Although it’s a year-round complaint, as the temperature drops and cold and flu season arrives, an increasing number of patients will turn to you for assistance in treating nasal congestion. 

In most instances nasal congestion occurs when the tissues lining the nose become swollen due to inflamed blood vessels. Increased mucus secretions in the nose can also cause congestion.

WHAT IS NASAL CONGESTION? 

Nasal congestion refers to obstructed breathing through the nose. In most instances nasal congestion occurs when the tissue lining the nose becomes swollen due to inflamed blood vessels. Increased mucus secretions in the nose can also cause congestion. Patients experiencing increased mucus may complain of a runny nose. The subsequent postnasal drip can cause a sore throat or cough.  

SYMPTOMS 

  • a stuffy and/or runny nose 
  • swollen nasal tissue 
  • mucus build-up 
  • sinus pain 

CAUSES 

Depending on the cause, nasal decongestion can last a few days or it can be persistent. While most nasal congestion is caused by the common cold, influenza, sinusitis, and allergic rhinitis, other catalysts include: 

  • Decongestant nasal spray overuse (the use of most decongestant nasal sprays for more than 3-5 days can result in rebound congestion) 
  • Nasal polyps lining the nose or sinuses 
  • Pregnancy (usually during the end of the first trimester) 
  • Vasomotor rhinitis 
  • Chemical exposures 
  • Environmental irritants 
  • A deviated septum 
  • Dry air 
  • Acute and chronic sinusitis 
  • Injuries to the nose 

Nasal congestion that lasts longer than a week may be a symptom of an underlying health issue.  

TREATMENT 

While the best way to stop nasal congestion is to deal with the underlying health issue (cold or allergy), there are several treatment options to help ease symptoms. Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai recommends oral decongestants which can shrink the blood vessels throughout the body, including in the lining of the nose. Nasal decongestants are more targeted but shouldn’t be used more than three days in a row. Antihistamines may reduce the amount of mucus in your nose, but these medicines don’t treat the problem, just the symptoms.” They also recommend what they call gentler solutions, like a neti pot, saline irrigation, saline nasal drops, using a vaporiser or humidifier when sleeping, and drinking plenty of fluids such as hot tea or chicken soup.  

Because the extended use of most OTC decongestant nasal sprays can result in rebound congestion, always explain to patients that it’s important for them to follow the dosage and directions of the product’s package insert.