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Nasal Congestion: What Causes It?

Medically reviewed by Elfred Landas, MD · General Practitioner · Maxicare Primary Care Center

Written by Kip Soliva · Updated Feb 15, 2021

    Nasal Congestion: What Causes It?

    Nasal congestion is a common symptom in patients experiencing respiratory conditions like the flu or rhinitis. It is an instance of blockages in how air travels through the nasal passages. As a result, nasal congestion can be very uncomfortable and make it difficult for some to fulfill certain tasks. In this article, we discuss what causes nasal congestion and home remedies for the condition. 

    What causes nasal congestion

    The feeling of congestion indicates that something is blocking the nasal airways. Usually, this is due to tissue swelling, an increase in nasal secretions, and even changes to the nasal passage structures. As a result, the patient can experience a temporary loss of smell. 

    Common causes of nasal congestion include:

    Flu. A.k.a. influenza, the flu is a viral infection that attacks the throat, lungs and nose. Nasal congestion is a common symptom of the flu.

    Common Cold. A less severe viral infection of the respiratory system, the common cold can cause nasal congestion. 

    Sinus Infection. A.k.a. acute sinusitis, this condition causes inflammation and swelling in the sinuses or spaces inside the nose. 

    Additionally, other causes of nasal congestion are:

    How to treat nasal congestion

    Treatment for mild cases include over-the-counter medicines and home remedies, depending on the cause or causes of nasal congestion. However, medical assistance is necessary for severe cases of respiratory infections.

    Over-the-counter medicines

    There are many medicines that can help deal with nasal congestion. While it depends on the type and amount needed, decongestants like nasal sprays, Phenylephrine, Oxymetazoline, and Pseudoephedrine are available for purchase without a prescription. Additionally, those with nasal congestion due to allergies can use antihistamines to relieve discomfort.

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    Home remedies for nasal congestion

    Generally, home treatment for nasal congestion prioritizes rehydration to keep a patient’s nasal passages and sinuses moist and healthy. Take note of the following:

  • Consider using a humidifier at home and drinking lots of fluid to rehydrate the sinuses
  • Try steam inhalation from a pot of warm water
  • Apply nasal saline spray when necessary (avoid overuse)
  • Apply a warm and wet towel to one’s face to relieve tension and loosen up one’s nasal passage
  • Rest with one’s head elevated to promote comfortable breathing
  • While it is true that most cases of nasal congestion go away after a few days, these home remedies are effective in mitigating the discomfort of nasal congestion. As a general rule, it is best to consult a doctor before attempting home remedies. 

    Professional medical assistance

    After the patient exhausts all other methods of treatment for nasal congestion, or when they simply cannot pinpoint what causes their nasal congestion, professional medical help becomes necessary. This is particularly true if one’s symptoms are caused by an underlying health condition.

    Generally, one can seek medical help if any of the following events occur:

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    Key takeaway

    The flu, common cold, and sinus infections are common causes of nasal congestion. Allergic rhinitis, nasal polyps, and overuse of nasal sprays can also cause the condition. It is also good to keep in mind that nasal congestion usually goes away after a few days.

    There are over-the-counter medications and home remedies that can address nasal congestion, though it is best to seek out professional medical assistance when the congestion is caused by a more serious condition.

    Learn more about Ear, Nose, and Throat here. 


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Elfred Landas, MD

    General Practitioner · Maxicare Primary Care Center

    Written by Kip Soliva · Updated Feb 15, 2021

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