Nasal congestion


Nasal congestion refers to a stuffy nose.

Alternative Names

Nose - congested; Congested nose; Stuffy nose


Many people think that a nose gets congested (stuffy) from too much thick mucus. However, in most cases, the nose becomes congested when the tissues lining it become swollen. The swelling is due to inflamed blood vessels.

Newborn infants must breathe through the nose. Nasal congestion in an infant's first few months of life can interfere with nursing, and in rare cases can cause serious breathing problems. Nasal congestion in older children and adolescents is usually just an annoyance, but it can cause other difficulties.

Nasal congestion can interfere with the ears, hearing, and speech development. Significant congestion may interfere with sleep.

When nasal stuffiness is just on one side, the child may have inserted something into the nose.


A stuffy nose is usually caused by a virus or bacteria. Causes include:

The congestion typically goes away by itself within a week.

Congestion also can be caused by:

Home Care


For babies or infants who are too young to blow their nose:

Other tips to help infants and younger children include:


Over-the-counter medicines may help relieve a stuffy nose and can make breathing more comfortable.

These medicines do not treat the underlying condition. Many over-the-counter allergy and cold medicines contain multiple ingredients, so look carefully to see what is in the one you choose.

Medicines are not the only way to relieve a stuffy or runny nose. Often, gentler solutions are better. Try these steps to thin the mucus, which can help you breathe easier and get nasal secretions back to normal:

Congestion is often worse when you are lying down. Keep upright, or at least keep the head elevated. This is especially helpful for young children.

Some stores sell adhesive strips that can be placed on the nose. These help widen the nostrils, making breathing easier.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your doctor if you or your child have any of the following:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your doctor may perform a physical examination, focusing on the upper respiratory system, ears, nose, and throat.

Your doctor will ask questions, including:

The following diagnostic tests may be done:

Over-the-counter medications may be recommended. Stronger, prescription medications may be advised. For treatment of severe hay fever, see hay fever.


Manning S. Medical management of nasosinus infectious and inflammatory disease. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2005:chap 52.

Review Date: 8/2/2011
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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