A stuffy nose can be very unpleasant. The sufferer may feel lethargic and uncomfortable, and it can cause breathing problems -- interrupting your beauty sleep. Nasal congestion is often associated with a cold, but many people have stuffy noses without having a cold or flu. These people often find that they get particularly stuffy at night. If that happens to you, it's important to ascertain what's causing the stuffiness, so that an appropriate treatment can be found. If you self-medicate, then you could be missing out on the opportunity of finding a long term solution, and you could even be aggravating the problem. Let's take a look at some of the causes of nighttime nasal congestion, along with possible treatments.
Sinus congestion can make it very difficult to breathe through the nose, and may cause facial pain and headaches, as well as a feeling of stuffiness. When we lie down, the power of gravity can make blocked sinuses drain in a downward direction. If you lay on one side, the sinuses will naturally drain to that side. This can create the feeling of having a blocked nose, and make breathing through the nose difficult. They may also drain down the back of the throat, a condition known as post-nasal drainage. Once diagnosed, there are a range of effective treatments for sinusitis.
The inferior turbinates are normal structures located along the sides of the nasal passages. At night, when we lay down they fill with blood and swell. A nasal cycle causes this swelling to alternate every few hours. The swelling is also exacerbated by gravity, so that there is increased swelling on the side on which we lay at night.
Nasal Spray Addiction
When a feeling of stuffiness comes on, some people reach for an over the counter nasal spray. This can be one of the worst decisions they make, as over time it can make the problem worse. The chemicals contained within nasal sprays can be very addictive, and so many patients end up using them as a matter of course every night. This can damage the nasal linings, and create further congestion in the nasal passages. It is not advised to use these sprays for more than a few days at a time. If you feel that you may be addicted to nasal sprays, seek help from a medical practitioner.
Allergies are a common cause of nasal congestion, but the pollen associated with hay fever isn't the only allergen that can aggravate or cause rhinitis. Your bedding and pillows may contain allergens that can cause the release of histamines in your body. This can cause the nasal passages to swell, and bring on the debilitating symptoms that come with an allergy attack. Your otolaryngologist can carry out tests to pinpoint the cause of your allergy, and find the most effective treatment.
The septum is the piece of cartilage and bone that runs down the middle of your nose, and separates the 2 sides. Some people have a septum that is deviated, rather than being straight. When you go to sleep on your side, this deviation – along with the swelling of the turbinates - may obstruct the flow of air through your nose, causing the unpleasant sensation of stuffiness and congestion. When necessary, safe and effective surgery can correct a deviated septum, and improve this source of nasal congestion. The past decade has seen advancement in surgery for septal deviation. In the hands of many practitioners, it is now a minimally-invasive outpatient procedure. For many otolaryngologists, packing and splints are a thing of the past, and patients tend to make a speedy recovery.
Dr. Samuel S. Becker is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a board-certified specialist in otolaryngology. He practices as an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor in New Jersey and Philadelphia.