If you have sinus congestion (also called nasal congestion or rhinitis) the inside of your nose is inflamed or obstructed causing a build-up of mucus and a blocked or runny nose.


  • A blocked or runny nose
  • Build-up of catarrh
  • Nasal pain
  • Difficulty breathing

What causes congestion?

Congestion involves blockage of one or more of the four pairs of sinus passageways in the skull. The sinuses are the air pockets connected to your nasal passages by small tubes which allow air to flow from the nose into the sinuses and mucus to drain from the sinuses into the nose.

A blockage can arise from swelling of the nasal tissues or due to having a deviated septum whereby the bone and cartilage that divide the nasal cavity of the nose is off-centre and obstructs normal breathing.

In rhinitis the inflammation is usually due to swollen blood vessels and a build-up of fluid in the tissues of the nose. This results in congestion and a build-up of catarrh. Sometimes this is caused by a viral infection attacking the lining of the nose and throat or by hormonal changes during say pregnancy or puberty.

Sometimes rhinitis is caused by an allergic reaction to a substance such as pollen (known as allergic rhinitis).

How to treat a congestion

  • Use a saline nasal spray to gain relief.
  • Keep the head elevated as congestion worsens when you lie down.
  • Adhesive strips placed on the nose can help widen the nostrils to make breathing easier.
  • Over-the-counter medicines may help relieve stuffiness and ease breathing.
  • Decongestants work by shrinking the blood vessels in the lining of the nose but must only be used for three days after which they can make the congestion worse.
  • Antihistamines may reduce the amount of mucus but can cause drowsiness.
  • A nasal spray containing corticosteroids (which treat inflammation) may be prescribed.

Alternative Remedies & Self-help

  • Increase the humidity in the air with a vapouriser or humidifier.
  • Drink extra fluids including hot tea, chicken soup or broth.
  • A steam inhalation is also worth trying. This involves sitting with your head over a bowl of hot water, with a towel over you and breathing deeply to allow the steam to help loosen mucus and make your nose easier to blow.
  • Inhalations containing menthol and essential oils will also help ease nasal congestion. You can add menthol, eucalyptus, camphor, thymol or pine oil to your own steam inhalation.