Pretty much everyone experiences a stuffy nose – usually referred to in more formal contexts as ‘nasal congestion’ – from time to time. It’s easy to dismiss the cause as a simple case of the cold or flu – but did you know that this common everyday symptom can actually have many more causes?
Indeed, the below are just seven possible reasons for a stuffy or clogged nose that you might have never even considered before, as proposed by health researchers and professionals.
When many of us say the word “migraine” in day-to-day life, we’re referring to a type of headache – but what the term really means is a neurological condition associated with headaches.
Indeed, Dr David Buchholz – author of the book Heal Your Headache – has argued that migraines can occur anywhere in the body that has nerve endings. So if those nerve endings in your nose or sinuses become inflamed, you could feel any of a wide range of symptoms, including pain, pressure, nausea, greater sensitivity to light, sounds and smells... and nasal congestion.
This is another condition that we don’t exactly associate with the nose, but the link isn’t as improbable as you might think. It is, after all, perfectly possible for silent reflux into the throat to occur.
Researchers have also discovered, though, that stomach juices can get as far as the nose, sinuses and ears. And as Dr Steven Park has detailed in his book, Sleep, Interrupted, obstructed breathing at night can result in vacuum forces that cause normal stomach juices to reach the throat. There’s plenty of reason, then, to think that these fluids could get into your naval cavity.
If you initially experience what feels like a cold – including a blocked and runny nose – and it doesn’t clear up in a few days, it’s worth asking yourself whether the cause may be painless, soft growths inside the nose known as nasal polyps.
As the NHS explains, they don’t tend to be serious, but if they’re left untreated, they might keep growing and eventually block your nose. Possible treatment options include steroid nose drops, a spray or even surgery.
A deviated septum isn’t as uncommon a cause of a stuffy nose as you might think, but it’s not exactly the first possible cause that many of us imagine. Your nasal septum, by the way, is the thin wall between your nasal passages, with the term “deviation” referring to the septum being off-centre, resulting in one nasal passage being smaller than the other.
If the deviation is severe, one side of your nose may be blocked, reducing airflow and causing breathing difficulties. While surgery will be required to correct a deviated septum, medication may also be useful for reducing swelling and helping to reopen the nasal passages.
Unfortunately, while medications can be a godsend for some people trying to manage their problems with nasal congestion, it’s not unheard-of for medication to also cause a stuffy nose.
The likes of ibuprofen, aspirin and medications for controlling blood pressure – such as beta blockers – have all been linked to nasal congestion.
Foods and beverages
Your nose may become congested and drippy when you eat, especially if hot or spicy foods are involved. The consumption of alcoholic beverages is also – unfortunately – associated with the swelling of membranes inside the nose.
It’s almost “too obvious” a candidate among the possible causes of your stuffy nose, but it’s an important one to consider, nonetheless. Inefficient breathing and not getting enough shuteye have both been linked to nasal congestion, which is a commonly reported issue for sleep apnoea sufferers, for example.
With a stuffy nose being such a common and generalised symptom, it should be no great surprise that it also has many potential causes. The next time your nose does become clogged, it’s probably nothing serious. However, it’s still worth considering any health, environmental or lifestyle factors, such as those detailed above, that could ultimately be to blame.