Condition: Blocked Nose

The feeling that your nose is blocked is often referred to as nasal obstruction, a stuffy nose or nasal congestion. Patients are affected by nasal obstruction in different ways. Click here to find out more.

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What is
a blocked nose?

The feeling that your nose is blocked is often referred to as nasal obstruction, a stuffy nose or nasal congestion. Patients are affected by nasal obstruction in different ways – some may find a mild nasal blockage causes them trouble, while others can live with quite severe nasal obstruction without significant impact on their daily activities. This will be taken into account by your consultant when developing a treatment plan.

What are the
causes of a blocked nose?

Nasal obstruction can be caused by swelling of the lining of the inside of the nose or problems with the shape of the inside of the nose.

Swelling of the lining of the inside of the nose

The lining of the nose is a thin mucous membrane which can sometimes swell, causing blockage. Doctors refer to this swelling as ‘rhinitis’ and it is also a symptom of the common cold in which the lining swells as a response to viral infection. Rhinitis may also be caused by bacterial infection in the nose and sinuses, allergy or overuse of nasal decongestant medication. It is possible for the mucous membrane to occasionally swell enough to cause nasal polyps to form.

Problems with the shape of the inside of the nose

This can be caused by twisting of the nasal septum (the middle partition of the nose) or weakness of the outside of the nose. Nasal obstruction can also sometimes be caused by other structures becoming enlarged, such as the adenoids (glands in the roof of the mouth).

How is a
blocked nose diagnosed?

Diagnosis will begin with your doctor asking questions about your symptoms to narrow down the cause. They will then examine your nose with a head light or, if necessary, an endoscope (a thin tube with a light and/or camera on the end). This should not be painful but may cause slight discomfort.

There may be some occasions on which your doctor will carry out other tests such as blood tests, skin tests (for allergies) or a CT scan.

Nasal obstruction may be accompanied by other symptoms like rhinorrhoea (nasal discharge that drips from either the front of the nose or into the back of the throat i.e. catarrh), facial pain, loss of sense of smell (anosmia), sneezing, itching and crusting. If so, this could help with diagnosis of certain conditions.

How is a
blocked nose treated?

Treatment will depend on the cause and severity of your symptoms. In mild cases, you may not need to see a doctor for treatment for your nasal obstruction. An over the counter medication such as a decongestant nasal spray can be used to treat symptoms that only last for a few days or up to 2 weeks. However, these should not be used as a long-term solution. Other options can be to breathe in steam, or vapours such as menthol and eucalyptus. Thick sticky mucus in your nose can be washed away using saline drops or sprays available from your local pharmacy.

If your symptoms are caused by a seasonal allergy, antihistamine tablets may help, or if you decide to visit your GP you may be prescribed a steroid nasal spray.

Intranasal steroid spray, antihistamines or decongestants may also be prescribed by your doctor if the cause of your symptoms is found to be rhinitis. It may be necessary to take the prescribed medicine for several weeks to achieve an improvement in symptoms. Your doctor may arrange to follow up with you after several weeks / months to monitor your progress.

An operation may be recommended in cases where the nasal obstruction cannot be treated by, or does not respond to, medication. Operations include:

  • Septoplasty to straighten the nasal septum
  • Rhinoplasty to straighten the outside of the nose
  • Turbinate surgery to reduce the swollen folds of mucous membrane
  • Sinus surgery for blockages caused by persistent or recurrent infection
  • Adenoidectomy for removal of enlarged adenoids
  • Removal of polyps

The method of surgery chosen will depend on the cause of your nasal obstruction.