Treatment of Nasal Congestion

Nasal congestion is a condition characterized by inflamed tissues in the nose that restrict normal airflow. It has a number of potential causes, including allergies, cold and flu viruses, sinus infection and overuse of certain nasal medications. While nasal congestion in adults is typically a minor inconvenience, in infants it can lead to life-threatening breathing complications. Treatment for the condition varies with the age of the patient and the severity of symptoms.

Treating Adults

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the average bout of nasal congestion resolves on its own in roughly 7 days. Common treatment options will not shorten this time span, but they can provide some relief in the interim. To ease your symptoms, you may purchase over-the-counter decongestants or antihistamines. If you use a decongestant, be aware that the product will help relieve stuffiness, but will not help a runny nose. Also be aware that decongestant use for more than 3 days can actually worsen your congestion. Many products simultaneously address more than one condition, so make sure you read ingredient lists thoroughly to avoid overmedication. If you suffer from congestion related to allergies, you may benefit from consultation with an allergy specialist.

As an alternative to medications, you may gain significant relief from use of non-medicated saline nasal spray or drops, as well as a vaporizer or humidifier. You may also gain some relief by increasing your fluid intake, including broth or hot tea.

Several signs associated with your nasal congestion indicate a need for a doctor’s intervention. These include symptoms that persist for 10 days or longer, sinus pain, fever lasting 3 days or longer, and the presence of green, gray or bloody nasal discharge. You should also see a doctor if you suffer from asthma or emphysema or take medications that suppress your immune system.

Treating Children

If your infant suffers from nasal congestion, monitor any symptoms closely. Babies breathe primarily through their nostrils, and relatively minor disruptions can lead to difficulties. In some cases, older children with congestion related to swollen adenoids (lymph tissue in the nose) suffer from sleep apnea, which can lead to a particular form of heart failure.

Contact your doctor if your infant is less than 2 months old and suffers from congestion accompanied by a fever. You should also see a doctor if congestion interferes with breathing or feeding. Prior to your child’s appointment, you can use a rubber suction bulb to clear any mucus and help keep an open airway. Thick or sticky mucus can be loosened with a couple of saline drops. Make sure not to introduce anything into your child’s nose that can block nasal passages, including tissue or cotton swabs.

If your older child is congested, follow the same treatment guidelines as you would for an adult. If you use medications to ease symptoms, make sure they are age-appropriate.