8 Common Causes of a Stuffy Nose

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Sarah Lewis, PharmD on August 8, 2021
  • older woman wiping nose
    1. Allergies
    Allergies are one of the most common causes of nasal congestion—or a stuffy nose. Other symptoms of nasal allergies include a runny nose and sneezing. Some people also experience headaches, cough, scratchy throat, clogged ears and itchy, watery eyes. Allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to a substance. For nasal allergies, it’s usually pollen, mold, animal dander, or dust. Avoiding your triggers and taking an antihistamine are the main treatments for nasal allergies. Allergy shots may help some people.
  • Woman Sneezing
    2. Common Cold
    An upper respiratory infection—or the common cold—is another common cause of a stuffy nose. Most everyone is familiar with the nuisance of a cold and the symptoms that come with it—runny nose, sneezing, clogged ears, cough, scratchy throat, headache, body aches, and a low-grade fever. Viruses cause the common cold, so antibiotics won’t help. It just needs time to run its course. You can treat your symptoms with over-the-counter cold and cough medicines, and pain relievers.
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    3. Sinusitis
    Sinusitis is inflammation or swelling of the nasal sinuses. Your sinuses are hollow compartments within the bones of your face. Along with nasal congestion, symptoms usually include thick, discolored mucus; decreased smell or taste; and facial pressure, pain or discomfort. Sinusitis can be acute—lasting days to weeks—or chronic—lasting months. Treating sinusitis will depend on the cause and whether it’s acute or chronic. Antibiotics help when the cause is a bacterial infection, but this is not always the case.
  • No Smoking
    4. Environmental Irritants
    Environmental irritants can cause a reaction called vasomotor rhinitis. It’s different from an allergic reaction. In this condition, the blood vessels in the nose expand and the nasal membranes become congested. A stuffy nose is the result. Common irritants include smoke, perfumes, cold air, humidity, stress, spicy foods, alcoholic beverages, and swim water. Certain drugs, such as blood pressure medicines, can also cause it. Treatment depends on how much your symptoms bother you. In general, avoiding the irritant helps.
  • man-using-nasal-spray
    5. Decongestant Nasal Spray Overuse
    Overusing nasal spray decongestants causes a specific type of vasomotor rhinitis—rhinitis medicamentosa or drug-induced rhinitis. It’s a rebound effect that happens when you use these sprays longer than the label recommends, which is usually 3 to 4 days. The sprays constrict the blood vessels in your nose to open nasal passages. When you overuse them, your blood vessels can no longer respond and constrict. Stopping the decongestant and using a prescription steroid nasal spray treats this condition.
  • womans-nose
    6. Structural Abnormalities
    Structural abnormalities are deformities inside the nose with either the nasal septum or turbinates. The nasal septum is the thin cartilage separating the two sides of the nose. A deviated—or crooked—nasal septum obstructs the nose and makes it difficult to breathe. Turbinates are bony ridges on the inside wall of the nose that protrude into the nose. They can become enlarged and block airflow. Enlarged adenoids can cause similar problems. Surgery may be necessary for any of these conditions.
  • nasal-polyps
    7. Nasal Polyps and Tumors
    Nasal polyps are soft, fleshy growths inside the nose that hang down like grapes. Long-term inflammation causes nasal polyps to form. This can be the result of chronic allergies, chronic sinusitis, asthma, or recurring infections. Larger polyps can block your nose and interfere with breathing. Tumors—either benign or cancerous—can also occur in the nose, but are rare. Polyps may respond to medicine, but surgery is sometimes necessary. Keep in mind nasal polyps tend to recur.
  • boy-blowing-nose-in-classroom
    8. Foreign Body
    It’s common for children to insert small objects into their noses. And their parents may or may not know it. You might suspect a foreign body if one side of a child’s nose is stuffy or blocked. And there may also be foul-smelling discharge from the one nostril that may be blood-tinged. If your child has a foreign body in the nose, a doctor needs to remove it. Don’t try to remove it yourself.
8 Common Causes of a Stuffy Nose

About The Author

Sarah Lewis is a pharmacist and a medical writer with over 25 years of experience in various areas of pharmacy practice. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy degree from West Virginia University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She completed Pharmacy Practice Residency training at the University of Pittsburgh/VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. 
  1. Children and Allergies. American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. http://acaai.org/allergies/who-has-allergies/children-allergies
  2. Adult Sinusitis. American, Rhinologic Society. http://care.american-rhinologic.org/adult_sinusitis
  3. Allergic Rhinitis (Hay Fever). American Rhinologic Society. http://care.american-rhinologic.org/allergic_rhinitis
  4. Septoplasty and Turbinate Surgery. American Rhinologic Society. http://care.american-rhinologic.org/septoplasty_turbinates
  5. Sinus Tumors. American Rhinologic Society. http://care.american-rhinologic.org/sinus_tumors
  6. Nasal Congestion and Snoring. American Rhinologic Society. http://care.american-rhinologic.org/snoring_nasal_congestion
  7. Upper Respiratory Infections. American Rhinologic Society. http://care.american-rhinologic.org/upper_respiratory_infections
  8. Rhinitis Medicamentosa. Medscape. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/995056-overview
  9. Stuffy Nose. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery. http://www.entnet.org/content/stuffy-nose
  10. Nasal Polyps. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/nasal-polyps/basics/definition/con-20023206
  11. Nonallergic Rhinitis. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/nonallergic-rhinitis/basics/causes/con-20026910
  12. Nasal Congestion. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/nasal-congestion/basics/causes/sym-20050644
  13. Nasal Congestion and Rhinorrhea. Merck Manuals Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/ear-nose-and-throat-disorders/approach-to-the-patient-with...
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Last Review Date: 2021 Aug 8
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