What causes a blocked nose?
The most common cause of a blocked nose is an infection like a cold or flu. This can cause the nasal passages to become inflamed, or could cause an excess production of mucus in order to flush out pathogens. All this inflammation and excess mucus can make it hard for the nose to keep itself well-drained, resulting in that blocked feeling!
However, you might find that your blocked nose gets worse at night, or that it is actually runny during the day but becomes blocked as soon as you go to bed – why is this?
Why does my blocked nose get worse at night?
In many cases it is the simple act of lying down that causes a blocked nose, rather than the time of day. When you lie down in bed, your body is no longer able to drain mucus out of your nose through your throat, because gravity isn’t working in the right direction anymore.
This could mean that if you’re suffering from a blocked nose it will get worse at night when you lie down. If you’re suffering from a runny nose, you may notice that this becomes blocked when you go to bed as it is not able to drain as it has been doing (rather annoyingly!) during the day. You may even find that your nose feels completely normal all day and suddenly becomes blocked for no reason at night – this is because a slight increase in mucus production might not be noticeable during the day as the nose keeps itself drained and clear, but it will certainly become noticeable when this draining function is removed.
What else could be causing it?
However, there are other causes of a blocked nose. So, what are these and why can they make your blocked nose worse at night?
First hand smoking or passive smoking, pollen and various allergens, such as dust and animal hair, can cause issues for many of us. It is surprising how many allergens we can be exposed to each daym especially during the hayfever season. They collect on our clothes and hair, and by the time night comes around, levels can be at their peak.
What you can do
- First and foremost, it is vital that the allergens which affect you are identified and removed from the bedroom, the home and the surrounding area. If pollen is a trigger, shut your bedroom windows at night. A shower or bath at night may also help to remove any pollen which has accumulated on the body during the day. You could also try our Luffa Nasal Spray which works to rinse and clean the nasal passages of any hayfever causing allergens.
- If cigarette smoke is the issue, ban this around the home, even for guests! Should an animal be the trigger, contact should be minimised, and pets should be kept away from bedrooms.
- Dust mites are a common allergen and often forgotten as a cause of a blocked nose at night. It is important that bed covers and sheets are washed regularly and that a dust mite protector is used on the mattress.
Sinuses are are air-filled cavities in your face. We do not fully understand why they exist, but one possible reason is so that our voices are more resonant and louder. Sinusitis is inflammation of these cavities – this may arise as a temporary symptom of a cold or flu, or become more prolonged or chronic.
Inflammation in the sinuses leads to an increase in the amount of mucus secreted, and as this collects in the upper nasal passages, a blocked nose results. Symptoms can be worse at night, and be affected by posture or your sleeping position.
What you can do
- A normal bout of sinusitus should only last a week and clear on its own without any assistance from a GP or the need for antibotics. Over-the-counter decongestants, taken orally, can be helpful but remember that many contain caffeine or other stimulants which may keep you awake and hence, should not be taken near bedtime.
- Nasal sprays are usually the treatment of choice for a blocked nose and those containing herbal based ingredients can be taken continuously for 30 days.
- Home remedies may also offer some help to those with a blocked nose. Breathing in the steam from a hot shower helps by liquefying mucus and unblocking nasal passages. Similarly many people find it useful to use a bowl of steaming water, placing their head over the bowl with a towel covering, and inhaling slowly and deeply. A few drops of a menthol or eucalyptus oil added to the hot water can improve the decongestant action.
- A salt water solution can help to liquefy mucus. Put ½ teaspoon of salt into the equivalent of two mugs of water and gently sniff the liquid into your nostrils.
- As with so many other ailments, drinking plenty of fluid is also beneficial. This helps to keep mucus thin and reduce the swelling in your sinuses.
- Avoid alcohol – this relaxes (dilates) your blood vessels and increase swelling of tissues in your upper nasal passages, which is something you don’t want if you have a blocked nose.
3. Dry dusty air
Air containing little or no moisture can be a cause of a blocked nose especially at night. As your nasal passages become increasingly dry, nasal tissues over-produce mucus in compensation, in an effort to keep itself moist. This overproduction leads to a blocked nose.
What you can do
Dry or dusty air is not a particular problem for those of us who live in the UK, but could be an issue if you spend a lot of time in an air-conditioned environment or in other countries, particularly in those with desert or arid lands. Humidifiers can be extremely helpful as they add moisture to the air, which in turn allows symptoms to become more manageable.
4. Physical obstruction
Here, we are not talking about a pea up a child’s nose. There are two main physical causes for a blocked nose and both can be worse at night:
Nasal polyps – these are small growths of extra tissue in the nasal passages. They arise as a result of chronic inflammation such as with allergic rhinitis or sinusitis.
Deviated septum – this basically means that the bones in the nose are not in the right place. It may arise as a congenital malformation or injury (typically a rugby injury), leading to blockage of the nasal passages.
What you can do
In principle, the long-term ‘cure’ for these two types of physical obstruction is surgery. In some people, nasal decongestants can help alleviate symptoms. Another option is using nasal strips which allow the passageways to open slightly, assisting with breathing.
During this stage in a woman’s life, levels of oestrogen and progesterone rise. One result is an increase in blood flow to many parts of the body. In the nasal passages, the delicate tissues are more prone to swelling, leading to restriction of air flow and a blocked nose. Posture can worsen the situation which is why symptoms can be worse at night. If you suffer from asthma, a blocked nose during pregnancy will be something extra to cope with.
What you can do
- As with any health condition that occurs during pregnancy, use of any over-the-counter remedies is not recommended without first consulting a midwife or GP.
- Home remedies such as steaming the nasal passageways may of course be used.
- In addition, avoid any potential allergens as much as possible and drink plenty of fluids.
- Other useful ideas include elevating your head while sleeping by putting your pillow at a slight angle, and using saline drops in order to keep your nasal passageways moist. This will also help to remove any mucus which may be stored.
6. Children and blocked noses
The main cause of blocked noses in children are viral infections. Children are much more likely to pick up bugs as their immune systems are still developing and consequently, resistance to infection is low. In addition, a child’s nasal passageways are narrow and easily obstructed, so any swelling of the nasal tissues makes a blocked nose more likely.
What you can do
- Place a few drops of menthol based essential oils on the front of clothing at the top of the chest just under the neck. The vapours released will be inhaled and this will help to relieve congestion.
- Sleep will be disturbed in many children with a blocked nose and keeping the bedroom humid will help. One easy way of doing this is to place bowls of steaming hot water around the child at bedtime. Again, a few drops of menthol based oils will help.
- Steam from a hot bath or shower will also do the same trick in relieving symptoms during the day or before bed.
- Build up your child’s immune system using Echinacea. In the UK and Ireland, use of this herb for children under 12 is not recommended by the Medicines authority. However, countries such as Switzerland allow for use of Echinacea in children from the age of 4 onwards.
- Lastly but most importantly, should you have any concerns relating to your child’s health, contact your GP.
Meet the author...
Having trained as a doctor at the University of Newcastle-on-Tyne, Jen Tan, Medical Director of A.Vogel, has been involved in herbal medicine research over a number of years, coordinating projects both within the UK and internationally.