A congested, stuffy nose is a nuisance that can affect your ability to smell, taste and breathe. It is one of the most common complaints, especially when it persists or is accompanied by nasal discharge.
What Causes Nasal Congestion?
Congestion occurs when nasal tissues and blood vessels become swollen and inflamed. It has little to do with excess mucus, as many people believe. This swelling causes obstructed breathing.
Anything that irritates the nasal tissues can cause congestion. The list of possible causes is lengthy and includes infections (colds, influenza and acute or chronic sinusitis), allergies, structural abnormalities (deviated septum, enlarged adenoids/tonsils, nasal polyps or tumors), non-allergic rhinitis, dry air, cold temperatures, bright lights, cluster headaches, hormonal changes, medications, thyroid problems, spicy foods, tobacco smoke and stress.
Home remedies are usually effective in treating congestion. Decongestants (to shrink the blood vessels in the nasal passages) and antihistamines (to reduce the amount of mucus) provide quick relief, but they are only effective for a few days. If used longer, they may actually worsen the condition.
Saline nasal sprays are a better bet, especially when used in conjunction with a humidifier to moisten the air and keep nasal passages from drying out. Drink lots of fluids, especially hot tea, broth or chicken soup.
For infants and younger children – who rely on their nose for breathing – a stuffy nose can be dangerous. Try removing mucus from the nose with a nasal bulb (aspirator) and having your child lie on his or her stomach to help mucus drain. Try saline nose drops (either purchased from a drugstore or homemade by mixing one-quarter teaspoon salt with one-half cup lukewarm water).
Loss of Smell
Loss of smell, known medically as anosmia, is an inability to perceive odors. It can be partial or complete and, while rarely the symptom of a serious condition, can still cause misery for those suffering from its effects. It is usually temporary, the result of a cold or upper respiratory infection, but in some cases – especially those involving the elderly – the loss of smell may be permanent and a sign of a serious condition.
What Causes Loss of Smell?
Anosmia occurs when the sinuses become swollen and inflamed. The most common causes include colds, flu, allergies, sinusitis and nonallergic rhinitis. Nasal obstructions such as polyps, tumors and other deformities can block the flow of air through the nose and lead to a loss of smell.
There are many other possible causes including Alzheimer’s disease, brain tumor, aneurysm, diabetes, cocaine use, chemical exposure, malnutrition, hormonal imbalances, medications, Parkinson’s disease, rhinoplasty, radiation therapy and old age, among others.
What Are the Symptoms of Loss of Smell?
Obviously, the telltale sign of anosmia is a loss of smell that cannot be traced to a cold or allergy. Some patients report a change in the way things smell. If the condition persists for longer than a week or two, you should consult a doctor.
How Is Loss of Smell Treated?
Treating anosmia depends on what is causing it. If a cold or allergies are to blame, treatment is unnecessary; your sense of smell should return in a few days as symptoms improve. If a polyp or other growth is blocking your nasal passages, surgery may be necessary.
For bacterial infections, antibiotics are prescribed. Other conditions may require more specialized medical treatment. Occasionally, the sense of smell returns automatically, without any type of treatment.
Loss of smell can’t always be treated effectively, particularly if it is the result of age. In these cases, it’s important to take extra precautions to ensure your safety. Make sure the batteries in your smoke detectors are all functioning properly and change them often. Take care when eating leftovers; your sense of smell directly affects your ability to taste, and consuming spoiled food could cause serious health problems.
Call Willamette ENT & Facial Plastic Surgery at (503) 581-1567 for more information or to schedule an appointment.
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