How to treat and sleep better with a stuffy nose

a person wearing a blue shirt: Stuffed up noses can be caused by infection, but dry air and your sleeping position may also be to blame. raquel arocena torres/ Getty Images

© raquel arocena torres/ Getty Images
Stuffed up noses can be caused by infection, but dry air and your sleeping position may also be to blame. raquel arocena torres/ Getty Images

  • A stuffy nose isn’t always caused by an infection; it can be due to the weather and allergies too.
  • To relieve congestion, stay hydrated, use a humidifier, and sleep on your back if possible.
  • If only one of your nostrils gets clogged, this is fairly common and not dangerous.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

Nasal congestion, also known as ” a stuffy nose,” isn’t always caused by infection. Though upper respiratory tract infections are a common cause, weather changes, allergies, and hormonal changes can also lead to congestion.

Nasal congestion is usually due to inflammation as the body responds to a certain trigger, like viruses or allergens, says Brian Antono, MD, MPH, medical instructor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the Duke University School of Medicine. Nasal tissues and blood vessels swell up, limiting airflow and creating the stuffed up feeling in the nose.

Additionally, you may have noticed that one side of your nose is more stuffed than the other. Congestion normally alternates between the two nostrils every four to six hours because of the nasal cycle, that’s why you can get stuffy on only one side. This isn’t usually a sign of anything dangerous.

Here’s what you need to know about the causes and treatment of nasal congestion.

What causes a stuffy nose?

  • Upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs), such as the common cold, flu, or sinusitis
  • Dry air and sudden humidity changes
  • Irritants, like tobacco smoke or car exhaust
  • Allergens, such as pollen, dust mites, or pet dander
  • Hormonal changes, like menstruation or pregnancy
  • Nasal polyps

How can you treat a stuffy nose?

When trying to alleviate nasal congestion, it’s important to avoid the irritants and allergens that may be causing your stuffed-up nose. In addition, there are also several remedies that you can try.

Remedies for congestion

  • Drinking plenty of water helps keep the mucus thin, which can relieve nasal congestion.
  • Sleeping on your back instead of lying on the side to avoid making one or both nostrils congested. You can also add an extra pillow for more comfort.
  • Using a humidifier to eliminate dry, irritating air and ease respiratory symptoms.
  • Trying nasal saline sprays, which can reduce nasal symptoms and lower the likelihood of URTIs.
  • Using a bulb syringe or neti pot to run a saline solution through your nasal passages to improve nasal symptoms. “It can clear out allergens and mucus by flushing the nose. To make sure you don’t have any bacteria or particles in the water which may cause an infection, use only sterile or distilled water,” says Anna Balabanova Shannahan, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

How should I sleep with a stuffy nose?

If you have a stuffy nose, you might have trouble sleeping. Additionally, you might notice that one nostril is more clogged than the other, this may be due to how you’re sleeping.

One cause may be your posture. “When going from sitting to lying down, there is an increase in pressure in the nose which can contribute to congestion. If you lay on one side, this can also happen and cause stuffiness in one nostril,” says Shannahan.

To sleep with a stuffy nosed, lay on your back, propped up by a pillow. Additionally, try using a humidifier and take a nasal decongestant.

“It’s actually very common to have one-sided nasal congestion, or congestion that alternates from one side of the nose to the other. It is not necessarily a sign of any underlying anatomical abnormality or health condition,” says Shannahah.

Insider’s takeaway

Upper respiratory tract infections, allergens, irritants, and hormonal changes are all causes of nasal congestion.

To relieve symptoms, drink plenty of water, use a humidifier, sleep on your back, or try nasal saline sprays or irrigation.

Having one-sided nasal congestion is common because of the nasal cycle, and it’s not necessarily a sign of a certain health condition.

Viral infections that cause nasal congestion usually last about 10 to 14 days and will go away on their own, but if it lasts longer than that or is accompanied by fever, it’s best to see a doctor, says Shannahan.

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