How to Get Rid of a Stuffy Nose

Women sitting on her couch covered in a blanket and blowing her nose.
  • Nasal congestion is a common condition that develops when the tissue in the lining of the nose becomes inflamed and swollen.

  • The swelling obstructs the normal airflow of the nasal passage, causing the nose to feel blocked or stuffy.

  • There are various methods for treating a stuffy nose, including using home remedies, taking over-the-counter medication, and making certain lifestyle changes.

  • Although nasal congestion is rarely cause for concern, it’s important to keep an eye on your condition and see a doctor if it doesn’t improve within a few weeks.

A stuffy nose is a condition that most Americans will experience more than once in their lifetimes — especially in the winter months when flu season rolls around.

It’s a symptom that can develop due to various causes, ranging from the common cold and allergies to structural issues in the nasal passages.

While a stuffy nose is usually only a minor inconvenience, knowing how to alleviate discomfort can help you prevent any long-term issues.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the common causes of nasal congestion, how to avoid them, and what you can do to clear a stuffy nose for good.

Why Does a Stuffy Nose Develop?

A stuffy nose — also known as nasal congestion — occurs when the tissue lining in the nose becomes swollen and inflamed due to dilated blood vessels.

When the lining becomes swollen, it obstructs the normal airflow of the nasal passages, which leads to the nose feeling blocked.

The inflammation that causes the swelling is often triggered by infections like the common cold, flu, allergies, or sinusitis.

If you have allergies or sinusitis, the body releases histamines, which cause the nasal tissue to swell and produce more mucus.

The mucus can also become infected, which can make nasal congestion worse.

When Does Nasal Congestion Become Chronic?

Although rare, nasal congestion can become chronic when it persists for longer than 12 weeks.

This can be caused by a variety of factors, including unaddressed allergies, prolonged exposure to irritants, and structural abnormalities in the nasal passages.

Unlike acute congestion — which is usually temporary and associated with colds or infections — a chronic stuffy nose is a long-term condition that may require extensive treatment.

How Do You Treat a Stuffy Nose?

Dealing with a stuffy nose can be an uncomfortable and frustrating process. Luckily, there are several methods to effectively alleviate symptoms and help treat nasal congestion.

Home remedies

Home remedies can offer a simple and natural approach to alleviate a stuffy nose. They usually provide a non-invasive way to clear nasal congestion and may include:

Steam inhalation: Inhaling steam helps to moisten the nasal passages and loosen mucus. You can take a hot shower or hold your head over a bowl of hot water, covering your head with a towel to trap the steam.

Using saline nasal sprays: A nasal saline spray helps to clear out the nasal passages by moistening the mucous membranes and reducing inflammation. You can make your own by mixing lukewarm water and salt together in a spray bottle.

Staying hydrated: Drinking plenty of fluids like water, herbal teas, and broths can help to thin the mucus, making it easier to reduce symptoms of a sinus infection.

Using a warm compress: Applying a warm compress over the nose and forehead can help relieve nasal congestion by opening the nasal passages. To make your own, soak a cloth in warm water and apply it to the affected area.

Try an elevated sleeping position: Sleeping with your head elevated can prevent mucus from blocking your nose and help you breathe more comfortably.

Over-the-counter (OTC) solutions

OTC medications can help relieve a stuffy nose quickly and are usually recommended for more severe cases of nasal congestion. Your doctor may recommend the following options:

Decongestant sprays and tablets: OTC decongestants — like oxymetazoline or pseudoephedrine — provide quick relief by shrinking the blood vessels in the nasal passages and reducing blockages. However, they shouldn’t be used for more than a few consecutive days, as this may lead to other complications.

Antihistamines: If your stuffy nose is due to allergic reactions, antihistamines can be effective. They work by blocking the action of histamine, which causes allergy symptoms like congestion.

Pain relievers: Nasal congestion may be accompanied by pain around the forehead, eyes, and nose. OTC pain relievers — like acetaminophen or ibuprofen — can provide relief from this discomfort.

Lifestyle adjustments

Nasal congestion can often be caused by lifestyle factors — such as living in a dry environment or being around dust. Making a few adjustments can help you combat these factors and relieve a stuffy nose:

Consider using a cool mist humidifier: Using a humidifier in your home can add moisture to the air, which helps to prevent nasal passages from drying out and becoming congested.

Avoid irritants: Steering clear of irritants — like tobacco smoke, strong perfumes, and dust — can reduce the likelihood of nasal congestion.

Adjust your diet: Some people find relief by avoiding certain items that can trigger congestion, such as dairy products or spicy foods. Adding anti-inflammatory foods like ginger, garlic, and turmeric to your diet may also help relieve some symptoms.

Clean your home: Regularly cleaning your living space to remove allergens — like dust, pet dander, and mold — can significantly reduce nasal congestion issues, especially for allergy sufferers.

Key Point: Can You Get Surgery to Treat a Stuffy Nose?

Undergoing surgical procedures can be an option for treating chronic nasal congestion — especially when it’s caused by structural issues in the nose.

These procedures often include correcting problematic structures or removing nasal polyps to improve airflow and relieve a congested nose.

It’s important to note that surgery is typically only considered when other treatments have failed to provide relief. Even then, there’s no guarantee that these procedures will be effective.

Can You Prevent a Stuffy Nose?

Preventing a stuffy nose involves understanding and addressing the underlying cause.

Although these causes may not always be preventable — especially if the congestion is caused by viruses — there are several proactive measures you can take to avoid nasal congestion:

Stay hydrated: Keeping your body well-hydrated helps to ensure that the mucus in your nasal passages remains thin and less likely to block your nose. You can increase your fluid intake by drinking more water or opting for herbal teas and broths.

Practice good hygiene: Viruses that cause colds and flu are a common culprit behind stuffy noses. Regularly washing your hands, using sanitisers, and avoiding touching your face can significantly reduce your chances of catching these viruses and developing a stuffy nose.

Manage allergies: If allergies are the cause of your stuffy nose, identifying and avoiding them is crucial. You can also use an air purifier to keep common allergens — like dust and mold — at bay in your home.

Make healthy lifestyle choices: A strong immune system can prevent viruses and bacteria that cause stuffy noses. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle through a balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep is essential for supporting your immune system.

Consider getting vaccinated: Staying up to date with vaccinations — like the flu vaccine — can reduce your risk of illnesses that lead to nasal congestion.

When Should You See a Doctor about a Stuffy Nose?

While a stuffy nose is usually a minor and temporary feeling of discomfort, there are certain situations where it’s recommended to see your doctor. These may include:

Experiencing prolonged nasal congestion: If your stuffy nose persists for more than 10 days without improvement, it could indicate a more serious condition, such as sinus congestion or chronic rhinitis.

Developing severe symptoms: Intense nasal congestion that interferes with your breathing, sleeping, or daily activities — especially if it's not responding to OTC treatments — may also be a sign of a more severe infection.

Having a high fever: A stuffy nose accompanied by a high fever may suggest a bacterial infection or flu, which usually requires medical intervention.

Having green or yellow nasal discharge: While some clear nasal discharge is normal, a stuffy nose with discolored discharge could be a sign of a bacterial infection.

Experiencing facial pain or pressure: If you experience significant sinus pain or pressure in your face around the sinuses, it could indicate sinusitis, which may require medical treatment.

Having bloody nasal discharge: The presence of blood in your nasal discharge, especially if persistent, is a cause for concern and should be evaluated by a doctor.

Having existing health issues: If you have underlying health conditions — such as asthma, heart conditions, or immune system disorders — a stuffy nose could cause complications. It’s recommended to see your doctor to discuss a safe treatment regime.

Developing unusual symptoms: Any unusual symptoms — such as a loss of sense of smell, severe headache, or vision problems — in addition to nasal congestion should be promptly evaluated by a healthcare provider.

It’s also recommended to see your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your stuffy nose.

They can give you professional advice and recommendations to help you treat and overcome nasal congestion.

Where Can You Learn More about Treating a Stuffy Nose and Similar Conditions?

If you’re concerned about your symptoms or want to know more about treating a stuffy nose, LifeMD is here to help.

A team of medical professionals can assist you with information and provide guidance on managing nasal congestion while avoiding further complications.

Make an appointment with LifeMD today to learn more about treating a stuffy nose — all from the comfort of your home.

Dina Whiteaker, APRN

Dina earned her MSN from the University of Nebraska Medical Center before becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner. She has 10ᐩ years of telemedicine experience. Dina is board certified and is a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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