nose, mouth, and throat
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Bad breath
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Nosebleed
  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Watery eyes
  • Pain in the ears
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Bodyache

Risk factors

The risk factors of nasal congestion are:

  • Common cold
  • Allergens, such as pollen, dust mites, pet dander, and mould
  • Spicy foods
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Inhaling industrial smoke
  • Fumes of harmful chemicals
  • Inhaling hot and dry air
  • Asthma
  • Certain medications used to treat seizures and blood pressure

Possible treatment

Doctors usually prescribe medications to treat symptoms of nasal congestion, such as:

  • Oral antihistamines to treat the allergies
  • Saline sprays to moisturise the nasal passages
  • Corticosteroid nasal sprays to give relief from inflammation
  • Prescription nasal decongestants, such as nasal sprays and nasal drops to relieve the nose of stuffiness

Typical test

Doctors assess your symptoms by checking your nose, ears, and throat. To rule out other health conditions, doctors advise a throat culture to check for specific bacteria in the throat. Suppose the congestion doesn't clear even after 10 days. In that case, doctors may recommend a CT scan to check for any obstacles in the nose and nasal endoscopy to look inside the nose for any abnormalities.

Primary prevention

Practising the following will help reduce the risk of infection and nasal congestion due to allergens:

  • Washing hands with soap and water
  • Avoiding contact with people who are sick
  • Frequent vacuuming
  • Changing bedcovers regularly
  • Keeping windows and doors closed during pollen seasons
  • Staying away from furry animals if you are allergic to pet dander

Secondary prevention

Reoccurrence of nasal congestion can be avoided by:

  • Managing allergies and asthma by following a treatment plan.
  • Avoiding inhalation of airborne substances such as cigarette smoke, chemical fumes, dust, and allergens that can irritate the nasal passages and cause congestion.
  • Using a humidifier at home helps moisten the nasal passage, improves the flow of mucus, and prevents nasal blockages.
  • Using a nasal rinse, like a saline spray, to rinse the nasal passages and improve the mucus flow.
  • Regularly washing hands with soap and water, especially after returning from outdoors. This helps prevent bacterial and viral infections.

Differential diagnosis

The differential diagnosis for nasal congestion is rhinitis or inflammation caused by viral or bacterial infection, nasal polyps, nasal valve disorder, reaction to medications, such as NSAIDs and aspirin, and structural changes in the nasal septum. 

Conditions such as collagen vascular disease, vasomotor rhinitis or inflammation of tissues in the nasal passages, and other nasal diseases are some of the other differential diagnoses for nasal congestion.


Nasal congestion is a common condition and is caused either due to allergies or infections, such as the common cold and seasonal flu.

Some people are at higher risk of nasal congestion.

  • Age: Children and adults are both affected by nasal congestion
  • Gender: Men and women are both prone to nasal congestion
  • Season: Those allergic to pollen and seasonal changes get nasal congestion.
  • Occupation: People exposed to smoke, paint fumes, and spicy foods
  • Allergies: Those allergic to pet dander, mould, and dust mites

Expected prognosis

Usually, nasal congestion lasts for six to seven days. It is accompanied by a runny nose due to the mucus flowing from the nose, causing difficulty in breathing from the nose. People also experience headaches, coughing and sneezing. However, if the congestion lasts longer than a week, it could indicate an infection.

Natural progression

Nasal congestion is a common occurrence. Although there is no cure for the condition, you can try home remedies or over-the-counter medications to relieve its symptoms. The congestion causes inflammation or swelling in the nasal passages' inner lining, followed by excess mucus production and flow. However, in a few days, the congestion clears, and you get relief from a runny nose.


Pathophysiology of nasal congestion includes mucosal inflammation, increased nasal secretion, swelling of the nasal tissues, dilation of blood vessels in the nose, and change in smell and taste.

Possible complication

If left untreated, nasal congestion can cause irritation and discomfort for adults and older children. It can affect children's sleep and disturb infants' feeding times. Furthermore, nasal congestion can cause serious issues, like sinusitis, middle ear infection, nasal polyps or small, non-cancerous growths in the nasal passages.

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