Congestion is an incredibly common health issue that a wide range of conditions can cause. One of the most prevalent causes is allergies, which can lead to your airways becoming blocked and inflamed. In this article, we will discuss the causes of congestion due to allergies and provide some tips on managing it.
Why Do Allergies Cause Congestion?
As you may already know, allergic reactions are initiated by the body's release of histamine, a natural chemical responsible for immune response. It travels to and binds with various systems within the body to start the process of flushing out whatever allergen is triggering the defense reaction.
Internal tissues and passages become inflamed during this response, causing irritation and swelling within the nose, throat, and lungs. Mucus production also increases in order to trap any foreign particles.
These two elements - tightened passageways and extra mucus - lead to an inevitable build-up of mucus in the sinuses. This causes uncomfortable congestion commonly associated with allergies and the sniffling, sneezing, and coughing that usually follow.
What Does Congestion From Allergies Feel Like?
Congestion is typically defined by persistent discomfort in the face and nasal passages. Congestion from allergies has the same symptoms and it affects the same areas, so it feels like regular congestion. Here are some of the common symptoms of congestion from allergies:
The sinuses are a network of cavities located in the head. They consist of four main parts and are connected by narrow channels. It's here where allergic reactions are often concentrated, causing inflammation and soreness in the nose, cheeks, forehead, and between the eyes.
A byproduct of sinus pain, sinus pressure is the result of the excess mucus buildup that occurs during an allergic reaction. As fluids fail to drain internal cavities, they become pressurized - leading to a feeling of tightness and heaviness around the face.
Given their proximity, pressure in the sinuses can often spread to other areas of the skull. This is why those with allergy congestion may also experience various accessory headaches, such as tension, migraine, and sinus headaches. These tend to be mild-to-moderate in strength and can range from a dull ache to a sharp throbbing feeling.
Which Allergies Make You Congested?
Sinus inflammation is a byproduct of most allergic responses, meaning any allergy can cause congestion. But the most common culprits are those that cause direct irritation to the nose and sinuses through inhalation. The following is a breakdown of some of the most common airborne allergens:
Pollen is a fine, microscopic powder emitted by plants during reproductive cycles. It's most present in the air during the spring and fall but can also be found during other times of the year, depending on where you live. Due to its fine lightweight particles, pollen can travel miles in the wind, eventually finding its way into the nasal cavity and triggering an allergic reaction.
Dust mites are tiny organisms that make their home in bedding, rugs, furniture, and other materials found inside the home. They thrive on human skin cells and body oils, meaning they are often more prevalent in warm, humid environments. As they move around, their waste products are often breathed in, leading to various allergic reactions.
Mold is a type of fungus that grows on wet surfaces and in damp areas, such as bathrooms and basements. It's known to cause many allergic reactions, often through inhalation or direct contact. Mold spores are tiny and lightweight, making them easy to breathe in and difficult to avoid.
Dander refers to the tiny flakes of dead skin that animals constantly shed. Dander is typically found in the fur of cats, dogs, and other pets. But it can also be tracked into the home by those who have had close contact with such animals. Although dander is heavier than allergens like pollen, it's still capable of circulating in the air for extended periods. It also accumulates easily on furniture, carpets, and other home surfaces.
What Else Causes Congestion?
Allergies aren't the only thing to blame for congestion. There are a number of other viral, environmental and physical influences that are known to cause the symptom as well. We have compiled a list of some other causes of congestion, including their symptoms.
Sinus infections (sinusitis) can have a range of causes but are always the same in nature: inflamed, blocked, or swollen sinuses that prevent proper drainage. This can trigger a range of uncomfortable symptoms, such as pressure and pain in the head, thick yellow or green mucus, and a general feeling of congestion.
Nasal polyps are small, painless growths that can develop in the nasal cavity. While their exact cause is unknown, they are known to block nasal airflow and cause severe congestion. In some cases, they may also be accompanied by other symptoms such as a decreased sense of smell, snoring, and fatigue.
Colds & Flu
Viral illnesses such as the common cold and influenza can induce congestion in the nasal cavities. In these cases, inflammation is caused by direct contact with a virus rather than an allergic reaction. Flu-induced congestion is usually accompanied by other symptoms, such as fatigue and body aches.
Dehydration occurs when the body loses more water than it takes in. This can lead to a number of uncomfortable symptoms, including sinus inflammation and congestion. It's also worth noting that dehydration can worsen existing congestion by further irritating nasal tissues.
Overuse of Nasal Sprays
Although nasal sprays are great for alleviating short-term congestion, they can also be a source of long-term problems. Overuse or improper use of these medications can lead to inflammation and swelling in the nasal cavities, resulting in further congestion.
Air pollution, fumes, and toxic particles can all irritate the nasal cavities. If a person is exposed to these irritants regularly, they may begin to experience chronic congestion.
How Do You Prevent Congestion From Allergies?
If you are facing allergy-induced congestion, the best action is to start addressing the underlying cause. There are many preventative measures you can take to reduce your exposure and, in turn, symptoms.
Vacuuming & Dusting Regularly
Regularly cleaning your home can help to reduce your exposure to allergens such as pollen, pet dander, and mold. Make sure to vacuum furniture and carpets and dust hard surfaces such as windowsills and countertops.
Keeping the Home Dry
Keeping your home dry and well-ventilated is key to reducing the risk of allergen buildup. This means regularly running fans and air conditioners and fixing any leaks or dampness in the home.
Washing Your Hair & Clothing
If you spend a lot of time outdoors, it's worth washing your hair and changing your clothes as soon as you arrive home. This is because pollen and other allergens can accumulate on your body and clothing, and spread around your house, exacerbating your symptoms.
Keeping Windows Closed
During peak allergy season, it's best to keep your windows closed and rely on air conditioning or fans instead. This will help to prevent allergens from entering your home and contributing to your congestion.
What Helps Congestion Due To Allergies?
In some cases, exposure reduction won't be enough to eliminate allergy-induced congestion completely. The next best option is to go after the symptoms themselves. Here are some of the best ways to do that:
Nasal irrigation is a simple but effective remedy for congestion due to allergies. It involves using a saline solution to flush out allergens and mucus from the nasal cavities. This can be done with a neti pot to squirt the solution into your nose.
Several over-the-counter (OTC) medications are designed to help temporarily alleviate congestion due to allergies. These include antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal sprays. Be sure to follow the instructions on the packaging of these medications to ensure safe and effective use.
Steam therapy is another excellent option for relieving congestion due to allergies. Sitting in a steamy bathroom for a few minutes can help to open up the nasal passages and loosen mucus. Alternatively, you can also inhale steam from a hot bowl of water or use an electric vaporizer.
Hot Compresses & Facial Massages
Applying a hot compress to your face or neck can help relieve congestion due to allergies by increasing blood flow to the nasal tissues.
Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) allergy drops or tablets are a more effective way to treat allergies. Whereas OTC medicines mask symptoms, SLIT goes after the source of your allergies. Sublingual immunotherapy is placed under the tongue and slowly introduces small, gradually increasing amounts of the allergen to your immune system. Over time, this re-trains your immune system to ignore these harmless allergy triggers as opposed to responding with an allergic reaction.
When to See a Doctor
Although congestion is generally non-serious, it can still be bothersome and interfere with daily life. If your symptoms persist or worsen despite taking preventative measures and trying home remedies, it's best to consult a doctor. They can rule out any underlying conditions or suggest more effective treatments.
Take Our Allergy Assessment
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