Nasal congestion? Here's what to do

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Nasal congestion? Here's what to do

Nasal congestion — Ease nasal congestion with these self-care tips.

Nasal congestion or a "stuffy" nose can be just as uncomfortable as a runny nose, and often the causes are the same. Nasal congestion can be caused by a cold or the flu, allergies to dust, pollen or pet dander, or a nonallergic inflammation of blood vessels in your nose (vasomotor rhinitis). This occurs when the nasal blood vessels expand in response to exercise, cold air, spicy food, even stress. A number of medications also can dry out your nose and throat, leading to nasal congestion. These include:

  • Diuretics
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Birth control pills and erectile dysfunction medications such as Viagra
  • Beta blockers
  • Nasal decongestants, especially when used for more than a few days

Less often, nasal congestion may result from a deformity in the bony partition separating your two nasal chambers (nasal septum) or a growth in your nasal passage, such as a nasal polyp. Children may also get a foreign object in their noses that leads to congestion.

Is nasal congestion serious?
Although nasal congestion is just an annoyance for most older children and adults, it can be serious in infants. Babies who are congested in the first months of life have trouble nursing and can experience breathing problems. If your child is younger than 3 months, call your doctor at the first sign of illness. You can usually treat an older baby's nasal congestion by giving plenty of fluids, moistening the air in your home, suctioning the baby's nose and using saline nasal drops or a homemade nasal irrigation wash made of 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt mixed with 2 cups of warm water.

What will help nasal congestion?
Try these measures to relieve your stuffy nose:

  • Steam. One of the simplest ways to break up congestion is to inhale steam from a hot shower or a humidifier.
  • Fluids. Drink plenty of liquids, such as water, juice or tea, to help thin mucus. Avoid caffeinated beverages, which can cause dehydration and aggravate your symptoms.
  • Chicken soup. Eating any kind of soup is soothing, but eating chicken soup has been shown to speed the movement of mucus through the nasal passages. This helps relieve congestion and limit the amount of time viruses are in contact with the nasal lining.
  • Salt water. Use an over-the-counter nasal saline spray or prepare your own saltwater solution using 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt mixed with 2 cups of warm water. Both can be extremely effective at relieving congestion.
  • Breathing strips. Most drugstores and some supermarkets sell adhesive strips that you place across the bridge of your nose. These strips open the nasal passages, allowing you to breathe more freely.
  • Decongestants. Beware of over-the-counter decongestants. If used for more than two or three days, they can actually make congestion worse. All decongestants — oral or topical — may have a stimulant effect and raise blood pressure in some people. Children shouldn't use them at all. There's no evidence that they work in children, and they can have serious side effects. Gentler options such as steam, nasal rinses and breathing strips are more effective and don't have side effects.

Last Updated: 09/14/2007
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