Four Common Causes of a Stuffy Nose
No one is immune to one of the most common medical aliments in the world: a stuffy nose. Many things can cause it, from structural abnormalities to irritation from dust or dander.

Only your ear nose and throat doctor can determine the precise cause of a stuffy nose, but following are some of the most common causes and some tips to keep you healthy.

Cause #1: The common cold (Rhinovirus)

There’s a reason it’s called “common.” The average American has two to three colds a year. Colds are caused by different types of viruses---this means antibiotics will have no effect. Overuse of antibiotics contributes to “superbugs,” bacterial-resistant viruses and infections that are notoriously difficult to treat.

Those who are relatively healthy typically recover from a cold within 7-10 days. While over-the-counter medications will help relieve symptoms, they will not cure your cold. 

How it’s transmitted:

Most often, colds are spread by touching something contaminated and then touching your nose.

How to prevent it:

The most effective way to stay healthy is to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm soap and water. An alcohol-based sanitizer may be useful if soap and water aren’t available. Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth without washing your hands, particularly if you’ve been around someone who is sick, or you’ve touched objects such as public door handles, gas pumps or phones.

Cause #2: Sinus infections 

For so many Triangle residents, the signs are all too familiar: a throbbing pain behind the eyes or cheeks, earaches, a stuffy nose and decreased sense of smell. These are all signs of a sinus infection. 

How it’s transmitted:

There are several possible causes, including allergies, environmental irritants, viruses or bacteria. If the source is viral, then it can be spread person-to-person in a manner similar to the common cold. However, bacterial sinus infections are not contagious. 

How to prevent it:

First, if you’re prone to sinus infections, it’s a good idea to have a solid relationship with a local ENT physician. He or she can help you prepare for allergy season or recommend long-term courses of treatment.

Washing your hands frequently is still one of the best ways to prevent an infection. Avoiding exposure to cigarette or pipe smoke is vital. Also, using a humidifier to moisten the air in your home will help alleviate symptoms.

Cause #3: Allergies

Allergies (allergic rhinitis) are another distinct cause of a stuffy nose. It’s usually caused by contact with an allergen, the most common of which are pollen, dust or animal dander. Additional symptoms include a runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes. During the North Carolina spring and fall seasons, tree and grass pollen cause discomfort to thousands of Tar Heels across the state.

While this condition may be related to sinusitis, it is a distinctly different condition, and only an ENT can determine the best course of treatment.

How it’s transmitted:

People usually develop allergic rhinitis after contact with an allergen. The amount of pollen in the air can affect when symptoms develop. Hot, windy days are more likely to have pollen in the air. Household dust and pets may also aggravate allergy problems.

How to avoid it:

There are a lot of steps you can take toward reducing allergens in your home. These include shutting windows, vacuuming, bathing pets and using air filters. Over-the-counter medications can help, but often, those with chronic allergies may need prescription medication. Others may benefit from immunotherapy, where the body is gradually exposed to diluted versions of the allergen, creating a natural resistance. 

Cause #4: Structural problems within the nose

The sinus passageways are tiny, and any deformities of the bones that comprise your sinuses or nasal cavities can cause chronic stuffy noses and other problems. One of the most common of these is a deviated septum. The septum is made of cartilage and bone. It separates the nasal cavity into two sides. Many are born with a deviated septum, while others have one as a result of an accident or injury.

How to treat the common causes of a stuffy nose

Because a stuffy nose could be caused by several different things, it’s always a good idea to write down your symptoms so you can communicate effectively with your doctor. 

The common cold:

Mom was right. Rest and fluids are the best way to battle the virus. If you don’t get better within 10 days, you may have a bacterial infection. 

Sinus infections:

Your ear, nose and throat doctor can pinpoint the cause of your sinus infections and determine the course of treatment. If allergies are the source, immunotherapy may be recommended. 

Structural problems:

Surgery may be needed to correct structural problems within the nose. This focuses on the underlying cause of the stuffy nose and sinus problems instead of merely managing the symptoms.

There are so many conditions that can cause a stuffy nose. While these are three of the most common, only a health care professional can determine the cause and devise a treatment plan tailored for you.



American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. “Stuffy 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Common Colds: 
Protect Yourself and Others.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Sinus 

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Allergic Rhinitis.” Online.