Nasal congestion

Are you suffering from nasal congestion – but not from a cold? It could be an allergy!

Nasal congestion can be problematic - especially if your symptoms are prolonged, forcing you to breathe through your mouth from even the smallest physical effort. Not to mention when you are going to sleep! Nasal congestion is usually associated with colds, but if you in addition to the congested nose suffer from nose run with clear mucus and repeated sneezing attacks, it is very possible that what you have is allergic rhinitis, or hay fever.   Most people with hay fever are also experiencing problems with itchy, red and watery eyes.

Even if you are otherwise healthy, you should not ignore your nasal congestion. Of all allergic symptoms, the congested nose is the one affecting the quality of life the most, given it is common to have sleeping problems with a congested nose.  Contact your doctor if you are unsure of whether you are suffering from a cold or an allergy - it is important to find out what is causing your nasal congestion. A doctor will be able to give you a proper allergy examination and help you find a treatment that suits you, if the result shows that you are allergic.

Constant- or temporary nasal congestion?

If hay fever is the cause of your nasal congestion, you are suffering from an inflammation making the mucous membranes of the nose swell. Hay fever can be both seasonal or last all year round and is caused by airborne allergens. Pollen from birch and grass is the most common cause of seasonal nasal congestion. The allergic problems can get worse during the blooming time of the pollen, and that is when a lot of people who are allergic, in addition to their usual symptoms, also suffer from abnormal tiredness. Rhinitis that lasts all year round (perennial rhinitis) is often caused by allergies to pets or dust mites. There is also non-allergic rhinitis, triggered by tobacco smoke, perfumes, temperature changes, strong smells, air pollution and other environmental factors. Nasal congestion may also appear after long time use of common nasal sprays for colds, since prolonged use of them reverses the effect. Pregnant women may also experience prolonged nasal congestion without being allergic, because of the hormonal changes making the mucous membrane of the nose swell.

Nasal congestion treatment

If you have tried ordinary nasal drops with deswelling effects and nasal spray for your congested nose without seeing any results, or if you have been congested for several weeks, it may be that your problems are caused by an allergy. In case of that, contact health care centre, so that a doctor can give you a full allergy examination. The tests performed by the doctor will show if your stuffy nose is caused by non-allergic or allergic rhinitis and in case of the latter, what you are allergic to. Both conditions are treated by trying to soften the inflammation and prevent chronic problems:


  • Avoid the allergens that cause your nasal congestion as much as possible.
  • Avoid tobacco smoke
  • Sleep with your head slightly raised by, for example, using an extra pillow. The pressure on the membrane in your nose will ease, and you will feel better
  • Cleanse your nose using water or saline solution in order to get rid of allergens that are stuck in your nasal tract
  • Antihistamine tablets are recommended for hay fever, but show limited effect on nasal congestion
  • Nasal spray containing cortisone softens the inflammation in the mucous membrane of the nose, and usually has a good effect on a congested nose. In addition, there are nasal sprays containing both antihistamines and corticosteroid similar medicines, alleviating the congested nose even more effectively
  • If your problems are severe you could try taking cortisone tablets during a shorter period of time if nothing else is helping
  • If your allergy is serious and no medicines are helping, you may be offered immunotherapy (allergy vaccine therapy). So far there are only effective vaccines to a few allergens, such as grass, birch, mugwort, cats, bees, wasps and dust mites

UK/GEN/15/0057d                  Date of preparation: December 2015 

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