Any blockage in the nose is referred to as a nasal obstruction.
Possible sources of obstruction sometimes develop slowly, as may be the case with inflammation linked to chronic sinus issues. Others are more sudden and serious in nature. Persistent obstructions can also contribute to sleep apnea and respiratory difficulties.
For this reason, any blockage that’s more than a temporary inconvenience should be reason enough to seek medical attention or see an ear, nose, and throat doctor.
Causes of Nasal Obstruction
There are many possible causes of nasal obstructions. One possibility is a blockage caused by swollen or irritated bony structures within the nose called turbinates. Covered with the pink lining inside of the nose, these structures are often affected by allergies or irritations from airborne contaminants. If the tissue that separates the nose shifts too far to one side, the result is a deviated nasal septum. This may happen because of a preexisting deformity or due to sudden trauma, like a hard fall or impact. Some patients develop a blockage due to severe cold or flu symptoms or as a reaction to certain medications. Nasal obstructions may also be caused by:
- Chronic sinusitis or severe sinus infections
- Large adenoids blocking the back of the nose
- A narrow nasal cavity present at birth (choanal atresia)
- Narrow front opening of the nose (pyriform aperture stenosis)
- Foreign objects in the nose
Diagnosing Nasal Blockages
Breathing naturally occurs through the nose. Anything that prevents this process from taking place should be identified and resolved as soon as possible to prevent related problems from developing. For instance, chronic nasal congestion may lead to habitual snoring or daytime drowsiness from frequent sleep disruptions. Diagnosis normally involves a thorough physical examination, a review of medical history, and a visual examination with a lighted scope (nasal endoscopy). If it’s believed that the problem is related to undiagnosed allergies, a comprehensive allergy assessment may be done. CT scans and MRIs may be performed to check for soft tissue or structural damage.
Nasal Obstruction Treatments
Blockages due to inflammation or tissue swelling are usually treated with medication that may include topical or oral steroids or antihistamine sprays. Severe obstructions related to nasal congestion are sometimes treated with a combination of medication and home remedies such as nasal and sinus irrigation with distilled water and a saline solution. If a bacterial infection is identified, antibiotics will be prescribed. If medication isn’t effective, surgery may be recommended to shrink swollen turbinates in the nostrils. Newer, less-invasive techniques involve the use of a small tissue-shaving device or the application of radiofrequency energy. Anatomical irregularities causing nasal blockages may be treated with:
- Corrective surgery to realign the nasal septum (septoplasty)
- Image-guided endoscopic sinus surgery
- Functional rhinoplasty to surgical repair nasal structures
Reduce your risk of developing a nasal obstruction by keeping foreign objects away from your nose. If you have allergies or sinusitis, identifying triggers and taking your medication when symptoms become noticeable may reduce nasal inflammation and keep passageways clear. Using a vaporizer or humidifier when you have a severe cold may prevent obstructions from disrupting your sleep. With nasal blockages due to underlying or structural issues, resolving these problems often provides welcome relief.