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Nasal congestion

Contents of this page:


Throat anatomy
Throat anatomy

Alternative Names    Return to top

Nose - congested; Congested nose; Stuffy nose

Definition    Return to top

Nasal congestion refers to a stuffy nose. Many people think that a nose gets congested (stuffy) from too much thick mucus. This is incorrect. The nose becomes congested when the tissues lining the nose become swollen due to inflamed blood vessels.

Considerations    Return to top

A stuffy nose is usually caused by a virus and typically goes away by itself within a week.

Newborn infants must breathe through the nose. Nasal congestion in an infant in the first few months of life can interfere with nursing and cause life-threatening breathing problems. Nasal congestion in older children and adolescents is usually 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 episodes of not breathing during sleep (sleep apnea).

In children, nasal congestion from enlarged adenoids has caused chronic sleep apnea with insufficient oxygen levels and right-sided heart failure. The problem usually goes away after surgery to remove the adenoids and tonsils.

Causes    Return to top

Congestion can be caused by many of the same things that cause a runny nose, including:

Home Care    Return to top

Over-the-counter medicines may help relieve a stuffy nose and can make breathing more comfortable.

These medicines do not treat the underlying condition. Many over-the-counter allergy and cold medicines contain multiple ingredients, so look carefully to see what is in the one you choose.

Medicines are not the only way to relieve a stuffy or runny nose. Often, gentler solutions are better. Try these steps to thin the mucus, which can help you breathe easier and get your nasal secretions back to normal:

For a baby too young to blow his or her nose, an infant nasal aspirator (bulb) can help remove the mucus. If the mucus is thick and sticky, loosen it by putting two or three saline nose drops into each nostril. Don't insert cotton swabs into a child's nostrils. Instead, catch the discharge outside the nostril on a tissue or swab, roll it around, and pull the discharge out of the nose.

Congestion is often worse when you are lying down. Keep upright, or at least keep the head elevated. This is especially helpful for young children.

Some stores sell adhesive strips that can be placed on the nose when you are congested. These help widen the nostrils, making breathing easier.

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Call your doctor if you or your child have any of the following:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit    Return to top

Your doctor may perform a physical examination, focusing on the upper respiratory system, ears, nose, and throat.

Your doctor will ask questions, including:

The following diagnostic tests may be done:

Over-the-counter medications may be recommended. Stronger, prescription medications may be advised. For treatment of severe hay fever, see hay fever.

Update Date: 10/23/2007

Updated by: Daniel Rauch, M.D., FAAP., Director, Pediatric Hospitalist Program, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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