Nasal and sinus congestion


How to get rid of a stuffy nose: Ten possible treatments

In many cases, nasal congestion is only a temporary problem. So what causes that stuffed up feeling? Some of the following conditions can lead to a stuffy nose:

Viral infections

The common cold, which is due to a viral infection, is one of the most common causes of a stuffy nose. There are several viruses that can cause a cold, with the rhinovirus being the most common.

In addition to a stuffy nose, a cold may also cause sneezing, sore throat, and cough.

Allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis is very common. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, 40 to 60 million people in the United States have the condition.

Allergic rhinitis occurs when the body’s immune system overreacts to a substance that is usually not harmful. Common triggers of allergic rhinitis include pollen, dust, and pet dander.

Besides a stuffy nose, symptoms may include sneezing, a runny nose, and itchy eyes. It’s not clear why some people develop allergic rhinitis, but having a family history of allergies is a risk factor.

Occupational rhinitis

Occupational rhinitis is similar to allergic rhinitis. It can develop when someone has a reaction to a substance in their work environment. Symptoms may include stuffy nose, itchy eyes, and coughing. People who work around chemicals, wood dust, and grain may be at an increased risk of developing occupational rhinitis.

Pregnancy rhinitis

Pregnancy affects many parts of the body, and that can include the nose. During pregnancy, hormones including progesterone and estrogen increase. The rise in hormones along with increased blood flow can cause swelling of the mucous membranes inside the nose. Symptoms may include stuffy nose and sneezing.

Pregnancy rhinitis can occur at any time during pregnancy. Symptoms usually go away shortly after delivery.

Atrophic rhinitis

Atrophic rhinitis occurs when there is thinning and hardening of the mucous membranes inside the nose. The thinning tissues make it easier for bacteria to grow and lead to an infection. Crusts also may form inside the nose.

The condition is most common in people who have had multiple nose surgeries.


What is Head Congestion?

Head congestion refers to the pressure and discomfort you feel from a runny or stuffy nose. Though head congestion is usually harmless, it can leave you feeling miserable and exhausted for several days.

What Causes Head Congestion?

Your head feels congested when mucus builds up, causing blood vessels in your nose to become inflamed and resulting in swollen tissues and head pressure. The cause for this extra mucus varies, but below are some common reasons you might be feeling stuffy.

A Common Cold

With more than 1 billion colds in the United States each year, it’s likely your head congestion is caused by the common cold. When you catch a cold, a virus infects your nose and throat, resulting in head cold symptoms like a runny nose, sneezing, coughing and headaches.

This virus causes your nose to make thick, clear mucus, which helps wash away the germs from your nose and sinuses. This mucus also causes the nasal swelling that feels like head pressure.

When your nose swells, it can eventually interfere with your sinuses ability to drain, causing more mucus buildup. As a result, pressure builds and leads to pain in your forehead, between or behind your eyes and even your teeth.

If you’re experiencing head congestion, you probably want to know: How long does a head cold last? Most signs of a cold go away after seven to 10 days.

The Flu

Similarly, the influenza virus leads to head congestion by infecting your nose, throat and lungs, and causing nasal swelling. People often confuse a cold with the flu because their symptoms are similar. However, flu symptoms often come on quicker and are more severe, resulting in a fever, body aches, chills and more.

A Sinus Infection

Sometimes a runny nose and nasal swelling are actually a result of sinus congestion. Head and sinus congestion have different causes and treatments, but a sinus infection occurs when the swelling in your nose interferes with your sinuses’ ability to drain, causing a mucus buildup that attracts bacteria and other germs. If your cold symptoms haven’t improved after a week, see your doctor. You could be developing a sinus infection.

How to Relieve a Head Cold and Head Congestion

If you start to feel bad from nasal swelling or a stuffy nose, you can take steps to improve your symptoms and make yourself more comfortable. Here are some remedies for head congestion. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.


Whether you catch the cold or flu, what your body needs most is rest. Go to bed early, take naps when needed, and don’t be afraid to take time off work or keep your children home from school. Not only will this prevent you from overexerting yourself, but it also helps avoid spreading your germs to others.

Stay Hydrated

Drinking lots of fluids is key to helping your immune system function properly, so consume even more than you do when healthy. Water, fruit juices with vitamin C, clear broth or warm lemon water with honey do the best job of keeping you hydrated and loosening congestion. Alcoholic and caffeinated beverages like coffee or soda make dehydration worse, so avoid them until symptoms improve.

Add Moisture to the Air

Though it seems counterproductive, you don’t want your nasal passages to dry up. Dry airways can increase nasal swelling that leads to a stuffy nose and nasal congestion. Keep moisture in the air with a cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier; be sure to change the water and clean the unit properly. Steam from a shower or a hot cup of tea can also add extra moisture to the nasal passages to help with drainage.

Don’t Use Antibiotics to Treat Colds

Because colds are caused by viruses and not by bacteria, antibiotics are ineffective at treating colds. They will not relieve your symptoms and inappropriate use can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Get Ahead of Cold Symptoms

Though there’s no promise you’ll escape cold and flu season without a runny nose or sore throat, there are some steps you can take to increase your chances of staying healthy.

  • Wash your hands frequently to help prevent coming into contact with or spreading harmful germs.
  • Disinfect your environment and frequently clean commonly touched surfaces such as sink handles, doorknobs and handrails.
  • Avoid sharing personal items, especially those that come in contact with your eyes, nose or mouth like utensils, washcloths or cups.
  • Do not come in close contact with people who have colds or other upper respiratory infections.

Overall, pursue a healthy lifestyle to boost immunity by eating nutritious food, sleeping eight hours, drinking water, exercising and managing stress.

Fight Head Congestion with SUDAFED®

Consider taking SUDAFED PE® Head Congestion+Pain. With Ibuprofen (pain reliever) and phenylephrine (nasal decongestant), this coated tablet can help provide relief from your head cold symptoms and combat pesky nasal congestion and swelling, sinus pressure, headache, fever, and body aches. Always read and follow the label carefully, and make sure the product is right for you.

DIY Treatments to Get Rid of Sinus Congestion

Suffering from sinus congestion is never any fun. You may be dealing with sinus pressure, pain and more. And you might be wondering what’s causing your sinus congestion.

Although viruses, bacteria, and allergens are the most common causes of sinus congestion, lifestyle factors such as smoking and frequent travel can also play a role. Cigarette and cigar smoke can irritate your sinuses and cause inflammation. Traveling on an airplane can also irritate your sinuses and cause congestion. When the air pressure is reduced in-flight, it may cause pressure to build up in your head, which can clog up your sinuses and air passages.

Causes and Solutions for Sinus Congestion

Sinus congestion may also be caused by allergens and pollutants in the air such as dust, outdoor air pollution, and strong odors like perfume and cologne. Placing an air purifier in your home can help reduce pollutants in the air. Sinus congestion can also be the result of dry air, which is most common in the winter. To keep your nose as moist as possible, drink lots of water and use a humidifier, which can help add moisture back into the air.

Home Remedies for Sinus Congestion

There are several other home remedies that can help ease sinus discomfort. Try the following tips on how to get rid of sinus congestion:

  • Drink fluids, such as water or juice. This will help dilute mucous secretions and promote drainage. Avoid beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol, as they can be dehydrating. Drinking alcohol can also worsen the swelling of the lining of the sinuses and nose.

  • Moisturize your sinuses. Drape a towel over your head as you breathe in the vapor from a bowl of medium-hot water. Keep the vapor directed toward your face. Or take a hot shower, breathing in the warm, moist air. This will help ease pain and help mucus drain.

  • Apply warm compresses to your face. Place warm, damp towels around your nose, cheeks and eyes to ease facial pain.

  • Irrigate your sinuses. Use a neti pot to rinse your nasal passages. This home remedy, called nasal lavage, can help clear your sinuses. Be sure to rinse the irrigation device after each use with contaminant-free water, and leave open to air-dry.

  • Sleep with your head elevated. This will help your sinuses drain, reducing congestion.

  • Eat spicy foods. Some people find that spicy foods like peppers or hot mustard help open up their nasal passages and relieve some of the sinus pain and pressure. Some evidence suggests that capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers, can help relieve some type of pain.

  • Take a decongestant: Over-the-counter nasal decongestants reduce blood flow to the nasal membranes, which decreases swelling and congestion. They can help open up your nasal passages and decrease the pain and pressure in your sinuses and head. For fast relief, try Sinex™ Daytime Liquicaps—the non-drowsy formula contains a powerful pain reliever and phenylephrine, a safe and effective decongestant. If your sinus congestion is worse at night, try Sinex™ Nighttime Liquicaps. In addition to a pain reliever and decongestant, it contains an antihistamine to help stop sneezing and a runny nose, so you can get some much-needed rest.

  • Try a nasal spray: Sinex™ Severe Nasal Spray helps relieve the sinus and nasal congestion that often accompanies colds, hay fever, or upper respiratory allergies. It is a fast acting nasal spray decongestant that shrinks swollen nasal membranes so you can breathe more freely.

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Identifying Head Congestion

These questions and answers can help you learn more about head congestion from a common cold.

Head congestion refers to the pressure and discomfort you feel from a runny or stuffy nose caused by a cold.

How Do You Get Head Congestion?

Head congestion, or colds, are caused by different types of viruses, with the rhinovirus being the most common.

What Are the Symptoms of Head Congestion?

Symptoms of head congestion usually include a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, coughing, headaches and body aches.

Where Do You Feel Head Congestion Symptoms?

Naturally, the discomfort felt from head congestion is, well, in your head.

Identifying Sinus Congestion

The following questions and answers can help you identify and determine the causes of your sinus congestion.

What is Sinus Congestion?

Sinus congestion is the “fullness” you feel in various places across your head and neck caused by a blockage of sinus cavities.

How Do You Get Sinus Congestion?

Sinus congestion occurs when the mucus in your nasal passageways doesn’t drain normally, causing a build-up that blocks your sinuses.

What Are the Symptoms of Sinus Congestion?

The mucus that builds up in sinuses causing sinus congestion also results in sinus pain and pressure. You may feel a sinus headache, have a stuffy or runny nose and experience pressure across your cheeks or other areas of your face.

Where Do You Feel Sinus Congestion Symptoms?

Pressure and pain from sinus congestion can be felt behind the forehead, eyes, cheeks or jaw, depending on which types of sinuses are affected.

How to Tell the Difference Between Sinus Congestion and Head Congestion

The main difference between sinus congestion and head congestion is the duration of symptoms. Sinus congestion may cause a sinus infection, which comes with symptoms lasting up to four weeks. Talk to your doctor if you think you may have a sinus infection. Head congestion as part of a cold is usually gone in seven to 10 days.

How to Relieve a Head Cold and Sinus Congestion

Though there are some differences between head congestion and sinus congestion, the following tips can help provide relief from your symptoms. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.

  • Drink plenty of water: Water can help thin mucus, which is more likely to drain.
  • Make a wrap: Applying a warm towel to your head to ease swollen tissues and relieve pressure.
  • Get steamy: Inhaling steam helps keep nasal passages moist and assists with drainage.
  • Find relief with SUDAFED®: SUDAFED PE® Head Congestion + Pain can help relievethe pain and pressure associated with head congestion while SUDAFED PE® Sinus Pressure + Pain with acetaminophen can help provide relief from sinus pain and pressure.

Reducing Traffic Congestion in Los Angeles

Research Brief


Traffic congestion in Los Angeles is arguably the worst in the nation. Focusing on the densest areas of L.A. County, RAND researchers analyzed the problem and identified the key factors that determine the area’s transportation policy needs. The researchers provide a set of 13 complementary recommendations that, if implemented together, could reduce congestion substantially within the next five years. Given limited prospects for building more roadways, pricing policies must be among them to create lasting traffic reduction.

L.A. traffic congestion is the worst in the nation, according to many studies, and it takes its toll on quality of life, economic competitiveness, fuel economy, driving safety, social justice, and air quality. Congestion has recently eased somewhat with rising fuel prices, but long-term trends indicate that it will continue to get worse unless policymakers take steps to intervene. But what steps?

To answer this question, RAND Corporation researchers conducted a study to identify strategies to reduce traffic congestion that could be implemented and produce significant effects within five years. The study, which focused on the denser urban areas within L.A. County, was sponsored by a small consortium of public and private local donors that share an interest in reducing traffic congestion through improved transportation policy. They include James A. Thomas, the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Music Center of Los Angeles, and the RAND Corporation.

The authors reviewed the research literature related to congestion, examined existing data, and spoke with agency staff and elected officials in L.A. County. The researchers identified several key factors that influence the kinds of solutions most likely to benefit Los Angeles. Here, they provide a set of 13 recommendations that, if implemented together, could reduce congestion substantially.

Several Factors Shape the Region’s Transportation Policy Needs

Congestion results from an imbalance in the supply of and demand for road space. Therefore, reducing congestion means either increasing the supply of road space or reducing the demand for peak-hour automotive travel.

The prospects for building the way out of congestion are limited. Failure to increase state and federal fuel taxes to keep pace with inflation and improved fuel economy over the past several decades has led to significant shortfalls in available transportation revenue. Even if more funding were available, however, the road network in Los Angeles is already by far the most extensive in the nation, and there is very little space to add more road capacity in the areas where congestion is most intense. In addition, many local communities oppose the construction of new or expanded roads in their neighborhoods, for social, health, or environmental reasons, and this further limits the possibility of adding new roads.

Managing the demand for roadways during peak hours offers the greatest prospects for reducing congestion. Compared to those in other large U.S. metropolitan areas, L.A. residents drive more miles per person—thus demanding more roadway—than would be expected based on the region’s overall population density. In other cities, higher population density tends to result in lower per capita demand for roadways, but in Los Angeles, the per capita demand for roadways remains high despite high population density. Therefore, the most realistic way to reduce congestion is to find ways to manage the demand for driving during the peak hours.

Few congestion-reduction strategies remain effective over time. When a congestion-reduction strategy is implemented and traffic delays are reduced, travelers who had previously altered their travel patterns to avoid congestion will notice the improvement and return to driving along the once-busiest routes during the peak hours. Some will shift from other times of travel, some from other routes of travel, and some from other modes of travel (such as subways or commuter rail). This pattern, often described as triple convergence, slowly erodes the initial congestion-reduction benefits offered by most strategies. Triple convergence explains, for example, why traffic flow improves for a short time when new lanes are added to a freeway but then returns to being congested within just a few years.

Many strategies provide short-term relief, but only pricing strategies resist triple convergence and manage congestion in the long run. Often called congestion pricing, these strategies involve charging drivers more for their use of roadways when travel demand is highest. They include assigning higher tolls for driving during peak hours or collecting higher fees for parking in the most convenient curb spaces at the busiest times. Triple convergence does not diminish the effect of pricing strategies, because the peak-hour charges encourage some drivers to change their travel patterns and deter others from converging on the freed capacity when prices rise with increased demand.

Pricing strategies must be complemented by significant alternative transportation improvements. Certain forms of pricing may introduce concerns about the ability of lower-income drivers to pay. To mitigate such concerns, policymakers must offer faster, more reliable, and more convenient public-transportation options throughout the region.

Recommendations Address Four Key Goals

The researchers determined that Los Angeles needs not just one way to reduce congestion, but rather a set of integrated strategies designed to accomplish four goals: manage peak-hour automotive travel, raise transportation revenue, improve alternative transportation options, and use existing roadway capacity more efficiently. The table summarizes the recommendations and shows the goals to which each one corresponds.

The recommendations promise substantial benefits:

  • Paired one-way street conversions can increase travel speed by about 20 percent and reduce travel time by 20 to 30 percent.
  • High-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes can maintain free-flowing travel speeds (60 to 65 mph) during peak travel hours while carrying up to twice the volume that congested general-purpose lanes do.
  • HOT lanes can also raise sufficient revenue to subsidize express-bus operations.
  • Bus rapid transit (BRT) featuring bus-only lanes can result in much faster transit service at relatively low cost.

Strategy Recommendations and Policy Objectives

Recommended Strategy Manage Peak-Hour Automotive Travel Raise Transportation Revenue Improve Alternative Transportation Options Use Existing Capacity More Efficiently
Primary recommendations
  1. Prioritize and fund investments to improve signal timing and control where current technology is deficient, coordinate signal timing among jurisdictions, and ensure that new signal technology can give priority to BRT.
  1. Restrict peak-hour curbside parking on congested streets and dedicate the added capacity to bus-only lanes.
  1. Develop a network of paired one-way streets in high-volume travel corridors.
  1. Promote voluntary reductions in driving at businesses and other large organizations.a
  1. Develop a network of HOT lanes on freeways and use net revenue to subsidize express bus service in the HOT lanes.
  1. Implement variable curb-parking charges in busy commercial and retail districts. Return some of the revenue to local merchants to invest in public amenities, and use the rest to fund municipal transportation investments.
  1. Enforce the California parking cash-out law at the municipal level in cities where a significant share of employers lease parking.
  1. Develop and market deep-discount transit fares to employers in areas well served by public transit.
  1. Expand BRT in urban areas with bus-only lanes on the arterial network and express freeway service in HOT lanes.
  1. Develop a regionwide bicycle network, with specific focus on dense urban areas where bicycles can serve a large share of trips.
Contingent recommendations
  1. Evaluate costs and benefits of implementing a regional incident-management system to clear accidents and breakdowns quickly on congestion-prone surface streets.
  1. Evaluate the potential for implementing cordon tolls in major activity centers.b
  1. Levy county fuel taxes to raise transportation revenues and reduce the demand for driving.

NOTE: = an additional goal that a recommendation may help support. = a primary goal that a recommendation is intended to accomplish.

a Voluntary reductions might entail ride-sharing, telecommuting, and flexible work schedules.

b Cordon tolls are charges for vehicles to enter a designated area.

These Strategies Should Be Implemented as an Integrated Package

The researchers emphasize the importance of implementing the recommendations as a package rather than choosing only certain options (such as the least expensive). Although supply-management strategies—such as traffic signal–timing improvements—are less controversial, their benefits are likely to be only temporary. For Los Angeles to reduce its traffic congestion for the long term, its transportation policies must include pricing strategies. In addition, the recommendations are designed to complement one another in three important ways.

First, with respect to funding, some recommended measures will be costly to implement, while others will raise revenue. Those that will require significant investments include signal timing and control, one-way street conversions, arterial incident management, and BRT expansion. However, other measures, such as cordon tolls, variable curb-parking rates, and local fuel taxes, offer the potential to raise significant county or municipal transportation revenues. HOT lanes and deep-discount transit-fare programs can also provide modest net revenue.

Second, regarding drivers’ ability to pay, some recommended measures raise equity issues, while others mitigate them. Cordon tolls—and, to a lesser extent, HOT lanes, variable curb-parking rates, and local fuel taxes—are likely to raise concerns about how lower-income drivers will afford the resulting charges. Therefore, it will be important to improve nonautomotive travel alternatives through such strategies as voluntary, employer-based demand-management programs; deep-discount transit fares; and enhanced BRT service featuring bus-only lanes on surface streets and express bus service in HOT lanes on the freeways.

Third, concerning the competition for road space, some recommended measures reduce road space for cars, while others create more of it. One of the most promising short-term strategies for improving the speed and convenience of public transit in Los Angeles is the creation of bus-only lanes on transit-rich surface streets, such as Wilshire Boulevard. However, individual drivers are likely to object to allocating an existing lane to buses because doing so reduces the road space for cars. To balance this reduction in road space for cars, two measures create additional lane capacity—peak-hour curbside-parking restrictions and one-way street conversions. Combining these strategies to balance one another may make it easier for policymakers to gain the support needed to implement them.

Leaders Can Build Consensus to Support the Needed Reforms

Recognizing that the recommendations require substantial policy changes, the authors also researched how leaders can build consensus to support the recommended transportation policy reforms. The following actions will aid in such efforts:

  • Form a diverse, inclusive coalition of community representatives to provide political leadership.
  • Broadly define the problems associated with congestion to help foster agreement on the need for aggressive action to reduce congestion and improve transportation options.
  • Develop a compelling narrative of the benefits of action.
  • Generate support for comprehensive programs rather than for individual projects.
  • Apply congestion-reduction strategies systematically.

The challenge of consensus building will be compounded by the complexity of the transportation decisionmaking environment in L.A. County, in which cooperation among multiple agencies is required and lack of agreement can delay or stop the process.

The authors’ analysis indicates that successful collective action is possible and that the recommendations offered in the book would promote social welfare across multiple dimensions. Reducing congestion should help to improve quality of life, enhance economic competitiveness, reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, improve air quality, and improve mobility for drivers and transit patrons alike.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research brief series. RAND research briefs present policy-oriented summaries of individual published, peer-reviewed documents or of a body of published work.

Permission is given to duplicate this electronic document for personal use only, as long as it is unaltered and complete. Copies may not be duplicated for commercial purposes. Unauthorized posting of RAND PDFs to a non-RAND Web site is prohibited. RAND PDFs are protected under copyright law. For information on reprint and linking permissions, please visit the RAND Permissions page.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND’s publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.

What Causes Nasal Congestion and How to Get Rid of a Stuffy Nose

  • Allergy tests (skin-prick tests)
  • Blood tests
  • Nasal endoscopy (the use of a flexible telescope to look inside the nose)

Lifestyle Changes for Relief from Nasal Congestion

These lifestyle changes can provide relief from nasal congestion:

  • Keep your head elevated, sit upright, and sleep with the head elevated. Discomfort due to congestion increases when you are lying down.
  • Incorporate vitamin C-rich foods in your diet to increase your immune power.
  • Drink warm chicken soup as it helps in diluting the mucus and reducing the tissue inflammation that is responsible for the congestion.
  • Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids as they help in reducing inflammation.
  • Avoid allergens that can worsen the congestion.
  • Do not consume grains, sugars, dairy products, and starchy vegetables, as they can increase mucus production and cause nasal congestion.
  • Use nasal strips to facilitate the opening of the nasal passages, thus helping in relieving congestion and improving sleep quality.
  • Do not swim in chlorinated pools as chlorine can irritate your nasal passage.
  • Rest your body for a few days to aid in fast recovery.
  • Reduce or avoid alcohol intake.

Ways to Get Relief from Nasal Congestion

Nasal congestion can be treated with the help of the following home remedies:

1. Hydrate your body

Increase your intake of fluids to help thin the mucus, enabling its easy expulsion and preventing it from blocking the nasal passage. The removal of excessive mucus is important because your sinuses may fill up, causing postnasal drip and other problems.

2. Apply a warm compress

To get relief from nasal congestion, apply a warm towel or compress to your nose and forehead.

3. Inhale steam

Inhaling steam helps in loosening the mucus so it can be easily expelled. It relieves congestion in the chest and nose. It can also help in lubricating the respiratory tract.

Perform steam inhalation twice a day. Steam inhalation can also be achieved with a steam bath.

Follow precautionary measures during steam inhalation to avoid scalding. It is suggested that children below 12 years, pregnant women, and patients suffering from high blood pressure, cardiac problems, or nervous system disorders do not perform steam inhalation.

4. Use a humidifier

Use a vaporizer or a cool-mist humidifier indoors, especially at night, to increase moisture levels. This helps in thinning the mucus, making it easier to breathe.

Avoid the usage of hot-water vaporizers, especially around children, as the hot water can burn the skin.

5. Avoid smoking

Exposure to tobacco smoke has an adverse effect on nasal congestion. Tobacco smoke acts as an irritant and increases inflammation of the nerves. This results in the overproduction of mucus, further blocking the nose.

6. Use saline nasal sprays/mists/drops

Saline formulations in the form of sprays, mists, or drops can be administered at regular time intervals to relieve congestion. They reduce inflammation and dilute the mucus.

Saline sprays can be bought over the counter or made at home. Use these saline sprays three to four times a day for 3 days, followed by 3 days off the spray.

Use the OTC sprays as directed. It is advised not to use these sprays on children under the age of two.

7. Inhale essential oils

Using essential oils as a steam inhalant or adding them in steam baths can help in relieving congestion. The essential oils that can be used include:

Eucalyptus essential oil:

Cineole, the active ingredient of eucalyptus essential oil, has been shown to provide relief from congestion by addressing the underlying cause. It has been used for the treatment of respiratory disorders such as asthma, rhinosinusitis, and COPD. (3)
A double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter study showed that cineole could be used to treat patients suffering from acute bronchitis. It significantly lowers the frequency of cough after 4 days. (4)

Peppermint oil:

Peppermint leaves are used for the extraction of peppermint essential oil through steam distillation. This oil can help in relieving coughs, decreasing mucus levels, and treating asthma, colds, flu, and bronchitis.

The oil has antispasmodic and antiseptic properties and can be used as a steam inhalant, applied topically, or mixed in bathwater. (5)

8. Use a vapor rub

Vapor rubs are highly popular among parents as they provide children relief from congestion, cough, and sleep disturbances due to upper respiratory tract infections.

On comparing vapor rub, petrolatum, and no treatment, vapor rub was found to be the most effective in providing relief and, ultimately, an uninterrupted restful sleep. (6)

9. Consume medicinal plants

Ginger and garlic can be used for their antispasmodic and antiviral properties to relieve congestion. They are also used for the treatment of the common cold, which produces symptoms such as nasal congestion, cough, and sore throat.

The consumption of ginger and garlic as remedies is anecdotal and is not backed by sufficient scientific evidence.

10. Use nasal anti-inflammatory sprays

Many nonprescription OTC anti-inflammatory sprays can be considered if nasal saline and other non-medicated remedies fail to provide sufficient relief. These sprays are safe, nonaddictive, and much more effective than nasal saline alone.

However, anti-inflammatory sprays are slow-acting and may require 4-6 weeks of regular use for optimal relief.

11. Use OTC medications

Decongestants and antihistamines can alleviate nasal congestion. Decongestants reduce the swelling of the nasal tissues and may also shrink the blood vessels that contribute to the swelling.

Antihistamines can help inhibit mucus production and, over a more extended period, can also reduce the swelling.

These medications are only helpful if the nasal inflammation and swelling are the result of a true allergy. A combination of decongestants and antihistamines may produce the best results.

If the problem persists, visit a doctor. Avoid overuse of OTCs.

Complications Associated with Nasal Congestion

  • Nasal congestion worsens at night and may cause breathing problems that may disturb your sleep.
  • It can impair your speech and hearing.
  • Mucus drainage can affect your ears and cause infection by plugging up the Eustachian tube.
  • Sinusitis may develop due to the plugging of the passages from the nose into the sinuses.

How long does nasal congestion last?

The duration of your nasal congestion depends on its cause. If it is caused by a bacterial or viral infection, nasal congestion will subside along with the infection in 5-10 days. If it is due to allergies, the congestion may persist for longer.

Why is nasal congestion more prevalent at nighttime?

On lying down at bedtime, the blood flow toward your nose and head increases, causing further swelling of the blood vessels and tissues inside the nasal passage. Inflammation of the nasal tissues and blood vessels leads to stuffiness.

While standing, blood flow to these blood vessels is lower due to the gravitational force.

Nighttime aggravation of nasal congestion can also be on account of acid reflux. Acid reflux is more common in babies, young children, and overweight adults.

People with acid reflux often suffer a backflow of stomach acids into the food pipe on lying down due to the backward push of gravity. The acid irritates the back of the throat, and the discomfort can be felt in the nasal passageways because the two are connected.

To reduce this problem, feed babies and young children with their heads in an elevated position. In adults, meals should be avoided for at least 2 hours before bedtime.

Is nasal irrigation effective against a stuffy nose?

Nasal irrigation is the practice of washing the nasal cavity. This helps in loosening the mucus and removing inflammation-causing proteins, irritants, bacteria, and allergens from the nasal passage. (7)

Nasal irrigation, along with other therapies, is an Ayurvedic practice often used for the treatment of upper respiratory tract infections. It is also commonly advised in clinical practices. It can help in the treatment of allergies, colds, and sinus infections.

However, there is only a very brief mention of nasal irrigation in expert-curated guidelines for respiratory tract infection treatments. (8)

Nasal irrigation has been marked as a safe practice by the US FDA, but nasal rinse devices such as squeeze bottles and bulb syringes should be used cautiously to prevent the risk of infections. The equipment must be sterilized before use.

It is recommended to use saline water to avoid irritation. Ensure that the mixture has the appropriate salt balance.

Many OTC products are pre-made with the appropriate salt balance. Other OTC products provide packets of the right amount of salt to be mixed with the proper amount of sterile water; directions are always included in the product package. Tap water should never be used unless it is boiled and cooled first.

Consult your doctor before doing nasal irrigation, especially if you have a weak immune system. (9)

How can I prevent nasal congestion?

Nasal congestion can be prevented by maintaining a hygienic lifestyle. Do not come in close contact with infected individuals, and avoid sharing food or drinks with them.

Wash and sanitize your hands properly. This helps in protecting you against pathogenic germs. Avoid allergens that may trigger congestion and use humidifiers in dry weather.

Is stuffy nose associated with pregnancy?

The prevalent problem of a congested nose during pregnancy is known as rhinitis of pregnancy (rhinitis gravidarum). This may be due to the hormonal fluctuations that occur during pregnancy.

The incidence of pregnancy rhinitis is not connected to preexisting asthma or allergies. This problem is usually worse during the third trimester.

The congestion may last for several weeks after delivery and then usually resolves on its own.

When to See a Doctor

Seek medical help if your nasal congestion is accompanied by:

  • Swelling in eyes, face, or forehead
  • Blurred vision
  • Throat pain
  • Yellow or white spots on tonsils
  • Colored mucus discharge
  • Malodor in the mucus discharge or from the nose
  • High fever
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Bloody mucus
  • Blue-tinged skin
  • Headache
  • Pain around the eyes, cheeks, or upper jaw

You should visit a doctor if you experience a clear discharge or sinus pains following a head injury. This may be an indication of serious problems such as leakage of brain fluid (CSF), concussion, and facial bone/skull fracture.

Babies cannot breathe well through their mouths. They are obligate nasal breathers for the first 2 months of life. Seek immediate medical help if your baby, who is not older than 2 months, has nasal congestion and is having trouble breathing or feeding.

What your doctor may ask you:

  • How long have you had these problems?
  • What symptoms do you have?
  • Have you used any OTC drugs, what kind, and for how long?
  • Are you experiencing sleep disturbances?

What you may ask your doctor:

  • How long will the problem persist?
  • What are the reasons for my congestion?
  • Can I take any OTCs or follow any home remedies for treatment?
  • What remedies can I use safely for my child with nasal congestion?

Final Word

Nasal congestion is often a symptom of medical conditions such as sinusitis or the common cold, and it improves once the infection is treated. Persistent nasal congestion should be checked by a doctor to identify the underlying cause and treat it accordingly.

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