A nasal obstruction (nasal means nose) is a complete or partial blockage of the nasal passage on one or both sides of the nose. Most patients report difficulty breathing or that they can only breathe through one side of the nose. Nasal obstructions often coexist with allergies and may cause chronic sinusitis (inflammation of the sinus cavities) or sinus infections. A doctor may be able to diagnose a nasal obstruction with a medical history and examination that includes examining the nasal passages with a lighted scope. In some cases, imaging studies like CT scans or MRIs may be necessary. Patients with chronic nasal obstruction may also need an allergy evaluation.
Some people are born with anatomical conditions that cause or increase the risk of nasal obstruction. For example, choanal atresia causes excess tissue in the nasal airway that blocks the flow of air. Allergies and irritations from dust or air pollution can lead to chronic swelling of the mucous membranes that line the nose and interfere with nasal breathing; the patient breathes through the mouth instead. The nasal septum – which separates the nostrils inside the nose, may be deviated at birth or be a result of an injury. A foreign body in the nose may obstruct the passageway, and large adenoids (tissue near the tonsils in the throat) may also cause nasal obstruction.
Treatment of nasal obstruction depends on the cause. If allergies are a factor, treating the allergies with medications or allergy injections (allergy desensitization) may solve the problem. Nasal inflammation may be treated with a nasal steroid spray. Surgery may be required for nasal polyps or a deviated nasal septum. If the turbinates (spongy curled bones on both sides of the septum that are covered with tissue) are chronically swollen, they may need to be thinned with a special radio-frequency energy treatment or surgically shaved. Adenoids are often treated with surgery as well, and a foreign body in the nose may need to be surgically removed.
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