Why is my nose blocked? What to do about congestion when you don’t have a cold.
Whether you’re trying to unwind before bed or enjoy a sunny day, dealing with a stuffy nose makes life feel harder than it should. And for many Americans, too often it comes without warning and leaves you reeling with questions. Could you be coming down with a cold? Wouldn’t there be other symptoms by now? With no sneezing, coughing, or sore throat to support the suspicion of the common cold, it can be frustrating to not know what’s causing your trouble breathing.
There are a number of factors that can lead to a blocked sensation in the nose. From diagnosable illnesses to plain facts of life, we’ve broken down a few of the most common culprits. The next time you find yourself asking “Why is my nose blocked?” consider these possibilities.
Your blocked nose could be from a sinus infection.
It could be the side effect of breathing in polluted air, or even a physiological response to eating inflammatory food; when the linings of the sinuses become inflamed, they can interrupt your body’s ability to clear mucus from the back of the nose and throat. This buildup can lead to infection in the sinuses.
Though sinusitis impacts almost 30 million Americans¹, every patient is unique. A sinus infection can be caused by a number of factors. Common causes of sinusitis include:
- Viral infection (cold or flu)
- Buildup of particles like dust, pollution, dander and mold
- Bacterial or fungal infection
- Structural challenges in the nasal anatomy caused by injury or sinonasal disorder
Often characterized by a difficulty breathing through the nose in conjunction with a variety of other symptoms, you may be able to narrow down the cause of your congestion to a sinus infection if your symptoms also include post nasal drip, facial swelling, dental pain, bad breath, and headache.
How to treat congestion caused by a sinus infection.
If you suspect a sinus infection, speak with your doctor about the right course of treatment. Depending on the cause and severity of the infection, they may recommend a nasal spray medication like a corticosteroid, antibiotic or antifungal. Ensure you’re delivering your prescribed or compounded medication deep enough to cover the affected area using a nasal nebulizer.
Could your nasal congestion be a symptom of a sinus infection? Learn more about the causes, symptoms, treatments, and prevention here.
Nasal congestion can be a symptom of allergies.
Depending on your body’s response to certain particles in the air, you could have allergies to blame for your stuffy nose. Contrary to popular belief, allergic rhinitis — or hay fever — isn’t strictly seasonal. In fact, allergens can be present seasonally like pollen or year-round like pet dander.
During pollen season, some of the easiest ways to reduce your exposure to allergens are the most practical. Prevent nasal congestion caused by pollen by staying indoors when the pollen count is at its peak, being sure to keep windows and doors closed.
Year-round allergens that can lead to allergic rhinitis include:
- Pet dander
- Dust mites
- Airborne irritants like chemical fragrances
Think your blocked nose is due to allergies? Get to know the causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention here.
Your nasal anatomy can impact your breathing.
If the blocked sensation in the nose feels more like a constant challenge than a short-term sequence of symptoms, there’s a chance you could have a nasal obstruction caused by a structural or lesional issue. Nasal obstruction caused by an anatomical blockage can include:
- Deviated septum
- Enlarged turbinates
- Nasal polyps
- Enlarged adenoids
- Nasal tumors
- Nasal valve disorder
These conditions can be a detriment to your overall health, as they compromise your ability to practice nasal breathing, which is optimal for respiratory system and overall health². A deviated septum is the most common structural abnormality³, but requires a physical examination to diagnose; consider if you have a history of traumas to the nose. If you suspect an abnormality in your nasal anatomy, consult a specialist.
Treatment options for anatomical challenges can include assessments to determine the severity of your nasal obstruction, at-home therapies like nasal hygiene, topical medications, and in-office treatments like surgery.
Blocked nose at night? It could be your sleeping conditions.
Do you find you have trouble breathing through your nose at night? Although this can be an annoyance, feeling an immediate blockage on one or both sides of your nose upon laying your head down to rest may be a signal that you need to make some adjustments.
First and foremost, it’s important to lay the foundation for a good night’s rest with a proper sleep hygiene routine⁴. This is the sequence of events and environmental factors that optimize your chances to go to bed feeling your best. Factors that can lead to a blocked nose at night include:
- Pet dander and dust in the bedroom
- Dry air
- Alcohol or caffeine before bed
- Poor sleeping position
- Lying down (change of blood pressure and gravity can increase blood flow to the head, resulting in congestion)
Treating a blocked nose at night starts with close examination of your sleeping environment. Once you’ve determined why your stuffy nose is worse at night, you should start a routine to minimize contact with irritants and develop practices that keep your nasal passages properly clean and hydrated. If necessary, seek treatment for any underlying disorders that might cause inflammation and sinus pressure.
You might have unhealthy indoor air
If your nose gets stuffy the minute you step foot inside, you might have an indoor air quality problem. You spend 90% of your time indoors, where concentrations of air pollutants can be two to five times more concentrated than they are outdoors⁵. Some common indoor air pollutants according to the American Lung Association include:
- Cleaning supplies and household chemicals
- Dust mites
- Gas appliances
- Bacteria and viruses
It’s important to look at your living conditions when treating nasal congestion at home. Opt to cut out irritants like heavily fragranced candles and room sprays, swap out your gas or wood-burning appliances, and minimize dust by cleaning and changing out home air filters regularly⁷.
Your blocked nose could be completely normal
The hard truth is that the human body doesn’t always perform at peak function. There are frustrating, yet unavoidable reasons for a blocked nose from time to time. It might be comforting to know that for many people, nighttime congestion is a fact of life, and there isn’t a perfect way to completely stop airborne particles from entering your nose. A nasal hygiene routine can help your nose stay healthy, but if your symptoms are persistent, it’s best to see a doctor and treat the root cause first.
¹Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic Sinusitis.
²Fort Worth ENT. Nasal Obstruction.
³ENT-Ear, Nose & Throat Journal. Nasal congestion: A review of its etiology, evaluation, and treatment.
⁴Sinus Solutions of South Florida. Why are my sinuses worse at night?
⁵United States Environmental Protection Agency. Indoor Air Quality.
⁶ ⁷American Lung Association. Indoor Air Pollutants and Health.