Blocked Nose (One or Both Sides) Causes and How to Unblock

We all suffer with a blocked nose at times, like when we catch a cold. Most of the time this nasal congestion is for a short period of time and eventually eases on its own till it clears completely. However, some people may suffer with chronic nasal problems where a blocked nose is persistent. Apart from medical treatment and even surgery, there are some simple ways to unblock the nose that may work in certain cases.

Why does the nose get blocked?

A blocked nose may also be referred to as nasal congestion or a stuffy nose. This blockage usually refers to the nasal passages and is a common problem. Most of the time the congestion or blockage is due to excessive mucus and an accumulation of this mucus that may not drain out fast enough. This is frequently seen with conditions that cause the nasal lining to become inflamed (rhinitis), such as with nasal infections and allergies.

Read more on rhinitis.

Mucus and Drainage

The nasal cavity is lined by a mucosa which is continous with the lining of the paranasal sinuses. This mucosa has to contend with the movement of air in and out of the nose throughout the day. As a result it is prone to drying. To counteract this drying effect, the mucosa has tiny cells that are constantly producing mucus to keep it moist. In addition this mucus traps dust and microbes that are entering the nose to prevent it from reaching the lungs.

Some mucus dries and hardens to form small crusts (commonly referred to as ‘boogers’). The mucus may also drain through the back of the throat and is unknowingly swallowed. However, when mucus is excessive then it may also drain through the nose, thereby giving rise to a runny nose (rhinorrhea). Sometimes this excessive mucus may also drain through the back of the throat and irritate the throat, as is seen with post nasal drip.

However, the accumulation of mucus in the nose can sometimes occur and this may then block the movement of air to some degree.

Causes of a Blocked Nose

There are several possible causes of a blocked nose. These conditions can be acute, where it arises suddenly and eases in a short period of time, or it may be chronic, in which case it is ongoing for weeks, months or even years.

Read more on reasons for a blocked nose.


Any injury to the nose can cause inflammation of the nasal mucosa. This may be mechanical or chemical. From vigorous nose picking to inhaling noxious fumes, the nasal mucosa quickly becomes inflamed and results in excessive mucus production. Some substances do not injure or damage the nasal lining but can cause irritation. Strong scents for example doe not cause nasal damage but does irritate the lining. This irritation may therefore cause a blocked nose until it is removed.


Viral infections of the nose are common and may also involve the paranasal sinuses. The common cold is an upper respiratory viral infection that affects most people on a regular basis. There are a number of other viruses that may also cause acute rhinitis (nose inflammation). Bacteria are another common pathogen to cause rhinitis and in some uncommon cases, even fungi can cause nasal infections.


Allergies involving the nose are also common. Allergic rhinitis may also extend to the paranasal sinuses. Pollen, dust and mold are some of the common inhaled allergens that may result in a blocked nose. In children with atopy, foods like diary and wheat in addition to inhaled allergens may aggravate allergic rhinitis and related allergic conditions such as asthma and atopic dermatitis.

Deviated Septum

A deviated septum is where the wall (septum) that divides the nasal passages is shifted towards one side. As a result one nasal passage is smaller than the other. This deviation may be present from birth or arises with some injury to the nose during the course of life. Not all people with a deviated septum have a constantly blocked nose. It may only become blocked during a nasal infection or with an allergy.


A number of different growths can arise in the nasal cavity. Polyps are benign growths that may arise in the nasal cavity. These growths are more likely to occur when there is chronic inflammation, like with ongoing rhinosinusitis. It may also be linked to asthma and aspirin sensitivity. A single polyp can occur or multiple growths may arise. Depending on the size and number of polyps, it can cause significant obstruction of the nasal passages.

How To Unblock The Nose

It is important to diagnose the exact cause of a blocked nose. Depending on the cause, it should be treated according to a doctor’s instructions. However, there are several simple remedies that can be helpful in unblocking the nose. It may be useful for short term relief and should only be commenced with a doctor’s approval.

Flush the Nasal Passages

A saline nasal spay is one of the most effective ways to flush the nasal passages. It should not be confused with decongestant sprays that medicated.Spraying the nose several times in a day can help with removing excessive mucus, treating acute infections and minimizing inflammation in allergic conditions. Another popular method of flushing the nasal passages is though nasal irrigation with a neti pot. However, recent research has show that this can increase the risk of certain infections of the nose.

Keep the Air Moist

An electric humidifier should be used to keep the air moist. Dry air can worsen nasal inflammation as well as increase the risk of infections. A humidifier is of particular importance in dry climates. In addition, air conditioning should be avoided as it dries the air. Electric fans may also have a similar effect of drying the nasal mucosa and should also be avoided. Inhaling steam can help, like standing in a steamed up shower. A saline nasal spray will also maintain the moisture of the nasal mucosa.

Use a Menthol Rub

A tried and tested home remedy is to use a menthol rub. Most strong-smelling menthol applications and even gum, candy or cough drops may have this effect. Menthol is a natural decongestant that offers short term relief. However, it should not be applied inside the nose on the nasal mucosa as it can worsen inflammation and ultimatey block a nose even further.

Please note that any information or feedback on this website is not intended to replace a consultation with a health care professional and will not constitute a medical diagnosis. By using this website and the comment service you agree to abide by the comment terms and conditions as outlined on this page