While you can’t see your sinuses, you can definitely notice them when you have a cold and feel congested. Nasal congestion is pretty common, but most people just wait for it to go away instead of trying to solve the problem.
Your sinuses are hollow spaces behind the bones of the face that are filled with air. They’re lined with mucous membranes like the ones present in your mouth or nose. In fact, they are connected to your nasal cavity too (1).
When pathogens enter the sinuses, they fill up with fluid and swell up, causing sinus pressure and head congestion. This pressure is felt around and behind your nose, behind your eyes, in your forehead, jaw, and even in your teeth (2).
Common Causes Of Congestion
Nasal congestion is characterized by inflammation of the lining of the sinuses. It’s also accompanied by excess mucous production. This mucous pushes out allergens, fungus, dirt, or other irritants.
Congestion is pretty easy to recognize because it’s typically accompanied by a stuffy or runny nose,
sinus pain, and swollen nasal tissue. You’ll probably also experience swollen nasal tissue and changes in your voice.
Other causes of congestion include (3):
- Hay fever
- Common cold
- Noncancerous growths, called nasal polyps, or benign tumors in the nasal passages
- Chemical and environmental irritants
- Chronic sinusitis
- Chronic rhinitis
- Deviated septum
- Dry air
- Structural differences that narrow those ducts
- Immune system deficiencies or medications that suppress the immune system
In children, causes include:
- Illnesses from other kids at daycare or school
- Bottle drinking while lying on the back
The Problem With Decongestion Sprays
When you visit your doctor, you will most likely be suggested a nasal decongestant. They are available either as a nasal spray or as a pill. In some cases, you may even have to undergo surgery (4).
Other conventional options include:
- Oral antihistamines to treat allergies, such as loratadine (Claritin) and cetirizine (Zyrtec)
- Nasal sprays that contain antihistamine, such as azelastine (Astelin, Astepro)
- Nasal steroids, such as mometasone (Asmanex Twisthaler) or fluticasone (Flovent Diskus, Flovent HFA)
- Over-the-counter or prescription strength decongestants, such as Sudafed
Decongestant might provide short-term relief, but they’re known to cause rebound congestion. This occurs when the mucous membranes in the sinuses respond less to the medication. Even though your body isn’t responding as well as it used to, it becomes dependent on the medication. When you stop using the nose spray, the congestion shortly returns (5). That’s why congestion should be treated naturally before asking for medical help.
If things get serious, and you notice the following symptoms, call your doctor:
- Congestion lasting longer than 10 days
- Congestion accompanied by a high fever that has lasted more than three days
- Green nasal discharge along with sinus pain and fever
- Weakened immune system, asthma, or emphysema
- Recent head injury and are now having bloody nasal discharge or a constant flow of clear discharge