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Allergies

Stuffy nose

03/11/2008

Question:

How do you cure a stuffy nose?

Answer:

Effective treatment of a "stuffy nose" depends on having a good idea of the cause of congestion. Nasal congestion can be caused by a number of conditions, from upper respiratory infections to chronic sinus infection, from allergy to overgrowth of nasal tissue occurs with the development of nasal polyps. Curing the condition is not a matter of just treating the symptoms. There are a number of medications that decrease nasal congestion, but all of these medications work only as long as the patient takes the medication. They do not do not treat or "cure" the underlying cause.

Over the counter decongestants such as pseudoephedrine tablets and topical nasal decongestants such as phenylephrine will provide temporary relief of nasal congestion and are useful in treating colds. However, a complete solution requires knowing the cause of congestion. A physician should evaluate the problem. He or she may find that the patient shows typical signs of allergy or of a chronic sinus infection. Treatment can be initiated based on that evaluation. Further studies, such as scans of the sinuses may be in order. A referral to an allergist is indicated if the symptoms are chronic or seasonal and especially if they are associated with eye or ear symptoms. The allergist can then determine if the congestion is due to common allergens and, in addition to giving medication that helps with the symptoms, can give information on avoiding exposures. Allergists can also treat the underlying causes of allergies by allergy shot therapy which, like a vaccine, makes a more permanent change in the response. Chronic infections or nasal polyps may be the culprits and if antibiotic therapy does not eliminate the symptoms, then evaluation by an ear, nose and throat doctor (otolaryngologist) may be the best plan of action.

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Response by:

Charity C Fox, MD Charity C Fox, MD
Clinical Associate Professor of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care & Sleep
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University