You feel like your nostrils are full of concrete. You aren’t moving any air in or out and your lips are chapped from all of the mouth-breathing you’ve been doing.
A stuffy nose isn’t anybody’s idea of a good time, but unfortunately, congestion with allergies is pretty common.
Why does this happen and how can you get some much-needed relief from your allergy congestion? We’ve got the lowdown for you right here.
If you’re looking for something to point the finger at for your clogged-up nose, histamine deserves the brunt of the blame. Histamine is an inflammatory chemical that’s supposed to help your body fight off unwanted substances and invaders.
Sounds good, right? Well, not so much for people who deal with allergies. When their immune systems detect an allergy trigger, their body reacts to those should-be harmless substances (like pollen or pet dander) by overproducing histamine.
Since histamine causes inflammation, it tells your blood vessels to expand with excess fluid—and before you know it, you’re stuck with a stuffy nose.
Figuring out whether you’re dealing with allergy congestion or something else can feel like a guessing game, but there are a few signs you should be on the lookout for:
Let’s start with the most obvious one first: congestion leads to a nose that feels plugged and makes it difficult to breathe.
Oddly enough, because your blood vessels are swollen with extra fluid, you can also experience a runny nose at the same time as nasal congestion.
When your sinuses are swollen, it makes sense that all of that pressure would cause some pain and discomfort. If the area around your cheekbones and eyes is tender to the touch, it’s a good sign that you’re congested.
Similarly, the pressure in your sinuses can cause what’s called a sinus headache—which feels like a heavy pain in your forehead. It’s probably even worse when you bend forward.
Allergies aren’t the only cause of a stuffy nose. That pesky symptom also happens with a cold, flu, or even a sinus infection. However, if your congestion is accompanied by plenty of sneezing and itchy, watery eyes, that’s a red flag that your plugged nose is the result of allergies.
Now for the part that you really want to know: How to get rid of a stuffy nose.
We’ll get to some remedies in a second. But first, you’ve probably heard that the best defense is a good offense. Forgive the sports clichés, but this sentiment holds some water when it comes to allergy congestion.
Understanding your own allergy triggers is helpful for knowing what to avoid and when, and for taking some proactive steps like taking an antihistamine ahead of exposure to your allergens. That can help you prevent a plugged nose to begin with.
What if you’re already all stuffed up and wondering how to get rid of congestion in your nose? There are a few things you can try.
Studies show that nasal sprays can be incredibly effective for relieving nasal congestion, as they deliver medicine directly to the problem area.
There are a number of different types of nasal sprays you can use, but if it’s a clogged nose you’re dealing with, you’ll want to look specifically for a decongestant nasal spray. It’s one of the best medicines for allergy congestion and is available over the counter. It works to shrink your swollen blood vessels and “unstuff” your nose.
A neti pot looks a lot like a teapot—but you definitely aren’t going to want to use it to brew a hot beverage. Instead, you’ll fill this container with a saltwater solution (saline), tilt your head sideways over a sink, place the spout of the neti pot in a nostril, and then pour the saltwater until it comes out the other nostril.
If that sounds a little gross, we’ll just admit it: It can be. But it’s also super effective for reducing congestion, as it flushes out debris and dried mucus from your sinuses and nasal cavity.
Like we said, just make sure to keep it far away from your actual teapot. You don’t want any mixups here.
Allergy triggers aside, dry air is bad news for your sinuses because it makes it tough for them to drain the way they’re supposed to. That leads to irritation and inflammation in your nose (and potentially your throat too).
That’s why a humidifier can be so helpful. It increases moisture in the air of your home so that you can curtail your nasal congestion (or, at the very least, prevent it from getting any worse).
One quick tip: Clean your humidifier frequently. All of that standing water makes a great home for bacteria, and the last thing you want to do is spread that around.
Figuring out exactly what’s causing your symptoms has always been a confusing task—and that’s especially true now that you have to add COVID-19 to your long list of things to worry about.
The CDC explains that a runny or stuffy nose is a common symptom of COVID-19, but don’t self-diagnose yourself quite yet. In addition to that congestion, people also frequently experience:
“If you’re experiencing "nasal symptoms, including nasal congestion, along with any of the above symptoms, it could be a sign of COVID-19,” says Dr. Amina, board-certified allergist and Picnic’s Medical Director. “It’s better to get tested for any concerns of infection for your own health and the health of your close contacts."
It depends, but the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says that you can expect your symptoms to persist for as long as your allergen is in the air—and that’s usually somewhere in the range of two to three weeks.
That’s way longer than anybody wants to be dealing with an annoying stuffy nose, but the good news is that you can take the steps we outlined to get yourself some relief and breathe a little easier (quite literally).