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Blocked nose

Written by Healthwords's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 26.01.2023 | 2 min read

A blocked nose is the feeling that the nasal passages are congested or stuffy. Depending on the individual, a blocked nose can affect each person quite differently. A blocked nose can occur over a short period (acute) or a long period (chronic) of time, which is usually regarded as more than three months.

A blocked nose can occur with other symptoms which may give an indication of the cause. For example nasal discharge (rhinorrhoea), loss of sense of smell or taste (anosmia), sneezing and irritation, pain in the face or nasal bleeding. 

What causes a blocked nose?

There are many causes of a blocked nose. Injury from outside the nose can affect the middle partition of the nose (septum) causing deviation or lead to inflammation around the nose, which can affect breathing.

The inner layer of the nose can inflame and swell in reaction to short - or long-term infections, from the common cold to chronic sinusitis, allergies, irritants, medications such as steroid nasal sprays, or growths such as benign polyps or rarely cancerous tumours

How can I manage it myself?

Treatment and management depend on how much the symptoms affect your ability to carry out daily activities. If your symptoms are mild or short-lived, it may be worthwhile trying some home treatment remedies to relieve the blockage. Steam inhalation with menthol or eucalyptus vapours, nasal washouts with saline water, and sleeping in a humidified room may be helpful. Propping up your pillow at night when you sleep can also help open up the airways.

Caidr pharmacists' top tips

Your local pharmacist can advise on over-the-counter treatment options such as decongestant nasal sprays, saline nasal drops or antihistamine tablets if you suspect an allergy is the cause of your symptoms.

When should I see my doctor?

If your symptoms are persisting despite treatment, or they are accompanied by symptoms such as high fever, green or red nasal discharge or you have lung problems, you should speak to your doctor. If you have had any head injury you should seek urgent advice.

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and their duration and your medical history and they will examine your ear, nose and throat.

Depending on the findings they may prescribe you a course of steroid nasal sprays, antibiotics, stronger antihistamines or refer you for specialist input with an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor. 

An ENT doctor will do a thorough examination of your nasal passages and may arrange for blood tests, allergy tests, a camera probe or scans of your head for further assessment. They may also recommend further medication for you to try or surgery if necessary. 

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