It’s fairly safe to assume that everyone has experienced a stuffy nose at some point in their life. Even if you simply had to blow your nose to clear it up, it can still be frustrating, annoying or gross to deal with. While clearing your nose may seem simple enough, it doesn’t always alleviate the issue. That’s because there isn’t a single cause of a stuffy nose, and sometimes, your congestion isn’t caused by stuffiness. If you’re searching for relief from a stuffy nose and symptoms like headaches or difficulty breathing, we should first understand what causes a stuffy nose. That way, we can take care of the cause and not just the symptom.
For the most part, you can break the causes of congestion into two main categories — blockage and inflammation. Often, these two can go hand in hand, with a blockage causing inflammation or vice versa. The first of these, blockage, is also the most straightforward. This is simply when mucus or some other object clogs the nostril, causing breathing difficulty. Sometimes, though rarer, this congestion may be caused by a tumor or polyp. While this may be a go-to assumption as the main cause of nasal congestion, it’s likely not the most common.
Not only does inflammation block breathing in the nose, it can exacerbate any other blockages.
Instead, it’s the other biological cause that more often leads to the uncomfortable pressure of a stuffy nose. Inflammation in the nose can be caused by a number of conditions and external factors. It occurs when the tissue in the nose swells from excess fluid. Not only does inflammation block breathing in the nose, it can exacerbate any other blockages. This is especially true for conditions that cause both inflammation and a buildup of nasal discharge, either in the form of a runny nose or mucus buildup.
Now that we understand the biological occurrences actually causing a stuffy nose, what triggers those conditions? Much like how we can break the first section into basic groups, the causes of a stuffy nose can generally be separated into four groups. First up, you have environmental or external causes. This could include exposure to common allergens like dust or pollen or to irritants like tobacco smoke, perfumes, or aerial pollution. Even something as general as dry air can cause stuffy noses.
Tobacco smoke can lead to a stuffy nose, so if you’re a smoker, you’re more likely to be exposed to tobacco smoke.
Lifestyle factors may also impact the prevalence of nasal congestion. Previously, we mentioned how tobacco smoke can lead to a stuffy nose, so if you’re a smoker, you’re more likely to be exposed to tobacco smoke. Drinking alcohol can also get you stuffed up if you have an alcohol intolerance. Other factors that can cause congestion include spicy foods and dehydration.
A third category of causes would be physical causes of stuffiness. This can apply to mucus buildup, though the cause of this may have more to do with our next category, or to the previously mentioned tumors and polyps which may rarely develop inside the nose. It may also refer to a foreign object that’s become lodged in your nose for whatever reason. While this is more common in very young children, it can happen in adults. The most common physical cause of congestion is a deviated septum, which can block the airways in your nose and cause breathing difficulties if severe enough.
Each largely causes the congestion with a combination of inflammation and increased production of mucus, which clogs the nose.
Finally, you have the illness category, which is probably the most common cause of congestion alongside allergies. When we think of a stuffy nose, many of us immediately think the common cold or a flu. Similarly, a sinus infection will come with a stuffy nose. Each largely causes the congestion with a combination of inflammation and increased production of mucus, which clogs the nose. These are only three examples of the long list of conditions that can cause nasal congestion, which can also include rhinitis and sinusitis.
Finally, let’s go over how you can relieve yourself of a stuffy nose. Blowing your nose to clear clogging may bring immediate relief, but if there is an underlying cause beyond physical clogging, blowing your nose may only bring temporary relief. There are other home remedies you can try to help. Keeping your nasal passages moist with a humidifier or a hot, steamy shower or even by staying properly hydrated will help you to clear mucus easier and keep your nasal membranes from getting irritated. Placing a warm compress or wet towel over your face may have a similar effect and reduce some of the swelling.
For quick relief, you have may rely on over-the-counter medications. Which type of medication you take will depend on the cause of your stuffiness. If it’s due to allergies, you’ll want an antihistamine, while a decongestant can reduce swelling for most reasons. You may also use pain killers, especially acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to relieve pain from pressure and possibly reduce some of the swelling.
Many conditions can be treated with the help of your doctor while something like a deviated septum may need to be fixed with surgery.
If you have consistent or regular nasal congestion, it may be due to an underlying condition. Should this be the case, the only solution to true long-term relief is to find out what that underlying condition is. Speaking with your doctor to receive a diagnosis can begin the process. Many conditions can be treated with the help of your doctor, while something like a deviated septum may need to be fixed with surgery.
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As one of the two breathing pathways in our body, our noses are pretty important. Since nasal congestion is so common, it can make this key function of our nose that much more difficult and cause us frustration or even pain. Stuffy noses aren’t just caused by having a few boogies clogging your nose, not always at least. You can’t always relieve your nasal pressure with a tissue, so knowing the true cause of your stuffiness will help you find true relief.