Though the common cold is typically no major threat to your health, it does come along with a variety of uncomfortable symptoms that can interfere with your daily life. Among those, nasal congestion can be one of the most unpleasant and aggravating side effects of a cold. In this article, explore how nasal congestion occurs and the best ways to treat it effectively.
What is Nasal Congestion?
When most people get the common cold, they have a runny nose and often the mucus from their nose becomes thicker. However, contrary to popular belief, it isn't the additional, thicker mucus that causes nasal congestion. In fact, in most cases the congestion stems from swelling in the tissues lining the nasal passages. This swelling comes from blood vessels that have become inflamed in reaction to the cold.
Although a cold is the most common cause of nasal congestion, the flu, a sinus infection or allergies may cause this condition. Despite it being a generally harmless side effect, nasal congestion can interfere with hearing or sleep patterns. In babies and small children, nasal congestion can potentially interfere with breastfeeding or speech development if the condition does not go away within a reasonable period of time.
Ways to Treat Nasal Congestion
Nasal congestion generally goes away on its own within a week, but there are several things you can do to either speed up that recovery or to lessen the symptoms of this condition. Those remedies include:
- Use a humidifier: Although some people think that drying out their nasal passages will help with a runny nose, it actually makes nasal congestion worse since it causes more tissue irritation. Use a humidifier or a vaporizer to keep your nasal passages moist. You can also breathe in steam from a pot on the stove or take a long, hot shower. The moist air prevents your nasal passages from becoming more irritated and helps reduce the swelling.
- Drink lots of fluids: Because the mucus gets thicker with nasal congestion, you should drink plenty of fluids to help thin out the mucus. This also prevents the sinuses and nasal passages from becoming more blocked up and irritated. Water, broth, hot tea and juice are all good choices for this category. Avoid coffee, soda and alcohol, as these will cause you to become dehydrated and may worsen the irritation in your nasal passages.
- Use a saline nasal spray: Regular salt water can work wonders on your nasal congestion. Simply spray this into your nose and it will help keep your nasal passages moist. It may also be helpful to use saline water in a neti pot or other device to flush out the nasal passages when they feel congested.
- Lie down on an angle: Prop yourself up slightly when you lie down to go to sleep at night. The angle will help drain your nasal passages more effectively and will make it easier to breathe and fall asleep.
- Take over-the-counter drugs: Many OTC medications are available to help treat nasal congestion. Decongestants are helpful for clearing up stuffiness and reducing swelling in the nasal passages. You can also take antihistamines or other allergy medications if your nasal congestion is a result of allergies or hay fever. If you are also experiencing sinus pressure along with your congestion, consider taking an OTC painkiller like Tylenol or Advil.
If you continue to have nasal congestion after a week or two, see a doctor immediately since this is an indication that your symptoms are likely the result of something more serious than the common cold. Furthermore, if you experience blurred vision, throat pain, sever coughing episodes or swelling in your forehead or cheeks along with your congestion, see a doctor right away; these may be indications of a more serious condition.
Treatments to Avoid
Although there are plenty of cold and nasal congestion remedies available, you should be aware of a couple of treatments that are not effective for most cases of nasal congestion. The first is antibiotics. Remember that the common cold is a virus, so antibiotics (which are intended to kill bacteria) are typically ineffective for treating colds or nasal congestion. Plus, using antibiotics when it's unnecessary could potentially lead your body to foster antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which could be dangerous down the road.
Next, it's important to remember that over-the-counter medications are not suitable for everyone suffering from nasal congestion. The same cold medications that adults use could potentially be harmful to children, so make sure that you do not give these medications to children under four. If your child is a little older than that, it's still a good idea to ask your doctor before administering medication to a young child since the side effects of these medications in older children is still unknown in many cases.