Nasal congestion happens when something irritates tissues lining the inside of your nose. The irritation sets off a chain reaction of inflammation, swelling and mucus production, making it hard to take in air through your nose. Left untreated, nasal congestion may cause sinusitis, nasal polyps or middle ear infections.
Nasal congestion happens when something irritates tissues lining the inside of your nose. The irritation sets off a chain reaction of inflammation, swelling and mucus production, making it hard to take in air through your nose. Nasal congestion typically clears after a few days, but congestion that lasts for a week or more may be a sign of an infection. Left untreated, nasal congestion may cause sinusitis, nasal polyps or middle ear infections.
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A stuffy nose is nothing to sneeze at. If your nose is congested or stuffy, you may:
Sometimes, nasal congestion is the first sign your body is fighting a viral or bacterial infection. Rarely, a tumor or polyp in your nose may make your nose feel congested.
At any given time, about 12% of the U.S. population has nasal congestion.
Nasal congestion may cause additional symptoms such as:
The short answer is many things trigger nasal congestion. That’s because your nose is on the front line when it comes to protecting your body from intruders. Your nose takes in air that may carry dirt, particles and allergens. The inside of your nose houses a battalion of hair and cilia (tiny hair-like structures) that snare intruders, sending them to your nostrils. When you sneeze or blow your nose, you’re kicking intruders out of your system. Sometimes, your nose hair and cilia don’t catch all intruders. When that happens, the tissue lining the inside of your nose becomes inflamed and starts to swell. Then, your immune system kicks in, flooding your nose with mucus that’s intended to wash away intruders. Swollen nasal tissues and mucus combine to block your nose, making your condition worse.
Nasal congestion often happens with conditions such as rhinitis. There are two kinds of rhinitis — allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and nonallergic rhinitis.
Allergic rhinitis or hay fever is how your body reacts to allergens. Allergens are tiny particles in the air. Common allergens include:
Nonallergic rhinitis — and nasal congestion — happens when inflammation makes fluid buildup in your nasal tissues, making them swell. This inflammation may happen because you have a viral illness or you’ve been exposed to certain triggers. Triggers may be:
Healthcare providers diagnose nasal congestion by evaluating your symptoms and checking your nose, ears and throat. They may do more tests to rule out other potential causes such as:
Providers treat nasal congestion based on the specific cause. For example, if you have nasal congestion because you’re allergic to cats, you have a form of allergic rhinitis. Avoiding cats and taking medication to control your symptoms may ease your condition.
If your congestion is a form of nonallergic rhinitis, you may be able to manage your condition by identifying what triggers congestion and by taking medication to control symptoms. Here are some medications or other treatments providers may recommend:
People with allergic rhinitis may take antihistamines or corticosteroids to soothe inflamed nasal tissues. Here are other treatments for congestion caused by allergic rhinitis:
Many things may cause nasal congestion. You may not be able to prevent the condition but you can reduce how often you have this problem:
You can expect to have nasal congestion off and on throughout your life. Healthcare providers can’t cure the condition but they can treat symptoms and recommend self-care to ease symptoms.
Here are ways you can clear nasal congestion:
Nasal congestion typically clears within a few days. If it doesn’t, you may develop a bacterial infection. You should seek care if you have the following symptoms:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Nasal congestion is a common problem with many causes. Many people have seasonal allergies that send their immune systems into overdrive — and their noses into a state of stuffiness. Your nose can clog if you spend time around smoke or paint fumes, are under stress, are pregnant or are going through puberty. Nasal congestion may make you feel miserable for a few days before your nose settles down. Talk to your healthcare provider if your nose stays stuffy for more than 10 days. They’ll check for infection. Better yet, they’ll recommend ways you can clear out congestion and breathe easy.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/01/2022.
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