What causes a blocked nose?
A cold or flu infection is the most common cause of a blocked nose because at this time mucus production increases in order to trap and flush out viruses and bacteria (also known as pathogens). However, at the same time inflammation can develop and together these things make it hard for the nose to stay well-drained thus resulting in that blocked nose feeling.
Some people find that their blocked nose gets worse at night or that it is actually runny during the day but then feels blocked as soon as they go to bed so why is this the case?
Why does my blocked nose get worse at night?
Rather than it being the time of day that influences your nasal symptoms, in many cases it is the simple act of lying down that causes a blocked nose. That’s because when you lie down in bed, your body is no longer able to drain mucus out of your nose through your throat as gravity simply isn’t working in the right direction anymore. As a result, if you’re suffering from a blocked nose it could suddenly get worse at night when you lie down in bed.
On the other hand, some people find that their nose feels completely normal all day but then suddenly becomes blocked at night. This is because a slight increase in mucus production might not be noticeable whilst you’re standing up as the nose is able to drain itself however, it will certainly become noticeable at night when this draining function is removed.
What else could be causing it?
Although the issues discussed can lead to a blocked nose, there are other things that contribute to the problem as well. So, what are these and why would they make your blocked nose worse at night?
Smoking, passive smoking, pollen and various allergens such as dust and animal dander, can cause issues for many of us. It is surprising how many allergens we can be exposed to each day, 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 can you do?
- Identify and remove any allergens you are sensitive to from the bedroom, the home and the surrounding area
- If pollen is a trigger shut your bedroom windows at night and take a shower or bath before bed to help remove any pollen which has accumulated on the body during the day
- You could also try our Pollinosan Nasal Spray which works to rinse the nasal passages of allergens to make the area feel more comfortable
- 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 but are often forgotten as a cause of a blocked nose at night. If this is an issue it is important that bed covers and sheets are washed regularly and that a dust mite protector is used on the mattress.
The sinuses are air-filled cavities in your face. We do not fully understand why they exist, but one possible reason is that it makes our voices resonant and loud. Sinusitis occurs when these cavities become inflamed – this may arise as a temporary symptom of a cold or flu, but can 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 develops. Symptoms can be worse at night, and can be affected by posture or your sleeping position.
What can you do?
- A normal bout of sinusitis only lasts a week or so and should clear on its own without any assistance from antibiotics or a GP. 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
- Our Sinuforce Nasal Spray provides relief from nasal congestion and catarrh. It reduces swelling in the mucous membranes but leaves their natural protective function intact
- Home remedies may also offer some help to those with a blocked nose. Breathing in the steam from a hot shower helps to liquefy mucus and therefore unblocks the nasal passages. Similarly, many people find it beneficial 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 Po-Ho 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 water is also beneficial. This helps to keep mucus thin and reduce the swelling in your sinuses
- Avoid alcohol as this relaxes (dilates) your blood vessels and therefore causes the tissues in your upper nasal passages to swell 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, the nasal tissues over-produce mucus in an effort to keep the area moist and this leads to a blocked nose.
Dry or dusty air is not a big problem for those of us who live in the UK but it could be an issue if you spend a lot of time in an air-conditioned environment or if you live in another country, particularly in those with desert or arid lands.
What can you do?
- Humidifiers can be extremely helpful as they add moisture to the air, which in turn allows symptoms to become more manageable.
4. Physical obstruction
No, we are not talking about a pea up a child’s nose, instead there are two main causes of a blocked nose and both can be worse at night.
The first is nasal polyps which are small growths of tissue in the nasal passages. They arise as a result of chronic inflammation such as with allergic rhinitis or sinusitis.
The second issue is called a deviated septum which basically means that the bones in the nose are not in the right place. This may arise as a congenital malformation or injury (typically a rugby injury) and leads to a blockage of the nasal passages.
What can you do?
- In general the long-term ‘cure’ for these two types of physical obstruction is surgery
- In some people, nasal decongestants such as Sinuforce can help alleviate symptoms. This product contains all natural ingredients such as chamomile, peppermint and eucalyptus oil which has a soothing effect on the nose
- Another option is using nasal strips which allow the passageways to open slightly thus assisting with breathing.
During this stage in a woman’s life, levels of oestrogen and progesterone rise which can increase blood flow to different parts of the body. In the nasal passages, the delicate tissues are more prone to swelling so this increase in blood flow can lead to restriction of air flow and a blocked nose.
As posture can worsen the situation, many symptoms can get worse at night. Also, 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
- You could use home remedies such as steaming to help clear the nasal passageways
- Avoid any potential allergens as much as possible
- Drink plenty of water
- Elevate your head while sleeping by putting your pillow at a slight angle
6. Children and blocked noses
Viral infections are the most common cause of a blocked nose amongst children. Children are much more likely to pick up bugs as their immune systems are still developing and, consequently, their resistance to infection is low. In addition, a child’s nasal passageways are narrow and are easily obstructed, so any swelling of the nasal tissues makes a blocked nose more likely.
What you can do?
- Place a few drops of Po-Ho oil on the front of your clothing, just at the top of the chest and under the neck. The vapours released will be inhaled and this will help to relieve congestion
- For many children with a blocked nose sleep will be disrupted and so keeping the bedroom humid will help to ease their discomfort. One easy way of doing this is to place several bowls of steaming hot water around the child at bedtime. Again, it can help to place a few drops of Po-Ho oil into the water
- Steam from a hot bath or shower will also help to relieve symptoms – this is also a good option if your child is struggling to get to sleep
- Lastly but most importantly, if these steps don’t help to relieve congestion a trip to your doctors may be necessary.
Published on 28 August 2015 (updated on 25 October 2018)