How to Treat a Stuffy or Clogged Nose

A stuffy nose is usually accompanied by symptoms such as a combination of nasal congestion, sneezing, nasal itching, and rhinorrhea (a runny nose). Your eyes, ears, sinuses, throat, and lungs can also be involved in the symptoms.

Key takeaways:
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    Treating a stuffy nose usually depends on figuring out the cause first.
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    Nasal stuffiness is a result of inflammation or swelling within the nasal cavity and sinuses.
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    Nasal stuffiness inevitably leads to sinus pressure and headaches.
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    Home remedies can include steaming, hydration, a vaporizer, a Neti pot, and nasal saline sprays.
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    Over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines, steroid nasal sprays and decongestants can help.

Most of us relate having a stuffy nose due to the common cold or flu, sinus infections, allergies, non-allergic rhinitis or irritation, and a whole host of other potential causes. The list is long and varied.

Treating a stuffy nose usually depends on figuring out the cause first. But there are measures you can take to promote unstopping your nose and for nasal health and wellness overall.

The most common thinking is that a stuffy nose means it is full of mucus, but that is not always true. More likely, the nasal stuffiness is a result of inflammation or swelling within the nasal cavity and sinuses. Nasal stuffiness inevitably leads to sinus pressure and headaches.

What is inside the nose that causes stuffiness?

On the outside, our nose has bone in the upper portions and a complex arrangement of cartilages in the lower portions. Inside there is a wall that separates the left and right sides, called the nasal septum.

Everyone has some deviation of his or her nasal septum. It’s just the way it’s built.

Any slight or significant deviation of the nasal septum causes the nasal passage to have less leeway and therefore that side of the nose is more susceptible to stuffiness.

Blood and the autonomic nerve supply control the secretions and level of congestion of the nasal lining. The autonomic nerve supply means the system that controls the functions of the nose is largely unconscious.

Up high in the nasal cavity, at the base of the brain, there are olfactory nerves that control our sense of smell. Any irritation, such as a strong or pungent odor, can naturally cause nasal stuffiness. Think of it as a protective mechanism for the rest of the nose.

The flow of air through our noses is carefully controlled. It changes frequently throughout the day depending on the environment and what we are exposed to or encounter from within such as allergies or infections like the common cold.

What can be done if you have nasal stuffiness?

  • Use a humidifier or vaporizer. Moisture helps.
  • Steam or a hot shower.
  • Hydration. Drink plenty of fluids to thin out the mucus.
  • Use nasal saline spray. Do not use sprays that have medications such as steroids or antihistamines at first since they may work against you and make your nose bleed or become even more irritated, especially when you do not need those medications.
  • Try a Neti Pot, nasal irrigation, or bulb syringe. Flushing the nose with saline or sterile distilled water can help flush out the nose, humidify it, and decrease nasal stuffiness.
  • Try a micro-current wave device. These are facemasks that give off vibrations and use LED lights. They are readily available at most drug stores or online retailers. They are soothing and can provide a lot of relief, particularly for those who suffer from headaches from their nasal stuffiness.
  • Warm, not hot, towels on the face or compresses.
  • Sitting upright and sleeping with a few pillows to keep your head elevated may help. Lying on your back may be better than on one side or the other. The reason one side seems to fill up when we lie on our sides is not because the nose fills up with mucus, but rather the swelling increases because of gravity.
  • Avoid swimming, particularly in chlorinated pools. Chlorine tends to irritate the nose.
  • When you blow your nose, do it gently. Blowing too hard may actually increase the pressure inside the nose and worsen the nasal swelling inside.

Using over the counter medications for nasal stuffiness?

Nasal saline is worth repeating. It cannot be emphasized enough how important nasal saline spray or flushing can help. It is safe, effective and a tried-and-true method. Saline cannot be overused. Some people find using it five to six times a day can be especially helpful when they have nasal stuffiness

Steroid nasal sprays can be useful, and they are available over the counter. Steroid nasal sprays have been around for many years and come in different formulations. They are designed to condition the nasal lining, reduce inflammation, and work to help with allergy symptoms. It is important to understand that they do not work right away. Some can take as long as two weeks to become effective. Some nasal steroids are more irritating to the nose and cause nasal dryness or bleeding. If irritation occurs, it is important to stop use, consider using nasal saline only, or switch to a different one.

If allergies are your underlying problem, then antihistamines can help. They help relieve nasal stuffiness, itching, sniffling, and sneezing. There are many different nasal antihistamines available in pill form and in sprays. Antihistamines can be present in many different cold or flu medications. Make sure you check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist to determine which one may be right for you. Antihistamines fall into two main categories: drowsy and non-drowsy. Always be aware that even the non-drowsy ones can cause some drowsiness, particularly if taken in larger doses. Lastly, antihistamines can cause nasal dryness, irritation, and bleeding as well. Other considerations include eye dryness, skin dryness, and difficulty with urination, particularly in men.

Decongestants are designed specifically to reduce the swelling in your nasal and sinus passages, therefore reducing the nasal stuffiness and sinus pressure. They come in nasal sprays like oxymetazoline or phenylephrine. Or they come in pills or tablets such as phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine.

  • Always be aware that these medications can raise your blood pressure and cause agitation, anxiety, and jitteriness.
  • People who have eye problems such as glaucoma should never use them.
  • You should never use a nasal decongestant spray more than three to four days in a row since you can get a rebound effect called rhinitis medicamentosa, a potentially serious condition that often needs further treatment.
  • Never give decongestants to children under the age of four.
  • Keep in mind that the sale of decongestants is controlled by the pharmacies due to the production of illegal drugs from decongestants.
  • Lastly, most people find that using decongestants is not necessary since the other above measures work well enough and are not worth the risk of feeling jittery.

It’s common to have a stuffy nose if you have a cold, the flu, or allergies. There are a number of home remedies you can try to unclog your nasal passages, along with a number of over-the-counter medications.


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