How and why does it start? What is causing nasal congestion in your daily life? How in the world do you treat nasal congestion? If you are visiting this page, chances are you have asked yourself similar questions at some point in your life. Well our ENT doctors of Northeast Atlanta ENT are here to discuss nasal congestion and to answer the most common questions our patients ask us.
Many people experience problems with their nasal (nose) breathing, including nasal congestion, nasal restriction, obstruction, or stuffiness. In fact, this is one of the most common complaints our patients have (and the most oldest complaint).
Some people may view it as a nuisance, whereas others view nasal congestion as a significant discomfort in their daily lives. There are actually 4 main causes of nasal obstruction, including:
Nasal congestion can become apparent due to infections and the common cold. Do you know that, on average, most adults get a cold 2-3 times per year. Actually, they occur more so in children since their immunity is not as strong as an adult’s immunity system.
How does a person “catch a cold?” It starts with a virus, whether the virus is airborne or transmitted by bodily contact (specifically hand-to-nose contact). When the virus is absorbed through the nose, histamine is released by the body. Histamine is a chemical that significantly increases blood flow to the nose, and causes the nasal tissue to swell.
When this happens, the nasal membranes become very congested with blood. Also at this time, the nasal membranes produce excessive amounts of mucus— this creates the stuffiness in your nasal passageway.
These two treatments are effective at lessening the symptoms, however, no medication exists to cure it. Instead, time and waiting patiently will get rid of the infection.
If someone suffers from a viral infection, his or her nose has poor resistance to bacteria. This is precisely why nose and sinus infections commonly follow a cold. You know you probably have a bacterial infection when the nasal mucus turns from clear to yellow or green. At this point, it is always the best course of treatment to call an ENT doctor for an appointment.
What you experience depends on which sinuses are infected. Treatment for acute sinus infections include antibiotics prescribed by your ENT doctor.
If the infection does not get treated, it can spread to the lower airways. At this point someone may experience:
Treatment for chronic sinusitis may require surgery. It is always best to seek treatment right away if you have a sinus infection.
Structural abnormalities include:
The nasal septum is the thin, flat cartilage and bone which divides the two sides of the nose and nostrils. Deformities of the nasal septum are experienced by adults and children, but are usually caused by injuries typically during childhood.
Furthermore, nasal injuries can occur during the birth process. In fact, 7% of newborn babies experience nasal injury.
If breathing becomes obstructed, then surgical correction may be the best course of treatment. Actually, a very common cause of nasal obstruction in kids is enlargement of the adenoids. Adenoids have tissue similar to tonsils, and they are located in the back of the nose, behind the palate.
As far as nasal tumors and foreign bodies causing nasal congestion, an ENT physician should be called if a foul-smelling discharge is draining from one of the nostrils. This can happen if a child lodges or inserts a small object into his or her nose.
Allergic rhinitis (chronic rhinitis) is also referred to as rose fever, hay fever, grass fever, or summertime colds. An allergy is an exaggerated inflammatory response to a certain substance. Specifically in the case of a stuffy, congested nose, the allergen is typically pollen, animal dander, mold, or house dust.
When someone has an allergy to a certain substance, histamine and similar substances are released. This release results in nasal congestion, along with excess production of nasal mucus (often watery).
Treatment for allergies include:
Patients who have allergies are more likely to need treatment when experiencing a sinus infection.
“Rhinitis” is the term used when the nose and nasal membranes become inflamed. “Vasomotor” pertains to the nerves which control blood vessels.
There are many different membranes in the nose. Membranes have an abundant supply of capillaries, arteries, and veins, and they all have the ability to constrict or expand. On a normal level, the blood vessels operate in a half-restricted or half-open state.
Take this example: if someone exercises heavily, then his or her hormone (adrenaline) also increases. Adrenaline causes constriction of the nasal membranes, which means the nasal passageways open up and the person can breathe freely.
As an opposite example: when a person has the common cold (or an allergic attack), the blood vessels expand. When they expand, the membranes become congested, which means the nose becomes stuffy or blocked.
Other instances can cause nasal blood vessels to expand, which can lead to vasomotor rhinitis. These include:
If these disorders are caught in their early stages, then nasal stuffiness is typically reversible and it becomes a temporary condition. Once the primary cause(s) is corrected, nasal blockage improves.
However, in the event that the condition(s) persists, the blood vessels will eventually lose their capacity to constrict (similar to varicose veins).
When a patient lies down on one side, their lower side can become congested. This will interfere with his or her sleep patterns. If this is the case, you should sleep with the head of the bed elevated at least 2-4 inches.
Another treatment option is surgery, which can provide significant, long-term relief.