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Breathing Easy: Understanding Common Nasal Conditions and Treatments

Although breathing is usually an automatic function, done without any thought, breathing can be all you think about when it’s not coming easily. Let’s look at some of the common nasal conditions that can interfere with breathing and the available treatments to get you back to normal.

Nasal Congestion

When the tissues inside the nose become swollen, it becomes difficult to breathe properly. Nasal congestion can be triggered by colds or other viruses, sinus infections, or irritants in the environment such as smoke or pollution. Nasal sprays or decongestants can provide temporary relief by reducing inflammation and swelling in the nasal passages. For chronic nasal congestion, relief will only be found by addressing the underlying cause.

Allergic Rhinitis

Also known as hay fever, allergic rhinitis affects millions of people. The immune system overreacts to substances like pollen, dust mites, mold spores or pet dander. Allergy symptoms can include sneezing, a runny nose, itchiness or nasal congestion. Over-the-counter antihistamines and nasal corticosteroid sprays can provide relief for symptoms, while avoiding allergens can reduce exposure and prevent symptoms in the first place. For more severe cases, immunotherapy may be the recommended treatment.


Inflammation of the sinus passages can cause pain, pressure and congestion. Acute cases last for a short period of time, generally a week or two, while chronic sinusitis persists for several weeks or months. Bacterial infections, allergies or nasal polyps can all cause sinusitis. Home remedies such as nasal rinses and rest can help resolve sinus infections. More severe cases may require prescription antibiotics.

Deviated Septum

A deviated septum occurs when the thin wall dividing the two sides of the nose is shifted from center, creating a smaller nasal passage on one side. For some people this is present from birth, while others may develop a deviated septum due to an injury or trauma to the area. Deviated septums can make breathing difficult, cause nosebleeds and increase the likelihood of developing sinus infections. For some cases, surgery to improve airflow by straightening the septum may be necessary.

Nasal Polyps

Nasal polyps are soft, benign growths in the nasal passages or sinuses. Nasal polyps are caused by chronic inflammation due to allergies, asthma or sinus infections. Symptoms include a reduced sense of smell, pain or pressure in the sinuses and congestion. Corticosteroids can reduce inflammation, but surgical removal may be necessary as well.