When does a blocked nose require medical attention? Pharmacist shares symptoms to spot

Minor illnesses are the most common causes of nasal congestion. It happens when the tissues lining your nose become swollen, and this swelling is due to inflamed blood vessels.

Anything that irritates the inside of the nose can cause a stuffy nose, according to Abbas Kanani, pharmacist of Chemist Click, and the irritation triggers a chain reaction of inflammation, swelling and mucus production, making it hard to take in air through your nose.

Kanani explained: “This could be down to a cold or flu. Adults typically have two to three colds per year which most commonly happen during the winter season.

“Congestion can also be the result of irritation caused by allergies from irritants in the air, such as tobacco smoke, perfume and dust.

“You can often treat it without seeing a GP, usually through medicines such as decongestants which offer short-term relief and are available as nasal sprays, drops, tablets, capsules and liquids.”

Most can be bought over the counter from pharmacies without a prescription, but while the majority of people can use decongestants safely, they’re not suitable for everyone.

Kanani warned: “People with diabetes, high blood pressure or taking other medicines should always talk to a GP before using them.

“Humidifiers can also be very effective, humidified air can relieve the discomfort of colds and the flu and help break up mucus so you can cough it up.”

When should you seek medical advice?

Although most nasal congestion will usually come and go with no problems, there are some occasions when people should seek medical advice for it, said Kanani.

He continued: “If you notice that your symptoms have been around for more than 10 days, you have a high fever, your face hurts or what’s coming from your nose is yellow, green or bloody, you should speak to a doctor”.

Left untreated, nasal congestion can cause sinusitis, nasal polyps or middle ear infections.

What can yellow or green mucus with sinus pain or a fever signal?

These symptoms can signal a bacterial infection, said Kanani. He explained: “Sinusitis is common after a cold or flu and mild cases can be treated at home by getting plenty of rest, drinking plenty of fluids and taking painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. However, if your symptoms are severe, painkillers do not help and symptoms do not improve after 1 week, you should see your GP.

“Its also advisable to book an appointment if you keep on getting sinusitis. The doctor will conduct a physical examination and ask you about your symptoms.”

What does it mean if you see blood after blowing your nose?

While this may concern you it’s often not serious. Kanani said: “Blood in your mucus can be caused from frequent nose blowing or breathing very dry air. You may also notice bleeding when blowing your nose because you take certain medications. Blood-thinning medications like aspirin and warfarin can affect the ability of your blood to clot.”

But if you see a lot go blood in your mucus, you should tell your doctor, said Kanani. Very rarely, blood when blowing your nose can be caused by a tumour in the nose.

What else can a blocked nose be caused by?

A blocked nose can also be a result of a broken nose. Kanani said: “It can cause you to have difficulty breathing through your nose and might feel blocked.

“A broken nose usually heals on its own within three weeks, but you should seek medical advice if it’s not getting better or your nose has changed shape.”

In most cases, a stuffy nose can be annoying but treatable.


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