Nasal Congestion/Runny Nose; Symptoms, Treatment

Nasal Congestion or Runny Nose & Sneezing is excess drainage produced by nasal and adjacent tissues and blood vessels in the nose. This drainage may range from a clear fluid to thick mucus.Stuffy nose is a term often used to refer to obstruction to the flow of air in and out of the nose, while runny nose refers to a discharge (fluid) coming from the nasal passages. This is often a watery, clear liquid but may be thicker and viscous. Both stuffy and runny nose are associated with inflammation and swelling (congestion) of the inner lining of the nasal passages and sinuses.

Causes of Nasal Congestion

  • Hay fever – Hay fever, an allergic reaction to outdoor pollens and molds, causes nasal congestion, itchy eyes, and more.
  • Nasal congestion – Nasal congestion is a stuffy nose, and can be accompanied by blocked ears, sore throat, and more.
  • Acute sinusitis – Acute sinusitis, an inflammation of the sinuses, causes sinus pain and tenderness, facial redness and more.
  • Common cold – The common cold is a viral respiratory infection causing sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, headache and more.
  • Allergic reaction -Allergic reaction causes sneezing, runny nose and hives and can lead to anaphylaxis, a whole body reaction.
  • Dust exposure – Dust exposure can cause congestion, runny nose, cough, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and more.
  • Nasal polyps – Nasal polyps, sacs of inflamed tissue in the nasal passages, can cause cold symptoms, snoring, and more.
  • Nonallergic rhinitis – Non-allergic rhinitis causes congestion, sneezing, runny nose, or itchy red eyes for no apparent reason.
  • Respiratory syncytial virus – Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a virus that causes symptoms similar to the common cold.
  • Foreign object in the nose – Symptoms of a foreign body in the nose include trouble breathing, pain, discharge, and bleeding.
  • Drug allergy – A drug allergy is an allergic reaction to a medication and can cause a rapid heartbeat and difficulty breathing.
  • Narcotic abuse – Narcotic abuse can cause fatigue, shallow breathing, anxiety, euphoria, vomiting, confusion, and constipation.
  • Whooping cough – Whooping cough, a contagious respiratory infection, causes a runny nose, a mild fever, and a severe cough.
  • West nile virusn – West Nile virus is an infection spread by mosquitoes, and can cause diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, and more.
  • Mesenteric lymphadenitis – Mesenteric lymphadenitis is an inflammation of abdominal lymph nodes causing pain, diarrhea, fever, and more.
  • Ricin poisoning – Ricin is a dangerous poison in castor beans, and causes trouble breathing, nausea, fever and sweating.

Others Causes of Nasal Congestion

  • Cold Weather or Sudden Temperature Changes
  • Consumption of Spicy Foods
  • Enlarged Adenoids
  • Environmental Irritants
  • Foreign Bodies in the Nose
  • Hormonal Changes
  • Injury/Trauma to the Nose
  • Kartagener Syndrome
  • Medications
  • Nasal Polyps
  • Nonallergic rhinitis (chronic congestion or sneezing not related to allergies)
  • Occupational asthma
  • Pregnancy
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
  • Spinal fluid leak
  • Structural Abnormalities
  • Tumors of the Nasal Passages
  • Vasomotor Rhinitis
  • Viral Infection

Symptoms of Nasal Congestion

Addition symptoms to watch for that may signal something more serious than a stuffy nose include:

Diagnosis of Nasal Congestion

  • History of present illness should determine the nature of the discharge and whether discharge is chronic or recurrent. If recurrent, any relation to patient location, season, or exposure to potential triggering allergens (numerous) should be determined.
  • Examination focuses on the nose and area over the sinuses. The face is inspected for focal erythema over the frontal and maxillary sinuses; these areas are also palpated for tenderness. Nasal mucosa is inspected for color , swelling, color and nature of discharge, and  presence of any foreign body.
  • Unilateral discharge, particularly if purulent or bloody
  • Culture will guide any antibiotic therapy.
  • X-ray of sinuses may show clouding from infection.
  • Nasal discharge cytology is sometimes used to diagnose allergic fungal sinusitis.
  • Specialist investigation (eg, CT scanning and screening tests for cystic fibrosis) may be required to rule out the rarer causes.
  • Facial pain, tenderness, or both
  • Testing is generally not indicated for acute nasal symptoms unless invasive sinusitis is suspected in a diabetic or immunocompromised patient; these patients usually should undergo CT. If a CSF leak is suspected, a sample of the discharge should be tested for the presence of beta-2 transferrin, which is highly specific for CSF.

Treatment of Nasal Congestion

Salt water (saline solutions)

Salt water (saline) may be helpful to clear a blocked nose for a short time. You can buy saline drops from a chemist or get them on prescription. They are sometimes used in babies who are congested, so they are better able to feed. There are also saline sprays and solutions which aim to wash out the passageways of the nose. These all make the gunk blocking the nose more liquid, so that it drains out more easily.

Menthol vapours, rubs and pastilles

There are many products which contain ingredients such as menthol or eucalyptus oil, which you can buy over the counter for nasal congestion. They are available as vapour rubs, which you rub on your chest so you breathe in the vapour, and oils which you add to hot water for steam inhalations. There are also throat sweets to suck. These soothe a sore throat but also release a vapour to help clear the nose.

Decongestant drops and sprays for the nose

Decongestant drops and sprays are very effective for a blocked nose but should only be used for a maximum of 5-7 days. If used for longer, you may have a rebound congestion when you stop them. They cannot be used by children under the age of 6. Children aged 6 to 12 may use them for up to five days if none of the options above have been helpful.

Decongestant tablets and syrups

Decongestants in the form of tablets or liquid medicines (syrups) are thought to be safer to take for a longer time if need be. The main ones used are pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine. They come in several brand names. They are available over the counter and on prescription. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking them, as they are not suitable for everyone and may interact with other medication.

Steroid sprays for the nose

Steroid sprays are often used for nasal congestion, particularly when it is caused by allergies such as hay fever or by nasal polyps. Steroid sprays work by reducing the swelling of the inside of the nose. They are available as drops or spray to be applied directly to the inside of the nose. Steroid nasal sprays are safe for adults to use in the long term if needed. There are several types of steroid spray and they come in several brands.

The most commonly used decongestant drops or sprays are:

  • Ephedrine.
  • Xylometazoline.
  • Oxymetazoline.
  • Ipratropium (only from age 12).
Saline drops to release the mucus
  • Saline or salt water is a natural decongestant for a stuffed nose baby. You can buy this saline from a pharmacy or prepare it at home using one-fourth teaspoon of salt dissolved in 240ml of water.
  • Make your baby lie on his back and pour two to three drops of saline water in the infant’s nose. Wait for 30-60 seconds after doing so.
  • Turn the baby on his stomach so that the saline drains the mucus out. Use a tissue paper to catch the snot.
  • Gently squeeze the baby’s nose to expel the remaining mucus.
  • You can use this method even when the baby has dried mucus since saline will soften and release it from the nostrils. Using saline drops is a safe household remedy for nasal congestion in babies, and it is recommended by the American Academy of Paediatrics
Nasal suction bulb to draw the mucus
  • The nasal suction bulb is also called an aspirator and helps bring the mucus out into the integrated rubberized container (bulb).
  • Press the air out of the bulb to create a vacuum and place the tip of the bulb around the rim of the nostril. Do not insert it deeper since it may cause damage to the delicate inner lining.
  • Gently release the squeeze grip, and the mucus gets drawn into the bulb.
  • Press the bulb into a tissue paper to release its content. Rinse it with warm water before using it again. Keep the bulb exclusive to the baby and never share it with someone else including a sibling.

Antihistamines block inflammation caused by an allergic reaction so they can help to fight symptoms of allergies that can lead to swollen nasal and sinus passages.

Nasal decongestants and antihistamines

Over-the-counter combination drugs should be used with caution. Some of these drugs contain drying agents that can thicken mucus. Only use them when prescribed by your allergist.

Home Remedies of Nasal Congestion


Applying light pressure to the bridge of the nose with the thumb and index finger. At the same time, with the other hand, grab the muscles at either side of the back of the neck.

Facial massage 

Giving the sinuses a gentle massage with the fingers may relieve some symptoms.

Drink Warm Liquids

Drinking water and other liquids helps relieve congestion by loosening mucus in the chest and nasal passages, moistening the throat and preventing dehydration. Whenever you can, make your drink a warm one.

Steam Your Face

This age old remedy has been used to enhance health for thousands of years – by Hippocrates, the father of medicine; by the ancient Romans; and by the native people of North America. There’s a reason this steam treatment has stuck around for so long – it’s quick, effective and completely safe.

Rinse with Salt Water

Sure, you could use an over-the-counter decongestant nasal spray but these can be addictive and, for 7% of people, can actually cause more congestion. There’s also the option to buy a simple saline spray.

Diffuse Essential Oils
  • Eucalyptus – a potent antiseptic, antiviral, and decongestant.
  • Tea tree – an effective antimicrobial, expectorant and antiseptic.
  • Peppermint – helps to open nasal passages.
  • Thyme – powerful antiseptic and great for colds, flu and chills.
  • Basil – an antiseptic that helps open nasal passages.
  • Rosemary – an antiseptic that helps open nasal passages.
  • Pine – decongestant and antimicrobial.
  • Lavender – antihistamine, antiseptic and antimicrobial.
  • Chamomile – relieves and soothes congestion.
Make a DIY Decongestant Salve

Made with coconut oil, shea butter, and essential oils like eucalyptus, peppermint, lavender, lemon and tea tree, this DIY salve is an all-natural, light, silky body butter that rubs in quickly.

Hit Your Pressure Points

One way to relieve the congestion-induced pressure in your nose and face is to practice acupressure. By hitting certain pressure points, you can reduce blockage or swelling in the nasal passages and increase the free flow of air from the nose.

Apply Hot & Cold Compresses

Alternately placing hot and cold compresses across your sinuses can provide pain relief for many sufferers of nasal congestion, says the American Academy of Otolaryngology.

They recommend using a hot pack for three minutes and then a cold compress for 30 seconds. Repeat this procedure three times per treatment, two to six times a day.To make a hot compress, take a damp washcloth and heat it for 30 seconds in a microwave. Test the temperature first to make sure it’s not too hot.

Eat for Relief

The following foods may create mucus and should be avoided until you recover:

  • Eggs
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Dairy and chocolate
  • Nuts (and peanuts)
  • Soybeans
  • Processed meats
  • Alcohol
  • Coffee and sodas

To fight congestion, enjoy plenty of the following

  • Spicy foods
  • Soups
  • Warm drinks
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Garlic and other herbs
Plump Up Your Pillows

Lying down at night with your head raised is a great way to relieve congested nasal passages and enjoy a good night’s sleep. Ensure you have plump pillows and add a second one if necessary.

Try an Apple Cider Vinegar Tonic

Anecdotal evidence says that sinuses can be drained and stuffy noses can be cleared by drinking diluted apple cider vinegar.

Add a tablespoon of the vinegar to a glass of water and drink it. You can do this two to three times a day until symptoms clear. If you prefer, try one of these five tasty drinks to help you get your daily dose of this fermented liquid.Apple cider vinegar may also be added to your bowl of boiling water before inhaling the steam.

Give Yoga a Go

Five poses are especially effective in relieving a blocked head – the Bridge Pose, Camel Pose, Plow Pose, Bow Pose and Head Stand. If you’re up to it, you could always amp up your workout by completing a few rounds of Sun Salutations between each congestion-soothing posture.

Brew Spicy Tomato Tea

Spicy foods are one of the most powerful congestion reliving things you can eat. That’s because many spices, including chilies, contain capsaicin – the chemical which causes the burning sensation on your tongue when you eat it.

Switch On Your Humidifier

Using a humidifier (such as this one) can provide a lot of relief as the extra moisture in the air helps to break up congestion by thinning the mucus in the nose. It works similarly to holding your face over a bowl of steaming water, but it’s a much more convenient option if you need humidity all day long! While you can use either a warm-mist or a cool-mist humidifier, the cool-mist one is a better option for two reasons – it is safer, particularly if you have children or pets; and it is more cost-effective as it uses less energy than the warm-mist version.


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