Causes of Congestion: A List of Symptoms and Treatments

Dealing with Congestion: Causes and Treatments

Causes of Congestion

Congestion can make it feel like you can’t breathe through your nose. The pain, pressure, and feelings of stuffiness in your nose, eyes, and face can be uncomfortable and interrupt your day if severe enough. Several conditions can cause congestion but typically, congestion results from inflammation, allergic reactions, or other causes. The lining of your sinuses and nose is sensitive to infection due to viruses and bacteria. When inflamed, the mucosa of your sinuses releases mucus and swells, causing congestion and potentially leading to an infection. Infection in the sinuses makes it more difficult for them to drain, causing feelings of pressure or pain in the face and sinuses. While congestion can be treated with over-the-counter medications, saline rinses, and home remedies, occasionally, the underlying reasons (the causes of congestion) need to be addressed to provide lasting relief.

What are the Causes of Congestion?

The Common Cold

The common cold is a viral infection in the sinuses and upper respiratory tract, which includes the sinuses, nose, mouth, and throat. Common symptoms include; Congestion, runny nose, sneezing, and sore, itchy throat. Because there are hundreds of viruses that can cause infection, typically, the specific virus behind a cold remains undiscovered. The common cold usually improves quickly as the immune system removes the infection. The most common treatment for the common cold is over-the-counter decongestants to help alleviate symptoms.


Influenza, also known as the flu, is an infectious respiratory condition caused by the influenza virus. It can disseminate through the air by sneezing, coughing, or talking. It can also spread through contaminated surfaces. Everyone can contract the flu; however, young children, people over 65, or patients with a medical condition are the most vulnerable to infection. Symptoms vary from minor colds in severity. Along with congestion, runny nose, and sore throat, influenza also brings fever, fatigue, tiredness, and body aches. The best treatment options are plenty of rest, adequate hydration, and over-the-counter pain relief.

Allergic Rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis happens when you are allergic to something in your surroundings. Seasonal allergies are caused by organic sources like pollen from grass, trees, and weeds becoming worse during certain times of the year. Environmental and indoor allergies such as dust mites, molds, and animal dander are more consistent. Common symptoms of an allergy attack include sneezing, congestion, postnasal drip, and itchy, watery eyes and nose. Allergies typically begin in early childhood though they can begin at any age. They are usually expected if your family has a history of allergy ailments. Allergies are generally managed with medications and lessening exposure to allergens when possible.

Non-Allergic Rhinitis

Rhinitis is the clinical name for inflammation of the nose. Non-allergic rhinitis results from an event other than allergies, illnesses, or drug side effects. There are numerous causes of non-allergic rhinitis. It could result from an abnormal response to exposure to things like chemical odors, cold temperatures, and spicy foods, triggering inflammatory reactions and congestion in the sinuses. Typically, it’s more common for patients with non-allergic rhinitis to experience postnasal drip and congestion with minimal sneezing and eye irritation symptoms. Due to the varied nature of the trigger events, it is much harder to treat non-allergic rhinitis with medical therapy. However, nasal medications like steroids and antihistamines have been known to help alleviate symptoms.

Sinus Infections

Sinus infections, also known as acute rhinosinusitis, occur when bacteria or viruses infect the sinus cavities. It is due to the same viruses that can cause the common cold. However, infections from viruses and bacteria can be challenging to differentiate. Despite having different micro-organic causes, viral and bacterial infections share the same symptoms. They include; nasal congestion, pressure behind the face and nose, pain in the upper jaw and teeth, dark yellow or green mucus and discharge from the nose, diminished sense of smell, headache, fever, persistent cough, ringing in the ears, stuffy ears, dizziness, and fatigue. Minor viral infections ordinarily last less than ten days and clear up with plenty of rest and hydration. On the other hand, bacterial infections may improve at first and then become worse, lasting longer than two weeks, and should be treated with antibiotics.

Chronic Rhinosinusitis

Chronic sinusitis is diagnosed when the sinus passages become and stay swollen and inflamed for over twelve weeks. The symptoms of chronic rhinosinusitis are identical to regular sinus infections. The critical difference is the length of time that symptoms persist. There are several reasons why this condition could become chronic, drug side effects, complications with allergies, physical injury, and structural issues.

Treatment Options

Most remedies for minor conditions that result in congestion are available at home or over the counter. Rest and plenty of fluid will help, along with pain relievers, decongestants, or allergy medications. Make sure to read directions carefully, as overuse can further exacerbate issues.

When to Seek Medical Treatment

When seeking treatment for congestion, time is a crucial factor. Since minor conditions clear up within two weeks, waiting that long is the first condition to consider. The severity and other problems that complicate the issue should also be considered, such as fever, physical injury, or side effects from the use of medications. For underlying anatomic issues, an otolaryngologist is needed for a complete evaluation.

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