Nasal congestion occurs when the nasal tissues and blood vessels in the sinus cavity become swollen with excess fluid (see Reference 3). Severe nasal congestion can affect a person's everyday life, including sleeping patterns, and cause great discomfort. While severe nasal congestion can be difficult to treat, there are several things you can do to alleviate the discomfort that comes with it.
There are many different causes of nasal congestion. The most common are seasonal or animal allergies, common colds, dry air and sinusitis. Other causes include, but are not limited to, stress, pregnancy, perfume, hormonal changes, cold temperature, tobacco smoke and thyroid problems. Most of these causes are temporary and will alleviate with treatment and time. There are some causes of severe nasal congestion that are not environmental. These include a deviated septum and asthma. A deviated septum occurs when the thin wall, called the nasal septum, inside your nose is displaced to one side, making one nasal passage smaller. In some cases it can block one side of your nose and reduce airflow (see Reference 3).
Nasal congestion typically includes several symptoms that can be very uncomfortable. Pressure, tenderness and pain above the eyebrows and above the upper side teeth are just some of the symptoms that may accompany nasal congestion. Nasal stuffiness is sometimes accompanied by a thick yellow or green discharge. Typically the stuffiness increases when lying down. Postnasal drip, bad breath and an irritating dry cough may also be present.
Nasal irrigation is one of the most effective home treatments for nasal congestion. Nasal irrigation involves flushing thickened mucus and irritants from your nose with a saltwater solution. The use of a neti pot is beneficial when performing nasal irrigation. Designed to rinse the nasal cavity, a neti pot is a small container that looks like a teapot. Dr. James T. Li, writing for the Mayo Clinic, says to first fill the neti pot with warm saltwater or a nasal saline solution. Tilt your head over a sink and place the spout of the neti pot in the upper nostril. The saltwater will flow through your nasal cavity and out the nostril. Repeat this process on the other side. Neti pots are available online and in most pharmacies and health food stores. They generally cost less than $20 (see Reference 3). Nasal irrigation can be done anytime. In fact, regular use of a neti pot may be more effective for nasal allergy and sinus symptoms than over-the-counter medications.
Over-the-counter drugs can help alleviate some of the discomfort associated with nasal congestion. Medicines known as analgesics reduce pain caused by sinus pressure. These medications include aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Antihistamines can dry excess mucus. Expectorant decongestants aid in removing excess mucus in the sinuses, lungs and ears. Over-the-counter nasal sprays can also relieve sinus congestion. However, they should not be used for more than several days because of the danger of dependency.
There are several prescription-strength medical treatments you can discuss with your doctor. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen, naproxen and acetaminophen come in prescription strengths. Your doctor can also prescribe oral antibiotics if a sinus infection is the cause of your congestion. Corticosteroid nasal sprays can also be used to reduce inflammation of the nasal passages (see Reference 1).
Environment and Diet
Some remedies for nasal congestion include altering your environment, including your dietary choices. Vaporizers are recommended for nasal congestion relief. The condensation in the air helps open the nasal passages. Menthol additives in the vaporizer can increase its effectiveness.
Some people find that eating spicy food may help clear the nasal passages. Ethnic foods known for their spiciness are also popular home remedies. Finding relief after eating spicy Mexican, Chinese or Indian dishes containing hot peppers is not uncommon (see Reference 2).
Surgery may be the last resort for someone who suffers from chronic nasal congestion, but would be useful only for people whose nasal congestion results from a deviated septum. Surgical repair of a deviated septum is called septoplasty, and is the only way to repair a deviated septum. During septoplasty, your septum is repositioned in the center of your nose. This may require the surgeon to cut and remove parts of your septum before reinserting it in the proper position (see Reference 3). The increased air flow improves nasal congestion symptoms.
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