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Blocked nose

A blocked nose is often caused by conditions which are self-limiting, and that will pass without the need for medication, such as the common cold or another viral infection. 

  • Very common for people of all ages
  • Likely to clear up within a few days
  • Treated by resolving the underlying condition and taking practical measures

If you have a blocked nose and are concerned about what the underlying cause may be, you can speak to one of our GMC-registered clinicians via our online video consultation service. You can book an appointment to speak to one of them between 9.30am and 4.30pm, five days a week.

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Possible causes

What causes a blocked nose?

A blocked nose may be triggered by an infection, allergies or by another cause, such as nasal polyps.  

Infections

A blocked nose is one of the most common symptoms of the common cold. Usually a discharge is produced which can be clear, yellow, watery or thick. Symptoms will lift after a few days, and can be relieved by taking over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or paracetamol.

The flu can also cause a blocked nose, and is accompanied by a high fever, aches, pains and general tiredness. The symptoms are similar to a common cold but they are more severe. Sometimes it’s treated with antiviral medication for vulnerable people, but most of the time this is not necessary.

Sinusitis is inflammation of the sinuses. It’s caused by an infection. Sinusitis causes congestion in the nose and pain in the sinuses, which can also manifest in the cheeks and forehead.

Allergies

Hay fever is one of the most common allergies, and often occurs at the start of spring and throughout summer as a reaction to pollen. It also causes sneezing, as well as itchy and watery eyes. Allergic rhinitis is inflammation of the tissue inside the nose, and usually leads to a blocked nose.

Other causes

The presence of nasal polyps can cause a blocked nose. They are benign growths that can swell inside the nasal passage. If the adenoid glands become swollen, a blocked nose may follow. The adenoid glands are bits of tissue that hang from behind the nose. An injury to the nose can cause the septum to change position, which results in the nostrils narrowing, and may lead to congestion in the nose. 

Diagnosing the cause of a blocked nose

When you speak to a doctor with a complaint of a blocked nose, they will ask about your medical history, and possibly examine the body for indications of an infection.

A clinician is likely to ask whether there are other symptoms accompanying it. For example, a cough with a mild fever may indicate the common cold, whereas a high fever with aches and pains points towards the flu. They may also ask if you have any additional pain in the face, which can indicate sinusitis. 

In most cases, this information is sufficient for a diagnosis of an underlying condition that’s causing a blocked nose. However, a doctor may decide to take some tests if they remain uncertain. 

If flu is suspected, a clinician may take a swab sample from the back of the throat, in order to conduct a rapid antigen test. Rarely, a doctor will carry out nasal endoscopy to examine the sinuses, which involves passing a flexible tube with a light and camera through the nose. 

A doctor can also refer a patient to an ENT clinic. They may decide to conduct a prick test if an allergy is the suspected cause. They may want to get a better image of the nose, especially in the case of an injury to it. CT and MRI scans are the most common techniques for detecting a physical obstruction, or damage inside the nose.

If you would like a diagnosis for a blocked nose, you can consult one of our GMC-registered clinicians using our online video consultation service, who may be able to help you. They can issue advice, prescriptions and referral to specialists for treatment, where suitable. The service is available from 9.30am-4.30pm, Monday to Friday.

Page last reviewed:  11/06/2020
Types of Treatment

What you can do to help a blocked nose

A blocked nose is rarely an indication of a serious condition, and does not typically require any specific treatment. Many of the conditions which lead to a blocked nose are self-limiting, and only require some practical measures to manage symptoms before they resolve themselves.

If an allergy is the cause of a blocked nose, it’s important to try and avoid the potential allergen, although this is not always possible. There are over-the-counter medications which can help to stop the body reacting to an allergy, such as antihistamines. It’s also advisable to rinse the nasal passages with saline solution regularly, to make sure they are free from potential irritants.

How is a blocked nose treated?

The following treatment options can all relieve symptoms, but they are temporary and do not resolve an underlying condition as such:

  • Steam inhalation: pouring boiling water into a bowl and inhaling the steam can provide temporary relief (care should be taken to avoid burning yourself).
  • Saline solutions: they can help to wash away mucus in the nose.
  • Menthol vapours: there are various products containing menthol which can relieve congestion when you breathe in the vapour, such as Olbas. 
  • Decongestant drops: They can help to unblock the nose quickly, but should not be used as a long term option as they can cause further congestion once you stop using them.
  • Corticosteroids: Oral or nasal corticosteroids are sometimes suitable for cases of severe inflammation in the nose or sinuses.

Viral infections are self-limiting, and the measures outlined above are sufficient for relief of symptoms whilst the immune system tackles the infection. You can also take over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen and paracetamol to help cope with symptoms. 

An unblocked nose can be an inconvenience and interfere with daily life, particularly if it is caused by a seasonal allergy such as hay fever. One of our registered clinicians may be able to help if it’s affecting you. You can speak to them via our online video consultation service, which is available between 9.30am and 4.30pm, five days a week. They can recommend useful measures for managing a blocked nose, and help you to determine if there’s an underlying condition that needs treating.

Page last reviewed:  11/06/2020
Questions and Answers

How long is it normal to have a blocked nose for?

If congestion in the nose is caused by a viral infection, it will last for the duration of the infection. This may vary between a few days and a couple of weeks. 

A blocked nose triggered by an allergy can last for significantly longer. For example, hay fever can persist for long periods of the summer for many people.

Is a blocked nose serious?

A blocked nose is not normally a symptom of a serious condition, but you should seek medical attention if your nose stays blocked for more than ten days. If you have a particularly high fever and the discharge from your nose is yellow or green, this could indicate a bacterial infection that requires antibiotic treatment.

Can I get treatment for a blocked nose?

Treatment for a blocked nose usually involves allowing the underlying infection to clear, and relieving symptoms. There are various nasal sprays which can provide temporary relief, as well as decongestant drops.

It can also help to take practical measures, such as inhaling steam and using a dehumidifier at home.

How can I prevent a blocked nose?

In order to prevent a blocked nose, you should reduce your risks of getting an infection, where you can; the flu vaccine can help with this. However, it’s not always possible to prevent a blocked nose, as allergies are incurable. 

Can I speak to a doctor about a blocked nose?

You can speak to one of our GMC-registered clinicians if you have a blocked nose and are concerned about it. They are available to speak to via our online video consultation service between 9.30am and 4.30pm, Monday to Friday. Our clinicians can provide advice on symptoms and treatment, and issue referrals to specialists and prescriptions, where appropriate.

Page last reviewed:  11/06/2020

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