Everyone has experienced occasional bouts of nasal congestion. The most common culprits are upper respiratory infections, allergies, and nasal passage irritants like cigarette smoke or car exhaust. Most often, nasal congestion is short-lived and easily remedied with antihistamines, decongestants, or saline sprays.
Unfortunately, a significant number of people living with chronic nasal congestion find these solutions are not universally effective. If you are living with chronic congestion, a consultation with an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT) could be your first step towards lasting relief.
The Many Potential Causes of Nasal Congestion
Contrary to popular belief, nasal congestion has little to do with excess mucus production. Most often, chronic nasal congestion is the result of a persistent infection, allergies, or a structural anomaly. Regardless of the underlying cause, your ENT has the expertise to diagnose and treat your breathing difficulties.
After obtaining your medical history and conducting a thorough examination, your ENT may recommend one or more of the following diagnostic tests to shed light on the cause of your congestion:
- Allergy Skin Testing
If your ENT suspects allergies are contributing to your nasal congestion, they may recommend allergy skin testing to help identify the substances you are allergic to. Allergy skin testing commonly involves using pinpricks or scratches of suspected allergens on your skin. A skin reaction shows you are allergic. If you have a history of severe allergic reactions or certain skin conditions, your specialists may recommend an alternative (blood tests).
- Sinus Culture
If your nasal congestion is accompanied by pain or congestion in your sinuses, your ENT may recommend a sinus culture to determine if you have an infection. While sinus inflammation can be viral, chronic sinus inflammation is often the result of bacterial contamination and molds.
- Computed Tomography
Computed Tomography (CT scan) is a painless diagnostic tool that combines the use of x-rays and computer technology. A narrow x-ray beam provides a series of images from numerous angles. Your ENT uses the images generated during your scan to identify any structural abnormalities that could be causing your discomfort.
- Nasal Endoscopy
During a nasal endoscopy, your ENT uses a thin, flexible tube equipped with a small camera to view your nasal cavity and sinuses, an endoscope. Nasal endoscopy is used to detect polyps, tumors, and sinusitis, and can also be used to identify a deviated septum. A nasal spray is often used to numb the nose, and the test is usually completed in five minutes or less.
Treatment Options for Chronic Nasal Congestion
If your chronic nasal congestion is caused by chronic sinusitis or allergies, your specialist may prescribe medication to alleviate your symptoms or clear the infection. Depending on the results found during your examination or subsequent tests, your ENT may also recommend one or more of the following possible treatments commonly used to treat chronic nasal congestion or recurring sinusitis.
The three bony, sponge-like ridges inside your nose are called turbinates. Your turbinates are lined with a thick, soft tissue that warms, filters, and humidifies the air as you breathe. If your specialist determines your turbinates are enlarged or inflamed from chronic sinusitis, allergies, or irritation, turbinate reduction could alleviate your symptoms. There are several treatment methods, including:
Controlled ablation (coblation) is an in-office procedure that uses radiofrequency to shrink the lining of the turbinates. Reducing the size of the turbinates enlarges breathing space. During coblation treatment, the turbinates are numbed and a small electrode delivers radiofrequency waves to the treatment area. As the treatment area heals, the size of the turbinate is reduced without the need to remove tissue. Since the delicate mucous layer of the turbinate is preserved, there is little bleeding or swelling.
- Submucous Resection
While coblation shrinks the lining of the turbinate; a submucous reduction can further enlarge air passages by reducing the size of the bone. Also commonly performed in your doctor's office, during a submucous resection your ENT will use an endoscope and a small rotary blade to reduce the thickness of the bone. Depending on your needs, your specialist may recommend combining this procedure with coblation. Submucous resection may also be recommended to correct a deviated septum.
Polypectomy - Removal of Nasal Polyps
Polyps are small, benign growths that can develop along the lining of your nasal passages or sinuses. While soft and painless, polyps hang from the surface where they grow, can appear in clusters, and can block airflow in your nasal passages. Although researchers do not fully understand the mechanisms that cause polyps, they often develop as a result of frequent irritation. Those living with moderate to severe nasal polyps often benefit from a combination of treatments, including using medication to reduce the likelihood of reoccurrence after removal. This congestion-relieving procedure is performed with an endoscopic instrument guided by a small camera.
Septoplasty – Repairing a Deviated Septum
The bone and cartilage that divides your nasal cavity is called your septum. Ideally, your septum would be straight, but many people discover that their septum is off-center, crooked, or even s-shaped. The majority of our population (80 percent) has some degree of septum deviation. While many people are born with a deviated septum, the condition can also result from trauma to the nose. When a deviated septum contributes to chronic nasal congestion, your ENT may recommend septoplasty, a surgical procedure to reshape your septum. Septoplasty will not alter the external shape of your nose.
Identifying the Cause of Your Discomfort
Chronic nasal congestion is a common symptom with numerous potential causes, including chronic sinusitis, allergies, non-allergic inflammation, and nasal obstruction. If your current treatment methods are not providing significant relief, consider making an appointment with an ear, nose, and throat specialist. Your ENT can diagnose the cause of your chronic nasal congestion and offer solutions for long-term relief.
For a consultation with a top-rated specialist in Los Angeles CA, contact C/V ENT Surgical Group. With locations in Encino, West Lake Village, and West Hills, we specialize in diagnosing and correcting the many causes of chronic nasal congestion. We can help you breathe more comfortably with the latest advances in medical technology.