Nasal congestion, also referred to as nasal stuffiness, fullness, or obstruction, is a very common symptom and can cause a significant impact on anyone’s quality of life. There are many causes of a stuffy nose including allergies, a deviated septum, enlarged turbinates, nasal polyps, or infections. One quarter of the world’s population has nasal symptoms (congestion, runny nose, sneezing) caused by allergies. This can result in difficulty sleeping, focusing on work, or exercising due to their symptoms.
It has been shown in many studies that treating the causes of nasal congestion can improve quality of sleep.1 The most common reasons for difficulty with sleeping with nasal congestion include:
- Wakes you up in the middle of the night
- Makes it difficult to fall asleep
- Disturbs your partner’s sleep
As mentioned above, there are many causes for why nasal congestion may be causing difficulty in sleeping so it is best to be evaluated by your doctor. However, some initial at-home remedies to try before going to sleep include:
- Applying nasal strips over the nose before going to sleep to open the nasal passages
- Sleeping with a humidifier
- Over-the-counter nasal sprays such as a saline nasal spray and a steroid nasal spray
- Drink plenty of water
- Keep the head of the bed elevated
If these remedies do not work or your symptoms are severe it may be best to see your doctor to be evaluated for an underlying cause for the stuffiness.
Nasal symptoms, particularly congestion, can result in difficulty working due to constant disturbances from difficulty breathing. If the job has a lot of activity involved, then this can be even more disruptive to one’s daily workflow with a loss of productivity.
- In one study, 59% of employed adults states that nasal congestion due to allergies resulted in an inability to concentrate at work with poor productivity as a result.2
- In the same study, 61% of child caregivers said that nasal congestion from allergies contributed to their child’s lower performance in school.2
Infections of the nasal sinuses (sinusitis) can cause a significant number of missed workdays due to a patient’s symptoms impairing their ability to work. Nasal congestion is the most common symptom, but others can include facial pressure, fever, loss of smell, and even depression.3 If you think you may have sinusitis it is best to see a doctor for a definitive diagnosis, however your doctor may treat sinusitis with:
- Oral corticosteroids
- Nasal saline irrigations
- Steroid nasal sprays
Having a stuffy nose can significantly impair one’s ability to exercise. The nose humidifies the air we breathe which prevents our throat and airway from becoming dry and irritated. If your nose is stuffed, then we breathe through our mouth instead. This can be particularly bothersome in the winter when the air is dry, causing a reduced ability to perform activities for some patients with nasal congestion. Even walking outside can become uncomfortable for these patients.
Many patients after having their nasal congestion treated are able to suddenly run farther, swim longer, and exercise more efficiently due to their ability to breathe more effectively and humidify the air they breathe. There are many causes of nasal congestion as listed above, but some initial treatments that may be effective to help with nasal congestion that affects exercise include:
- Saline and steroid nasal sprays
- Nasal strip application prior to exercise
- Keeping hydrated
If you find that you have persistent symptoms, then see your doctor about what may be causing your nasal congestion and their treatment options.
Some patients notice that their nose may run when they exercise as well, a condition referred to as exercise-induced rhinitis. Your doctor may prescribe a specific nasal spray to help reduce the runniness. Many patients note that they can exercise more effectively once again with proper treatment.
Nasal stuffiness is a common symptom which can impair many aspects of daily life including sleeping, working, and exercising. If you find that over-the-counter remedies, such as nasal sprays, don’t seem to help your nasal stuffiness, then see your doctor for further treatment options.
- Stewart M, Ferguson B, Fromer L. Epidemiology and burden of nasal congestion. Int J Gen Med. 2010 Apr 8;3:37-45. doi: 10.2147/ijgm.s8077. PMID: 20463822; PMCID: PMC2866547.
- Shedden A. Impact of nasal congestion on quality of life and work productivity in allergic rhinitis: findings from a large online survey. Treat Respir Med. 2005;4(6):439–446.
- Rudmik L, Smith TL. Quality of life in patients with chronic rhinosinusitis. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2011 Jun;11(3):247-52. doi: 10.1007/s11882-010-0175-2. PMID: 21234819.30