Stuffy nose - The sensation of stuffy nose, often described in medical terms as nasal obstruction or nasal congestion, can arise from a variety of causes. These break down broadly into two categories: swelling of the nasal tissues, or structural blockage of the airway. Here are some common causes of stuffy nose:
Allergies or environmental irritants - exposure to allergens like dust, pet dander or pollen, or to chemicals, dust, some foods and medicines can cause swelling of the airway tissues, medically termed rhinitis. Typically, the swelling subsides when the irritant is no longer present.
Viral or bacterial infection - Usually fairly brief in duration, virus infections cause swelling of the nasal tissues, and trigger release of mucous, so that your stuffy nose is also a runny nose. A viral infection will typically begin to clear up in 10 to 14 days. Bacterial infections trigger similar symptoms but may persist for a longer period. Antibiotics can offer effective treatment for a bacterial infection, so check with your doctor if stuffy, runny nose stays around for more than about 10 days.
Structural conditions that can cause chronic stuffy nose include:
Nasal polyps or tumor (benign or cancerous) - Growths such as polyps or tumor on the inner surfaces of the airway can impede or close off the flow of air as we inhale and exhale. Be sure and see a doctor if you become aware of a new bump or swelling in a nasal passage, that's not connected to infection or allergy.
Deviated nasal septum - The septum is the divider of cartilage that separates the left and right nasal airways, running from the nostrils to the upper nasal passage. Most people are born with a straight nasal septum helps support nasal passages of relatively equal diameter. Deviated septum is the diagnosis when the septum is displaced from birth, or because of injury, narrowing the airway. In some cases the septum can curve in an 'S' shape that restricts both sides of the airway. The disruption in air flow can lead to swelling in other parts of the nasal passages, including the nasal turbinates.
Nasal valve collapse - The nasal valve is located inside the airway, along the fleshy part of the nose just up from the flare of the nostrils. Some people are born with thinner tissue in this area, and others may have sustained a childhood or sporting injury that weakens the nasal valve. If these fleshy tunnels are narrow or too flexible, they can be sucked inward as you inhale.
Enlarged turbinates - Further up the left and right airways, the nasal turbinates are made up of thin bone and cartilage, forming three ridges that project into the passage. They are lined with a mucous membrane that helps to cleanse, warm and moisturize air as it flows through the nose to the lungs when we inhale. The tissue of the turbinates is designed to expand when engorged with blood. If they are irritated or infected, the turbinates can become swollen (hypertrophic, in medical language), restricting the passage of air.