Introduction - What is nasal obstruction?
Nasal obstruction is anything that hinders the air flowing in and out of the nose, affecting one or both nasal passages. It is typically caused by either inflammation of the nasal tissue or an anatomical blockage.
Nasal obstruction in itself is not a disease. But instead it is a symptom of underlying diseases like sleeping disorders, snoring and obstructive sleep apnea.
In this article SinusDoctor focuses on the main causes of nasal obstruction.
Who is more likely to suffer from nasal obstruction?
Factors that may increase one’s likelihood to suffer from nasal obstruction are:
- Family history
- History of allergies
- Having pets
- Exposure to poor air quality
- Repeated episodes of sinusitis
- Nose injury
- Nasal surgery
What are the symptoms of nasal obstruction?
The symptoms of nasal obstruction can be listed as:
- Postnasal drip
- Mouth breathing
- Frequent sinus infections
- Difficulty in breathing
- Trouble sleeping
- Runny nose
- Facial pain or pressure
- Stuffy nose
- Blocked nose
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What are the top causes of nasal obstruction?
The medical conditions causing nasal obstruction are:
In sinusitis, an inflammation, or swelling of the tissues lining the sinuses tend to occur. Sinuses can be defined as hollow space within the bones between the eyes, behind the cheekbones and in the forehead. Usually sinuses are filled with air, but when they become blocked and filled with fluid, germs tend to grow.
2. Allergic rhinitis
Allergic rhinitis is a medical condition where one is inclined to have an allergic reaction to certain things. The common triggers of allergic rhinitis are pollen (from trees, grass and weeds), house dust mites, pet dander, mold, wood dust, flour dust, and latex. Allergic rhinitis occurs when one’s immune system encounters allergens. As a reaction to the allergen, one’s immune system releases chemicals like histamine and leukotrienes. This in turn inflames the lining of one’s nasal passages giving rise to nasal obstruction.
3. Non-allergic rhinitis
Non-allergic rhinitis causes symptoms that are similar to allergic rhinitis such as postnasal drip, blocked nose, itchy nose, reduced sense of smell, runny nose, sneezing and stuffy nose. Often the cause of non-allergic rhinitis is unknown. Though environmental irritants are often considered as a trigger of non-allergic rhinitis. Some environmental irritants are car exhaust, chlorine, cigarette smoke, cleaning solutions, glues, hair spray, latex, laundry detergents, metal salts, perfume, smog and wood dust.
4. Environmental irritants
Environmental irritants or allergens are foreign bodies present in one’s surroundings and can cause an allergic reaction. Unlike other allergies, they tend to persist all year long. Some common environmental allergens are dust mites, pollen, pet dander, mold and cigarette smoke.
5. Cold or flu
A cold is a milder form of respiratory illness than the flu. The symptoms of cold typically begin with a sore throat, which recovers after a day or two. Flu symptoms are generally more severe than cold symptoms. The symptoms of cold are runny nose, nasal congestion along with cough. While the symptoms of flu are sore throat, fever, headache, muscle aches, soreness, nasal obstruction and cough.
6. Certain medications
Drugs that affect the autonomic nervous system are likely to have a vasoactive effect on the nose too. In addition to benign inflammatory causes, certain medications cause nasal obstruction as a side effect. It may be caused directly or indirectly (via the autonomic nervous system).
The anatomical conditions causing nasal obstruction are:
1. Deviated nasal septum
A deviated septum arises when the thin wall (nasal septum) between one’s nasal passages is shifted to one side. When a deviated nasal septum is critical, it can block one side of the nose and minimize airflow, leading to difficulty in breathing. It also causes nasal obstruction due to the swelling of the tissues lining the nose.
2. Enlarged turbinates
The nasal turbinates are narrow passageways. They are known to aid in warming and moistening the air that flows in through one’s nose. If the turbinates are too large, they can lead to nasal obstruction. Some of the additional symptoms of enlarged turbinate include altered sense of smell, dry mouth, breathing through mouth, forehead pressure, mild facial pain, prolonged nasal obstruction, runny nose, and snoring.
3. Nasal polyps
Nasal obstruction that does not cure even with medications, are most of the times triggered by nasal polyps. Nasal polyps are noncancerous round growths on the lining tissue or mucosa of one’s nose. Besides nasal obstruction, they show symptoms like runny nose, postnasal drip, nasal stuffiness, reduced sense of smell, breathing through mouth, sleeping and snoring.
4. Enlarged adenoids
Adenoids are glands located at the back of one’s throat. They are part of the lymphatic and immune system. Frequent ear infections, upper respiratory infections, recurring nosebleeds and allergies are some of the common conditions that can affect adenoids.
5. Nasal tumors
Nasal tumors are abnormal growths that appear in and around the passageway within one’s nose. Nasal tumors can be both cancerous or non-cancerous.
How is nasal obstruction diagnosed?
The diagnosis of nasal obstruction involves:
- Nasal exam (using endoscopes, X-rays, CT scans, etc.)
- Allergy testing
- Medical history
What are the long term effects of nasal obstruction?
The long term effects may differ depending on the source of nasal obstruction. The impacts of nasal obstruction can be listed as:
- Disrupted sleep
- Constant breathing problems
- Constant headaches
- Loss of taste and smell
- Diminishing quality of life
How is nasal obstruction treated?
- Avoid known allergens
- Practice nasal and sinus irrigation
- Use a humidifier
- Use steam
- Stay hydrated
- Avoid smoking
When to consult a doctor for the causes of nasal obstruction?
Consult a doctor if:
- One has nasal obstruction lasting longer than two weeks
- One has nasal obstruction along with high fever lasting more than 3 days
- One has sinus pain and fever along with green nasal discharge
- One has weak immune system
- One has asthma
- One has emphysema
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