Nasal congestion

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Nasal congestion or "stuffy nose" occurs when nasal tissues and blood vessels become swollen with excess fluid. It can be caused by a cold, influenza virus, allergies to such things as dust, pollen or pet dander, or as a response to irritants such as tobacco smoke. Some people have a persistent congested nose for no evident reason, a condition known as non-allergic rhinitis. Nasal discharge or "runny nose" sometimes accompanies nasal congestion.

In some cases ignoring symptoms such as congestion, sneezing, runny nose, or thick nasal discharge may, aggravate upper respiratory tract conditions or lead to other problems such as reduction of the sense of smell and taste, increasing the risk of mouth and throat infections or worsening of asthma.


Common Cold

The medical term for common cold is a viral upper respiratory tract infection. More than 200 different types of viruses are known to cause the common cold. The virus enters your body through your mouth or nose, and spreads through very small, air droplets that are released when you sneeze, cough, or blow your nose. It can also spread by hand-to-hand contact or by using shared objects, such as towels, toys or telephones.

Because so many different viruses can cause a cold and because new cold viruses constantly develop, the body never builds up resistance against all of them. Therefore, colds are a frequent and recurring problem. In fact, small children can have 6 to 12 colds per year while adolescents and adults typically have 2 to 4 colds per year. Frequency is increased during the fall and winter months.

Symptoms

While most individuals will feel better within one week, symptoms of the common cold, which may include cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, runny nose, and sneezing, will typically last anywhere from 4 to 14 days.

Complications

  • A frequent complication in children is middle ear infection (otitis media) which occurs when bacteria or viruses infiltrate the space behind the eardrum. 
  • A cold can trigger wheezing in children with asthma.
  • In adults or children, when a common cold doesn't resolve, it may lead to sinusitis, an inflammation and infection of the sinuses.
  • Other secondary infections can occur including strep throat (streptococcal pharyngitis), pneumonia, bronchitis in adults, and croup or bronchiolitis in children.

Treatment/Prevention

The most important measure to prevent the common cold is to avoid infected individuals. Frequent hand washing is also extremely important, as this can destroy viruses acquired from touching contaminated surfaces.

There's no cure for the common cold. Home treatment for the common cold includes getting rest and drinking plenty of fluids. For short-term relief of nasal congestion in older children and adults, nasal decongestants can be used. Nasal decongestants are chemicals (for example, pseudoephedrine, oxymetazoline, etc.) that narrow the blood vessels in the nose, thereby preventing fluid from leaking and the lining from swelling. As a result, the lining shrinks and the nasal passages open. Nasal decongestants can be used topically within the nose (e.g nasal spray) or can be taken orally (e.g tablets).


Allergic Rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis is a common medical problem. It may interfere with day-to-day activities or lessen the quality of life. Unlike a cold, allergic rhinitis  isn't caused by a virus.  It is caused by an allergic response to outdoor or indoor allergens, such as pollen, dust mites or pet dander. There are two different types of allergic rhinitis:

  • Seasonal when symptoms start or worsen at a particular time of year and are triggered by tree pollen, grasses or weeds, which all bloom at different times (commonly known as hay fever). 
  • Perennial when symptoms are present year-round. This is generally caused by sensitivity to house dust mites, animal dander, cockroaches and/or mold spores.

Treatment / Prevention

Rhinitis is a term describing the symptoms produced by nasal irritation or inflammation. The symptoms include runny and itchy nose, sneezing and stuffy nose due to congestion. The eyes may also water, sometimes profusely, and itch. These symptoms occur when you breathe in something you are allergic to.

The amount of pollen in the air can affect the development of symptoms. On cool, damp, rainy days most pollen is washed to the ground. Hot, dry, windy days are more likely to have increased amounts of pollen in the air.

Complications

Allergic rhinitis may be associated with problems including: 

  • Reduced quality of life. It can interfere with your enjoyment of activities and cause you to be less productive. It might even lead to absences from work or school.
  • Poor sleep. 
  • Aggravation of signs and symptoms of asthma, such as coughing and wheezing.
  • Sinusitis due to prolonged sinus congestion.
  • Middle ear infection in children (otitis media).

Symptom Relief

The best way to relieve your allergy symptoms is to avoid the allergens that cause them.  It may be impossible to completely avoid all triggers, but you can reduce symptoms by taking some steps to limit exposure to them:

  • Vacuum carpets weekly with a vacuum cleaner equipped with a small-particle or HEPA filter.
  • Keep pets out of the bedroom.
  • Use a dehumidifier to reduce indoor humidity.
  • Close doors and windows during pollen season. Use air conditioning (with an allergy-grade filter) in your house and car.

Antihistamines and decongestants are available without prescription and exist in a variety of forms such as liquids, tablets, nasal sprays and eye drops. Antihistamines  work by blocking histamine, a symptom-causing chemical released by the immune system during an allergic reaction. Nasal decongestants narrow the blood vessels in the nose, thereby preventing fluid from leaking and the lining from swelling. They are frequently combined with an antihistamine, a cough suppressant, or an analgesic in treating cold or allergy symptoms. Non-prescription saline nasal sprays will help neutralize symptoms of dry nasal passages or thick nasal mucus.  Other medications can also be prescribed by your doctor such as oral or nasal corticosteroids. 


Sinusitis

Sinusitis is a common medical condition. Acute sinusitis causes the cavities around nasal passages (sinuses) to become inflamed and swollen. The swelling traps mucus in the sinuses and it stops the normal flow of mucus from the sinuses to the back of the throat.

Acute sinusitis is most often caused by the common cold. Other triggers include allergies, such as hay fever which also causes mucous membrane swelling. Bacteria and fungal infections can also trigger sinusitis. Sinusitis that lasts more than 12 weeks, or keeps coming back, is called chronic sinusitis. It can lead to serious infections and other complications. Doctors do not understand exactly what causes chronic sinusitis, but it may follow a viral infection, a severe allergy, or exposure to an environmental pollutant.

Symptoms

Commonly the symptoms of sinus infection are headache, facial tenderness, pressure or pain, and fever. However, only as few as 25% of patients may have fever associated with acute sinus infection. Other common symptoms include cloudy, discolored nasal drainage, a feeling of nasal stuffiness, sore throat, and cough.

Complications

Certain complications may occur following acute sinusitis including asthma flare-ups, chronic sinusitis, meningitis, vision problems or even ear infection.

Prevention

To help reduce the risk of getting acute sinusitis you should minimize contact with people who have colds, wash hands frequently, carefully manage your allergies, avoid cigarette smoke and polluted air, and use a humidifier.

Treatment

The treatment of acute sinusitis is aimed at improving sinus drainage and curing the infection. The treatment depends on the cause. In most cases, home remedies will suffice. Treatment may include the use of saline nasal spray to rinse out nasal passage and help clear sinuses. Oral and topical nasal decongestants, like sprays, may also be used to help relieve nasal congestion due to sinusitis and are generally taken for only a few days. These medications help shrink swollen nasal passages, facilitating the flow of drainage from the sinuses. The use of nasal corticosteroids, and sometimes antibiotics or other prescription medicine may be needed.

Don’t hesitate to consult your doctor in order to have professional advice on the best way to relieve your symptoms.

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