Nasal congestion is the blockage of the nasal passages usually due to membranes lining the nose becoming swollen from inflamed blood vessels. It is also known as nasal blockage, nasal obstruction, blocked nose, stuffy nose, or stuffed up nose.
Nasal congestion has many causes and can range from a mild annoyance to a life-threatening condition. The newborn infant can only breathe through the nose (newborns are "obligate nose breathers"). Nasal congestion in an infant in the first few months of life can interfere with breastfeeding and cause life-threatening respiratory distress. Nasal congestion in older children and adolescents are often just an annoyance but can cause other difficulties.
Nasal congestion can interfere with the ears, hearing, and speech development. Significant congestion may interfere with sleep, cause snoring, and can be associated with sleep apnea. In children, nasal congestion from enlarged adenoids has caused chronic sleep apnea with insufficient oxygen levels and hypoxia, as well as right-sided heart failure. The problem usually resolves after surgery to remove the adenoids and tonsils.
A blocked nose can also cause mild facial and head pain, and a degree of discomfort.
Neither influenza nor the common cold can be cured with medication; however, drugs such as acetaminophen, decongestants, nasal sprays or drops, cough remedies and throat lozenges may provide some symptom relief. Furthermore, medications have recently been approved which, when started shortly after the onset of symptoms, may shorten the duration of influenza.
A cause of nasal congestion may also be due to an allergic reaction caused by hay fever, so avoiding allergens is a common remedy if this becomes a confirmed diagnosis. Antihistamines and decongestants can provide significant symptom relief although they do not cure hay fever. Antihistamines may be given continuously during pollen season for optimum control of symptoms.
Infants usually have an nasal aspirator if they are unable to blow their nose. Mucus might be thick and sticky, making it difficult to expel from the nostril. It can be loosened by putting several drops of saline solution in a ratio of 1:500 in grams of sodium chloride (table salt) per millilitre of water, into each nostril.
Insertion of cotton swabs into a child's nostrils as a remedy is generally discouraged. An alternative solution is for the discharge to be caught outside the nostril on a tissue or swab, be rolled around, and have the discharge pulled out of the nose. Petroleum jelly applied to the nasal openings can assist in providing protection against irritation, though it is important to ensure that the nostrils are not blocked by the jelly.
The ancient use of nasal irrigation, which originated from the Yoga practice of jala neti, is also said to help reduce nasal congestions. It involves rinsing the nasal cavity regularly with salty water.
Self help: Breathing exercise to unblock your nose