Chronic Nasal Congestion: 7 Reasons You Always Feel Stuffed Up
Because you deserve to breathe easy again—find out why you're suffering from chronic nasal congestion.
You’re congested because: You’ve got allergies
“The lining of our nose is complex, and the increased blood flow that goes through the lining of the nose can lead to congestion,” explains Rachel Roditi, MD, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital specializing in otolaryngology. When something like pollen enters your nose, it can stimulate irritation. It’s this inflammation of the lining of your nose that produces the telltale stuffiness sensation of chronic nasal congestion. If you know you suffer from allergies and have a difficult time managing them, you may consider allergy shots.
You’re congested because: You rely on nasal decongestants
In an effort to clear your nose, you might be overusing nasal decongestant sprays like oxymetazoline, says Dr. Roditi. “These medications can be helpful for acute sinus infections, but it’s important you only use them for three days max,” she says. Using them longer than this can cause the membranes in your nose to become reliant on the medication, so they can’t relieve congestion on their own, contributing to even worse chronic nasal congestion. Here’s how you can relieve a stuffy nose naturally.
You’re congested because: It’s dry out
Whether it’s from an air conditioner, indoor heating, or a dehumidifier, dryness can also inflame nasal tissues, giving you the feeling of congestion. Plus, as you age, nasal tissues become drier, too. The combination can produce lots of stuffed up problems. Dr. Roditi recommends using over-the-counter non-medicated saline sprays and gels throughout the day. Here is what your mucus reveals about your health.
You’re congested because: You have a sinus infection
“As far as infections go, viral infections are one of the most frequent causes of irritation in the nose, which makes tissues swollen and inflamed,” says Dr. Roditi. However, the source can also be fungal or bacterial. Many people mistake their sinus infection symptoms (a headache, reduced sense of smell, or pain or pressure in the face) for allergies or a cold or flu, reported a survey from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Because a chronic episode can last more than 12 weeks, you shouldn’t wait long to seek help. If your symptoms and congestion are lingering and you don’t feel like you’re getting better in seven to 10 days—particularly if you’re getting high fevers or serious head pain, see your doctor. “Your body can fight off a lot of infections. Not everyone will need a medication or an antibiotic, but you want to get checked out if it’s not going away,” says Dr. Roditi. These are the symptoms of a sinus infection you should recognize.
You’re congested because: There’s a structural problem
If you were just clocked in the nose and all of a sudden couldn’t breathe through one side, the culprit might be a deviated septum (the septum is the “wall” in the inner part of the nose that separates the left and right nasal passages; it’s deviated when it’s knocked to one side). However, trauma isn’t the only reason: You could have been born with a deviated septum. If it’s not bothering you (you can breathe easy), then you don’t need it repaired, otherwise, the best way to correct the problem is with surgery, particularly if medications are not giving you enough relief for your chronic nasal congestion, says Dr. Roditi.
You’re congested because: You have a polyp
It sounds bad, but a polyp is a noncancerous growth in the lining of your nose or sinuses, which can block your ability to breathe. “Symptoms of nasal polyps are very similar to symptoms of rhinosinusitis, most commonly nasal congestion, nasal drainage, change in smell and flavor, and facial pressure,” explains Joseph Han, MD, Medical Director of the Division of Allergy at Eastern Virginia Medical School. They grow because of inflammation from conditions like allergies. If your doctor spots a polyp during an exam, you might be prescribed a nasal steroid spray or even surgery for those that are especially bothersome or don’t shrink with medication. This is how bad it actually is to pick your nose.
You’re congested because: You might have cancer
“This is very rare,” says Dr. Roditi. Tumors can be benign or cancerous and symptoms often mimic those from allergies and sinus infections, like facial pressure and congestion. That’s all the more reason to seek your doc’s help for congestion that lingers for a long time or you experience sudden stuffiness—and you’ve never suffered from chronic nasal congestion before, says Dr. Roditi. If you’re having the opposite problem, here are the reasons your nose is always running.
- Rachel Roditi, MD, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital specializing in otolaryngology.
- American Migraine Foundation: Sinus Headaches.
- Joseph Han, MD, Medical Director of the Division of Allergy at Eastern Virginia Medical School.