How do I clear congestion? What to know about treatments and causes

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It may sound simple, but first try to clear your nose as much as possible by blowing gently into a tissue, said Dr. Raj Sindwani, an otolaryngologist at the Cleveland Clinic. You can use an over-the-counter saline nasal spray to help irrigate your nasal passages two or three times a day, Dr. Dykewicz said. Staying hydrated is also important, as fluids can help thin the mucus in your nose, allowing it to drain more easily. A steam shower can help open up your nasal passages, too, Dr. Hochman said.

Some over-the-counter medications can help deal with congestion, though many come with warnings, Dr. Dykewicz said.

If allergies are the root cause of your congestion, your doctor may recommend an oral antihistamine such as cetirizine (Zyrtec) or fexofenadine (Allegra) for mild symptoms. Most antihistamines are safe to take long-term, Dr. Hochman said, but if you’re going to use them for more than a week or two, you should consult a doctor.

For more severe symptoms, medicated nasal sprays can help, but some are safer for long-term use than others, Dr. Dykewicz said. Dr. Sindwani said that steroid nasal sprays that contain active ingredients like fluticasone (Flonase), triamcinolone (Nasacort) or budesonide are safe to use for as long as you need them. “No problem, you can use those ads infinitely,” he said.

But nasal sprays that contain decongestants like oxymetazoline (Afrin) or phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine) shouldn’t be used for more than three to five days, or you risk what doctors call “rebound congestion,” Dr. Dykewicz said. These drugs cause your blood vessels to constrict, opening your nose for a brief period of relief, Dr. Hochman said — but then, if used repeatedly, the mucosal surfaces in your nose can swell. are, and some people feel worse than before. There is some risk that, after prolonged use of these nasal sprays, inflammation may persist and require additional treatment with steroids, Dr. Dykewicz said.

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