Terms that are used to describe nasal blockage

Several terms are used by a person who has nasal blockage. These include ‘stuffy nose’, ‘congestion’, or simply difficulty in breathing through the nose.

Anatomy of the nose

The structure of the nose can be likened to a tent. The central partition in the nose is called the septum, and it helps to support the nose. This septum is part cartilage and part bone. The walls of the nose are not smooth. They have outgrowths called turbinates, which project into the nasal passage. We have 3 turbinates, and under the middle one open most of the sinuses.

The lining of the nose or mucosa covers all the above mentioned structures. This lining over the turbinates is rich in blood vessels. Also, the lining has glands that produce mucus. The nasal and sinus lining are continuous, and any disease process affects both parts together.

What are the causes of nasal blockage?

Nasal blockage can be due to three reasons:

  1. There can be a structural problem such as a twisted (deviated) septum. If this partition is crooked, one of the nasal sides can be more blocked than the other. The deviation can be confined to the septum or associated with an external deviation of the nasal shape.
  2. The lining on the walls of the nose can be swollen. This is the most common cause for nasal congestion or stuffiness. The swelling can be due to several reasons. The commonest example is a cold due to a virus, which we all get a few times every year. The swollen lining encroaches on our nasal passage causing blockage. Also, the glands in the lining are irritated by the infection and produce large amounts of mucus. This increases the sense of stuffiness. A viral cold is self limiting, but there are other reasons that cause a more protracted swelling of the nasal lining. One of the commonest reasons is nasal allergy or allergic rhinitis.
  3. The third reason for nasal blockage is a combination of the two mentioned above.

What is the management of nasal blockage?

A good history and examination are essential to make a correct diagnosis. Endoscopic examination forms an essential part. If allergy is suspected, tests may be required to identify the offending allergens.

Treatment is tailored to the condition. If a structural abnormality is found, surgery can help. Surgical correction is dependent on the effect nasal blockage has on the person’s quality of life. The operation called a Septoplasty is performed under a general anaesthetic. It can be combined with a procedure called cautery to the swollen nasal lining if required. This shrinks the swollen lining, and provides a better nasal passage for breathing. Treatment for allergies is covered in the relevant section. Please click here to view.

stuffy nose
blocked nose
nose anatomy
nose anatomy
deviated septum
nasal examination

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