Stuffy or Runny Nose in Adults
A stuffy or congested nose occurs when the tissues lining it become swollen. The swelling is due to inflamed blood vessels.
The problem may also include nasal discharge or "runny nose." If excess mucus runs down the back of your throat - known as postnasal drip, it may cause a cough or sore throat.
Causes of Stuffy or Runny Nose
A stuffy or runny nose may be caused by:
- Common cold
- Sinus infection
The congestion typically goes away by itself within a week.
Congestion also can be caused by:
- Hay fever or other allergies
- Use of some nasal sprays or drops bought without a prescription for more than 3-days can make nasal stuffiness worse
- Nasal polyps, sac-like growths of inflamed tissue lining the nose or sinuses
- Vasomotor rhinitis
Home Care for Stuffy or Runny Nose
Finding ways to keep mucus thin will help it drain from your nose and sinuses and relieve your symptoms. Drinking plenty of clear fluids is one way to do this. You can also:
- Apply a warm, moist washcloth to your face several times a day.
- Inhale steam 2-4 times a day. One way to do this is to sit in the bathroom with the shower running. Do not inhale hot steam.
- Use a vaporizer or humidifier.
A nasal wash can help remove mucus from your nose.
- You can buy a saline spray at a drugstore or make one at home. To make one, use 1-cup of warm water, 1/2 a teaspoon of salt, and a pinch of baking soda.
- Use gentle saline nasal sprays 3 to 4 times per day.
Congestion is often worse when lying down. Keep upright, or at least keep the head elevated.
Drugstores sell adhesive strips that are placed on the nose. These strips help widen the nostrils and making breathing easier.
Medicines you buy at the store without a prescription can help your symptoms.
- Decongestants are drugs that shrink and dry up your nasal passages. They may help dry up a runny or stuffy nose.
- Antihistamines are drugs that treat allergy symptoms. Some antihistamines make you drowsy so use with care.
- Nasal sprays can relieve stuffiness. Don't use over-the-counter nasal sprays more often than 3 days on and 3 days off, unless told to by your doctor.
Many cough, allergy, and cold medicines you buy have more than one medicine inside. Read the labels carefully to make sure you don't take too much of any one medicine. Ask your health care provide which cold medications are safe for you
If you have allergies:
- Your health care provider may also prescribe nasal sprays that treat allergy symptoms
- Learn how to avoid triggers that make allergies worse.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your doctor for any of the following:
- A stuffy nose with swelling of the forehead, eyes, side of the nose, or cheek, or that occurs with blurred vision
- More throat pain, or white or yellow spots on the tonsils or other parts of the throat
- Discharge from the nose that has a bad smell, comes from only one side, or is a color other than white or yellow
- Cough that last longer than 10 days, or produces yellow-green or gray mucus
- Nasal discharge following a head injury
- Symptoms that last more than 3 weeks
- Nasal discharge with fever
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
Your doctor may perform a physical exam that focuses on the ears, nose, throat, and airways.
Test that may be done include:
- Allergy skin and blood tests
- Blood tests
- Sputum culture and throat culture
- X-rays of the sinuses and chest x-ray
Alternative Names for Stuffy or Runny Nose
Nose - congested; Congested nose; Runny nose; Postnasal drip; Rhinorrhea: nasal congestion