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Ear Nose and Throat

Nasal Congestion

The common name for nasal congestion is a stuffy nose. Nasal congestion can be a symptom of a health problem like sinusitis or a cold.

How does congestion occur?

When a virus (such as a cold or flu), bacteria, or allergen affects the lining of the nasal passages, it causes inflammation of the blood vessels in the lining of the nasal passages and the nasal tissues. The tissues swell and nasal secretions (mucus) increase resulting in congestion. Congestion builds and can impair air flow. When mucus backs up in the nasal passages it can engorge the sinuses causing sinusitis.

What are the common causes of nasal congestion?

Nasal congestion is a primary symptom in:

  • Allergic rhinitis or hay fever which affects up to 15% of adults. 80% of cases begin
    before age 20.
  • The common cold, which is a viral infection of the nose and sinuses. This can be complicated by a secondary bacterial infection.
  • Structural problems like a deviated septum in the nose that also impairs air flow.
  • Sinusitis, which may be viral or material, and may be with or without associated nasal
    polyps.

Some of these conditions are self-limiting. For instance, congestion from a cold usually goes away by itself within 7-10 days. Allergic rhinitis lasts as long as the irritants (such as pollens, dust mites, etc.) are present, usually at least four months.

Colds generally last 7-10 days.

Symptoms of a cold:

  • nasal congestion
  • sore throat
  • sneezing
  • loss of smell
  • coughing
  • runny nose
  • fatigue
  • body aches

Sinus infections can last anywhere from a week to over a month.

Congestion caused by a sinus infection:

  • nasal congestion
  • sinus pain and pressure in the cheeks, forehead and around the eyes
  • thick discolored mucus
  • fever
  • headache
  • bad breath
  • dental pain

What can you do when you suffer with congestion?

To help mucus thin and drain use a vaporizer to inhale warm, humidified air. You can also use a saline nasal spray or a nasal wash to remove thick mucus as well as nasal irritants. Congestion usually gets worse when you lie down so elevate the head and back while sleeping can help. Use over-the-counter decongestants, antihistamines. If you use an over the counter nasal spray, read the directions carefully because some sprays can be habit-forming if used for longer than a few days.

When should you call Fayetteville Otolaryngology?

  • When you have a sore throat or spots on your tonsils
  • When the mucus smells rotten, or the discharge is white or yellow
  • When you have a cough that lasts longer than ten days
  • When you cough up yellow, green or gray mucus
  • When symptoms last more than three weeks
  • When you have nasal secretions and a fever

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