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How To Decongest When You're Stuffy

What's Causing Your Congestion?

Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology Profile Photo

Written by Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology on November 12, 2021

Nasal congestion is a typical symptom of many common ailments, including allergies, the flu, a cold, or other forms of illness or infection. Nasal congestion occurs when something, like an allergen, pollutant, or germ, irritates the nasal passages and causes the tissues to become inflamed.

A stuffy nose may also occur with a runny nose, and, together, these symptoms can be caused by many different types of irritants. Nasal congestion alone can be an unpleasant symptom, but when it occurs alongside other symptoms as part of an illness or infection, it can become even more of an inconvenience.

If you or your child are suffering from a stuffy nose, whether it be the result of allergies, a cold, or something more, you are likely looking for the quickest and most effective form of relief.

How Can I Figure Out What Is Causing My Congestion?

Treating your stuffy nose will largely depend on what is causing it in the first place. For example, treating a stuffy nose caused by allergies will entail different methods than treating a stuffy nose caused by the flu or another illness.

If you are experiencing a stuffy nose that does not improve, or one that worsens, despite using an appropriate method of treatment, your congestion may be more severe, or it may be the result of a more serious illness. In this case, you should consult your doctor to discuss your concerns. Your doctor will be able to work with you to get to the bottom of your symptoms as well as determine the best treatment to bring you relief.

However, most cases of nasal congestion are mild, and they can generally be resolved through the use of home remedies alongside over-the-counter medicine products.

Because congestion is a common symptom of many different forms of illness and even allergies, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out what is causing your symptoms in the first place. Since finding the correct method of treatment largely depends on the cause of your congestion, getting a diagnosis is often the first step towards finding relief, especially if you have no idea what might be causing your discomfort.

Congestion from allergies will often be accompanied by symptoms like itchy or watery eyes, an itchy nose, an itchy throat, and a dry cough. In general, itchiness is a telltale sign that your symptoms may be due to hay fever, or allergic rhinitis. On the other hand, congestion that is being caused by an infection may develop along with a fever, wet cough, sinus pain, or sore throat.

Nasal congestion can also be caused by structural issues in the nose, enlarged adenoids, or even changes in temperature and humidity.

Whenever you are not sure why your congestion is occurring, it is important to consult a doctor in order to make sure that it is nothing serious. If your congestion is being caused by a cold or another form of illness, starting the appropriate method of treatment as soon as possible may help shorten the duration of your symptoms and get you back on your feet more quickly.

Finding Relief: What You Need To Know About OTC Medicines

One of the most common ways to relieve congestion is to turn to over-the-counter medicines and remedies for help, with conventional over-the-counter decongestants being a common choice.

Decongestants like pseudoephedrine, are generally safe and effective as long as you are using them appropriately, and they work by reducing the swelling of the blood vessels in your nose.

However, conventional decongestants like pseudoephedrine can pose risks to your health if they are used incorrectly, or used for longer than is recommended. Decongestant nasal sprays that contain oxymetazoline may even end up making your symptoms worse if they are used for more than a few days consecutively.

So, what are you supposed to do? Turning to homeopathic OTC options may bring you relief with minimal risks, but it is still important for you to make sure you know what is causing your symptoms before you begin your search for a medicine product.

Taking decongestant OTC products can be helpful in any instance of congestion, but if your congestion is being caused by allergies, you may continue to experience it every time you come into contact with your allergen. Thus, congestion caused by allergies may be treated using allergy medications such as antihistamines.

Alternatively, congestion that is being caused by some form of illness may be effectively treated through the use of OTC cold remedies. However, you should not self-treat your symptoms with OTC cold medications until you have consulted a doctor to make sure your symptoms do not require prescription medication. You should also consult your doctor before you begin using any form of OTC medicine that you have never tried before, as your doctor is familiar with your medical history, and will be able to advise you regarding any risks that may be relevant to your situation.

When using OTC medicines containing decongestants, it is important to avoid taking more than one medicine containing the same active ingredient, and you should always make sure to carefully read the drug label on your medicine products for information regarding how to use your medicine properly and safely.

The drug label will include instructions for dosing and usage, as well as information about both the active and inactive ingredients included in the product. If you ever have questions or concerns about your medication after reading the label, you should consult your doctor for further guidance before using the product for the first time.

Finding Relief at Home: Home Remedies for Congestion

Aside from the use of over-the-counter products, there are also a few home remedies that may help bring you relief. Using home remedies alongside your OTC medicines may be an appropriate treatment option—just make sure to avoid combining similar medications unless your doctor has instructed you to do so.

Common home remedies for congestion include:

  • Staying hydrated. Drinking plenty of water and other fluids may work to thin and loosen the mucus in your nasal passages, thus making it easier for you to get rid of excess mucus when you blow your nose. Drinking warm fluids may also be effective, but you should avoid alcohol, coffee, and caffeinated sodas or other beverages while you are experiencing symptoms.
  • Getting plenty of rest if your congestion is a symptom of illness. Adequate rest allows your body to have the time it needs to replenish and repair itself.
  • Using over-the-counter saline sprays or drops may be effective at flushing mucus out of your nasal passages. You should look for saline products that contain only pure saline with no added medications, as medicated saline products may worsen your congestion if used for too many consecutive days.
  • Using a vaporizer or humidifier to add moisture into the air may make you feel more comfortable as dry air can further irritate your nasal passages and tissues.

If you are using the treatment option that your doctor has recommended, but you are not experiencing any improvements in your symptoms after a few days or a week, you should get back in touch with your doctor.

Additionally, if your symptoms worsen in spite of treatment, this is a sign that your congestion may be an indication of something more serious, and your doctor will work with you to find a treatment plan that works. Most cases of congestion are relatively mild and very treatable.

The Bottom Line

When you or your child end up with a bad case of congestion, the symptoms can become highly uncomfortable and inconvenient. Congestion can interfere with your ability to go about your daily tasks, and more severe cases of congestion can make it very difficult to breathe.

The proper method of treatment for your congestion largely depends on what is causing your symptoms in the first place. Congestion caused by allergies may be best treated through the use of over-the-counter allergy medications, such as antihistamines. On the other hand, congestion that is caused by a cold or mild case of the flu may be treated through the use of over-the-counter cold and flu medications containing decongestants.

Anytime you are not sure what is causing your symptoms, it is important to contact your doctor to get an appropriate diagnosis and begin the right method of treatment.