Many individuals feel weak, breathless, and giddy when they are severely congested and may report feeling “sick” or “unwell.”
Congestion is a symptom and not a specific disease or diagnosis. When there is more fluid than usual in a particular organ, it is called “congestion.” The fluid comes from the minute blood vessels (capillaries and venules) that supply blood to the organ and are usually a response to an infection, allergy, or a foreign body.
- Causes of nasal congestion: Seasonal flu, viral upper respiratory tract infection (URTI), COVID-19, allergies, hay fever, fumes, reaction to incense or essential oils, rebound nasal congestion due to nose drops, hypothyroidism, pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy, blood pressure medications, mood disorders, nasal polyps, foreign body in the nose, cold weather, etc.
- Causes of sinus congestion: URTI, bacterial sinusitis, allergies to drugs, pollen, dander, mold, fragrances.
- Causes of chest congestion: Unlike nasal and sinus congestion, chest congestion needs evaluation by a doctor. Chest congestion is often a marker of lower respiratory infection or pneumonia, which may have a poor outcome if not managed timely, especially in children and the elderly. Chest congestion may be seen in many noninfective conditions, such as asthma, heart failure, high altitude sickness, and pulmonary hypertension.
13 home remedies to alleviate congestion
If you feel congested, especially in the nose or sinuses, you may give the following tips a try. Chest congestion, however, should not be neglected, and you must visit your physician for prompt evaluation and treatment.
- Rest: Rest is often all you need to recover from bad flu. Make sure you stay in bed and do not exert yourself or worse, expose others to your infection.
- Hydration: Drinking plenty of water, soups, and fruit juices helps loosen the mucus and relieve chest and nasal congestion. Sipping lukewarm water with honey relieves scratchy throat that accompanies viral flu. However, honey should not be given to children younger than one year.
- Humidifier: A cold mist humidifier often helps drain sinuses by moistening the respiratory sinuses.
- Neti pots: A neti pot is a small teapot-like instrument that is filled in sterile saline (available in pharmacy). The spout of the pot is inserted inside one nostril, and the saline is allowed to flush through the sinuses before being expelled through the other nostril. This helps drain sinuses and relieves allergic sinusitis.
- Saline drops: Putting sterile saline drops in the nose two times a day relieves stuffy nose.
- Soups: Clear soups containing celery, turmeric, ginger, pepper, and grated carrots help thin the mucus and drain secretions.
- Turmeric latte: Consuming this golden drink made from one teaspoon of turmeric in a glass of warm milk two times a day does wonder for chest congestion.
- Fomentation: Keeping a clean warm washcloth over the face and chest often relieves congestion.
- Steam inhalation: Inhalation of steam using pots or during hot showers in a closed bathroom helps with congestion and stuffiness.
- Nebulizers: Nebulization using saline is often the best way to cure congestion in kids and the elderly who cannot inhale the steam. It helps those with asthma and bronchitis.
- Over-the-counter medications: Using acetaminophen, antihistamines, and nose drops often helps with the symptoms. Make sure you do not self-medicate for more than three days in a row.
- Changing sheets and curtains: Make sure the dusty curtains and screens in the room are replaced. Get the house screened and cleaned regularly for mold.
- Avoid scented or fragrant items in the house: Often the strong scents of essential oils, perfumes, and disinfectants may result in allergic sinusitis. Make sure you avoid using such stuff in your house if you are sensitive to smells.
Is congestion a cold or COVID-19?
Congestion is a vague symptom. It may represent multiple conditions and could be a symptom of COVID-19.
Generally, congestion may be caused by COVID-19 if the following symptoms are present:
These symptoms may also be present in flu, so testing for COVID-19 is the only way to know if you have the virus. You may do a rapid antigen test that is available in pharmacies or a reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test, which is the gold standard for COVID-19 testing.
You may get infected irrespective of your vaccination status, hence get tested and follow necessary precautions.
When to visit a doctor for congestion
Make sure you visit a doctor for congestion in the following cases:
- Children and the elderly, especially if the congestion persists more than three days with home remedies
- Expectoration or coughing out sputum
- Breathlessness along with congestion
- Wheezing or choking
- History of asthma, heart disease, or chronic inflammatory lung disease
- Suspected COVID-19 infection or in contact with a person who tested positive
- Compromised immunity, such as in patients with cancer, diabetes, or human immunodeficiency virus or on chemotherapy
- Inability to maintain oxygen saturation to more than 96 percent (seen on pulse oximeter)
The doctor will examine the chest for lower respiratory tract infection and ask for X-rays to rule out pneumonia. An electrocardiogram may be done in the elderly. Sometimes, a complete blood count and blood culture may be ordered before antibiotics are started.
In case of nasal and sinus congestion, a computed tomography scan may be done to rule out polyps, adenoids, or foreign bodies in the sinus. A detailed ear, nose, and throat examination may be done as well.
Cleveland Clinic. Nasal Congestion. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/17980-nasal-congestion
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