What is nasal congestion?
Nasal congestion occurs when the nose becomes blocked. This occurs when the tissues lining the nose become swollen as a result of inflammation in the blood vessels. The swelling of the membrane covering the nose creates an obstruction that causes difficulty in breathing through the nostrils. In other words, as a consequence of the dilation of the large blood vessels (or veins) in the nose, the volume of the nasal cavity is reduced and, therefore, the flow of air is reduced.
A cold, flu, allergies or rhinitis can cause nasal congestion.
Nasal congestion itself may not seem very serious but it can lead to other problems and sequelae, leading to other pathologies. Thus, the patient may suffer from sinusitis, otitis media and sleep disorders. They may also suffer, in some cases, obstructive sleep apnea, as the patient is unable to breathe when lying flat. All this will affect the patient’s quality of life.
In addition, it can seriously affect certain professional groups, due to the fact of not being able to breathe properly, also influencing their performance. Some of them are elite athletes, professionals in oenology, gastronomy and perfumery, or people dedicated to the performing arts and communication, i.e. actors and journalists.
Symptoms of nasal congestion
The symptoms of nasal congestion can be varied. The most common are runny nose, stuffy nose, pain in the forehead and under the eyes. It is also common to feel tired and have difficulty breathing air through the nose. The most common process when nasal congestion occurs is:
- The patient begins to feel discomfort in the pharynx.
- Then the nasal congestion itself appears, with clear, runny nasal fluid, which, in the following days, may turn a dirtier color and become thicker.
- The congestion will cause other problems, such as difficulty breathing and getting a good night’s rest, affecting the general well-being of the body and the patient.
- Other symptoms will be rhinorrhea or excessive nasal discharge and, if the mucus runs down the throat, it may cause a sore throat and cough.
Medical tests for nasal congestion
The primary care physician will perform appropriate tests to evaluate the patient’s nasal packing. In addition, allergy tests, respiratory function tests or spirometry and even a stress test may be necessary.
What are the causes of nasal congestion?
Nasal congestion is usually caused by a virus or bacteria, or by allergens (such as dust or pollen) whose origin can be due to several factors:
- Common cold
- Sinus infection
- Allergic rhinitis
- Excessive use of nasal drops or sprays
- Nasal polyps
- Vasomotor rhinitis
Can it be prevented?
Nasal congestion can be avoided by maintaining good hygiene practices, especially in the case of congestion caused by cold or flu viruses. It is recommended to wash hands frequently, avoid sharing utensils and glasses, use alcohol-based hand sanitizers and avoid direct contact with sick people.
If the nasal congestion is due to an allergy, it is advisable to avoid these allergens, as they will irritate the nasal passages.
Treatments for nasal congestion
There is no fixed treatment for nasal congestion, although it will be the ENT specialist who will evaluate the patient’s case and establish the best treatment. Some measures to avoid nasal congestion may be:
- Nasal washes with warm water and salt. It is a remedy that removes excess mucus and secretions from the sinuses, unclogging the nose. In addition, the salt allows eliminating bacteria that may be worsening the secretions. It is a procedure more recommended for adults, as it can be a bit uncomfortable for children.
- Inhalation of eucalyptus vapor. It is a procedure that does not cause discomfort, so it can also be used in children. The steam makes the secretions more fluid and the eucalyptus will serve as a decongestant, thus unclogging the nose.
- Humidifying the environment. Humidifying the air helps to moisturize the tissues of the airways, thus improving the irritation and discomfort of stuffiness, as well as facilitating the expulsion of nasal secretion. Humidifiers can be used or a bucket of warm water can be placed in the room, among other measures.
- Drink 2-3 liters of water a day. It is very important to drink water so that nasal secretions are more liquid and easier to eliminate. In addition to water, tea, jelly, juices or soups can also be included in the diet.
- Intake of foods with vitamin C. Vitamin C stimulates the immune system and strengthens it, preventing the body from colds and flu, or helping it to recover faster (thus avoiding nasal packing). Some foods rich in vitamin C are pineapple, lemon, orange, strawberries, tangerine or kiwis.
Thus, the important processes to take into account if nasal congestion lasts more than a week are:
- Keep the mucus thinned so that it can be drained. Drinking fluids and, if necessary, applying a warm, damp cloth to the face, as well as inhaling vapors, will help a lot.
- Remove mucus with nasal washes. The warm water and salt technique is useful, as are sprays. The purpose is to drive the mucus to the back of the nose and throat to expel it. It is recommended to perform it in the following way: lying down or standing up, with the head tilted backwards and, while inhaling the serum in one nostril (closing the other one with the finger), make a deep inspiration. Then cough or spit the secretions through the mouth.
- Blowing the nose correctly. To do this, it is recommended to blow your nose by plugging one nostril and blowing out the other side. The procedure should be alternated between nostrils in order to empty the nose effectively.
- Avoid worsening of congestion when lying down. To achieve this, it is recommended that the patient remain in an upright position (as far as possible), and the head should be raised. In some cases decongestant adhesive strips are recommended to facilitate breathing.
If necessary, the specialist will recommend anti-flu medication, antihistamines, nasal sprays and, in severe cases of functional problems or nasal deformities, a functional rhinoplasty, rhinoseptoplasty or septoplasty may be appropriate.
Which specialist treats it?
The specialist who treats nasal congestion is the otolaryngologist. Specifically, he/she must be a great expert in nasal problems, being able to perform a multidisciplinary approach to the pathology suffered by the patient.