What are the Most Common Causes of Severe Nasal Congestion?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 09 September 2019
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Severe nasal congestion often occurs as the result of allergies. Non-allergic causes of severe nasal congestion can include infection, foreign objects lodged in the nose, and nasal polyps. Most causes of sinus congestion aren't serious, but the congestion can make speaking, eating, and breathing difficult, particularly for infants.

Sinus congestion usually occurs when phlegm or mucous obstruct the nasal passages. Severe nasal congestion can impair normal breathing, and can lead to chronic cough, feelings of pressure and discomfort in the face, and headaches.

Colds, flus, and allergies are probably the most common causes of severe nasal congestion. Allergies to mold, pollen, dust, dander, and cigarette smoke can cause irritation and inflammation of the nasal passages, leading to increased mucous production and obstruction of the sinuses. Bacterial, fungal, and viral infections can cause infectious rhinitis. While bacterial and fungal infections of the sinus cavities may be treatable, viral infections must usually be allowed to run their course. Most cases of nasal congestion caused by allergies or infection aren't cause for serious concern.

Abnormalities in the physical structure of the nasal passages can contribute to nasal congestion. Abnormalities of this nature may be more often diagnosed in children. The nasal congestion associated with deformities of the nasal passages is usually chronic, and does not remit. Both nostrils are usually equally affected by feelings of congestion.


Chronic sinusitis and nonallergic rhinitis can both cause severe nasal congestion. These conditions may cause symptoms of nasal congestion similar to those of a head cold. Chronic sinusitis is typically diagnosed when a sinus infection continues for more than eight weeks. Doctors do not fully understand what causes nonallergic rhinitis, but sufferers of this condition find that their symptoms can worsen in the presence of disease triggers, including strong odors, bright lighting, and pregnancy.

Most causes of severe nasal congestion do not point to serious illness. Nasal polyps, however, are sometimes believed to be a symptom of cystic fibrosis when found in children younger than 16 years of age. Cancerous tumors in the nasal passages can also lead to feelings of severe nasal congestion.

Even if the cause of the nasal congestion isn't serious, the congestion itself can have a significant impact on quality of life. Persons experiencing severe nasal congestion may also experience impaired hearing, smell, and taste. Newborn infants with nasal congestion may have particular breathing difficulties when the nasal passages are congested, since infants typically breathe through the nose when feeding and sleeping.


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