You may experience nasal congestion due to a viral illness like the flu. But if it lasts longer, it may indicate an underlying health condition, such as allergies or enlarged adenoids.

Nasal congestion, also called a stuffy nose, is often a symptom of another health problem such as a sinus infection. It may also be caused by the common cold.

Nasal congestion is marked by:

  • a stuffy or runny nose
  • sinus pain
  • mucus buildup
  • swollen nasal tissue

Home remedies may be enough to alleviate nasal congestion, particularly if it’s caused by the common cold. However, if you experience long-term congestion, you may need medical treatment.

Congestion is when your nose becomes stuffed up and inflamed. Minor illnesses are the most common causes of nasal congestion. For instance, a cold, the flu, and sinus infections can all cause stuffy noses. Illness-related congestion usually improves within 1-2 weeks.

If it lasts longer than 10-14 days, it’s often a symptom of an underlying health issue. Some explanations for long-term nasal congestion may be:

Nasal congestion may also occur during pregnancy, usually during the end of the first trimester. Hormonal fluctuations and increased blood supply that occur during pregnancy may cause this nasal congestion.

These changes may affect the nasal membranes, causing them to become inflamed, dry, or to bleed.

Home remedies can help when you’re experiencing nasal congestion.

Humidifiers that add moisture to the air may help to break up mucus and soothe inflamed nasal passageways. However, if you have asthma, ask a doctor before using a humidifier.

Propping your head up on pillows can also encourage mucus to flow out of your nasal passages.

Saline sprays are safe for all ages, but for babies you might choose to use an aspirator, or nasal bulb, afterward, depending on how well the saline flushes out the nasal passages. An aspirator is used to remove any remaining mucus from the baby’s nose.

Neti pot

A neti pot is a type of nasal irrigation device that is designed to help flush mucus from the nasal cavity using a saline solution.

In addition to a neti pot, nasal irrigation devices are also commonly available as squeeze bottles, which some people may find easier to use.

These devices are often used to clear congestion and reduce inflammation, which may be beneficial for those with allergies or an upper respiratory infection.

Keep in mind that you should only use filtered or distilled water, as using tap water could increase the risk of infection.

Additionally, be sure to clean your neti pot or nasal irrigation device thoroughly after each use, replace it regularly, and talk to a doctor before using the device on children.

After a doctor has determined the cause of chronic nasal congestion, they can recommend a treatment plan. Treatment plans often include over-the-counter or prescription medication to resolve or alleviate symptoms.

Medications used to treat nasal congestion include:

Keep in mind that certain nasal decongestant sprays, such as Afrin, should not be used for more than 3 days in a row, as it could cause nasal congestion to recur or worsen.

If you have nasal polyps in your nasal passages or sinuses that are keeping mucus from draining out, a doctor might prescribe oral steroids, allergy medications, steroid rinses, or biologics to help relieve symptoms. In some cases, a doctor may also recommend surgery to remove them.

If there are tumors in your nasal passages, a doctor might perform a biopsy to determine if they are malignant and may recommend surgery for removal.

Surgery may also be recommended for a deviated septum if other treatment methods are unable to relieve symptoms.

Sometimes, home remedies aren’t enough to relieve congestion, particularly if your symptoms are caused by another health condition.

In this case, medical treatment may be needed, especially if your condition is painful and interfering with your everyday activities.

If you’ve experienced any of the following, see a doctor right away:

You should also see a doctor right away if you’ve had a recent head injury and are now having bloody nasal discharge or a constant flow of clear discharge.

If you need help finding a primary care doctor, then check out our FindCare tool here.

Nasal congestion is a common issue in children and infants. However, because infants breathe mostly through their nose during the first few months of life, nasal congestion could potentially interfere with feeding and cause breathing issues, though this is uncommon.

For these reasons, it’s best to contact a pediatrician right away if your infant has nasal congestion. This is especially important for infants under 3 months old and those with other symptoms, such as a persistent cough, fever, or breathing problems.

The pediatrician can then work with you to find the best treatment options for your baby.

Nasal congestion rarely causes major health problems and is most often caused by the common cold or a sinus infection. Symptoms usually improve right away with proper treatment.

If you experience chronic congestion, speak to a doctor to investigate the underlying problem and determine the best course of treatment.