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Home / Hay Fever / The ultimate guide to clearing a blocked nose

The ultimate guide to clearing a blocked nose

Learn how to tackle nasal congestion

Perhaps the most frustrating symptom of a cold or hay fever is a blocked nose. It occurs when the lining of your nose is inflamed. It is uncomfortable and can cause sleeping problems and headaches.

Woman looks sad with cold.

Thankfully, there are several ways to treat it. From natural remedies to over-the-counter & prescription medicines, keep reading to learn some of the best ways to treat nasal congestion.

What causes a blocked nose?

Nasal congestion (or rhinitis) occurs when something irritates and inflames the lining of your nose. This could be a virus or allergen.

It may feel like your nose is full of mucus, but this feeling is caused by your nasal passages swelling and restricting airflow. This is what causes that stuffy feeling.

The most common cause is cold and flu. The virus often directly enters through the nose and the cells multiply in the nasal tissue. This causes your body to trigger an inflammatory response.

If you find you get congestion often, it could also be due to hay fever (allergic rhinitis). Your body mistakes the allergen (e.g. pollen, dust mites or pet hair) as harmful, and triggers an immune response. This is what causes hay fever symptoms.

Some other less common causes include:

  • smoke, perfume and paint fumes
  • alcohol & spicy food
  • changes in the weather
  • hormone changes
  • medicines such as blood pressure medicines, aspirin and anti-inflammatory painkillers (e.g. ibuprofen)
  • conditions like an underactive thyroid (e.g. hypothyroidism)
  • using decongestant nasal sprays too often
  • chronic sinusitis
  • nasal polyps
  • deviated septum

Can a blocked nose be a sign of a more serious condition?

A blocked nose is rarely something serious. However, it’s important to spot the signs of a potentially more serious condition.

Get advice for your blocked nose if:

  • your symptoms have not improved after a week or two despite trying treatment
  • you notice any blood in the discharge coming from your nose
  • only one side of your nose is blocked
  • you feel very unwell

It might be the sign of a more chronic condition or a complication.

What does a blocked nose feel like?

If you have nasal congestion, you will:

  • feel a stuffy sensation in your nose
  • sneeze more often
  • have difficulty breathing through your nose
  • feel a build-up of mucus in your nose
  • have a reduced sense of smell

You may also feel other hay fever or cold symptoms such as a runny nose, watery eyes, a fever, chills or fatigue.

How do I get rid of a blocked nose?

There are many treatments available for a stuffy nose. Which treatment is best for you will depend on the severity and the nature of your symptoms.

1. Nasal decongestants

The best way to treat a blocked nose is by using a decongestant. They come in topical and oral forms and both work by reducing swelling of blood vessels in the nose.

Nasal sprays/drops Tablets/liquids
  • Contain active ingredients such as oxymetazoline and xylometazoline.
  • They should only be used for 1 week at most - otherwise, it can make symptoms worse.
  • Contain active ingredients such as pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine.
  • Commonly mixed with other active ingredients in cold & flu remedies.

These treatments are suitable for both hay fever and cold symptoms.

Most of these products are available at local pharmacies. The pharmacist will make sure that you can take them.

2. Steroid nasal sprays

If you struggle with a blocked nose long-term and other treatments have not worked, you may need more specialist treatment.

Close up of woman using nasal spray.

Steroid sprays like Avamys (fluticasone) and Beconase (beclometasone) are available on prescription for allergic and non-allergic rhinitis respectively. They work by reducing inflammation in the nasal cavity.

These need to be used regularly to see the effects. For some, it may take a few weeks to see improvements.

You should not use these sprays often without the advice of your doctor or specialist.

3. Antihistamines

For a blocked nose caused by hay fever or allergies, you can take hay fever treatments called antihistamines.

Antihistamines work by reducing the allergy response caused by the chemical histamine. These medicines reverse the effects and reduce nasal congestion.

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Some common antihistamines you can get over the counter include:

  • fexofenadine (Allegra)
  • chlorphenamine (Piriton)
  • cetirizine (Zirtek)
  • loratadine (Clarityn)
  • promethazine (Phenergan)

If you find these treatments don’t work, your doctor may be able to prescribe you a prescription antihistamine like:

  • levocetirizine
  • desloratadine
  • mizolastine
  • azelastine

They will also target all hay fever symptoms, as well as the stuffy nose.


4. Natural remedies

You can try natural remedies for mild symptoms or if you can’t take many medicines.



Inhaling steam from boiling water or the shower will help clear some of the mucus.

Saline nasal spray/rinse

Saline nasal spray/rinse

The saltwater solution will help clear some of the mucus.



Menthol can be found in nasal sticks, rubs or as an essential oil. It is another natural way of loosening mucus

Warm compress

Warm compress

Placing a warm compress may reduce some inflammation in the nasal passage.

These remedies will naturally loosen or help with inflammation.

How do I clear a blocked nose if I am pregnant?

Unfortunately, pregnant women cannot take many over-the-counter cold & flu medicines because the effects on the baby are not well studied.

Always consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medication whilst pregnant. Otherwise, most natural remedies are safe for pregnant women to clear.

How do I get rid of a blocked nose at night?

The most frustrating time to have a blocked nose is when you’re trying to sleep. Lying down increases blood flow, which increases inflammation. It also means more mucus builds up, which can lead to a miserable night’s sleep.

Woman looking stressed, can’t sleep.

Thankfully, there are some things you can do to help you sleep easily.

  • Take cold and flu medicine shortly before bed - make sure it doesn’t have any caffeine in it, as many ‘daytime’ medicines do.
  • Wear a nose strip - whilst most often used for snoring, they can also help relieve nasal congestion.
  • Elevate your head - this will help the mucus drain from your nose.
  • Drink herbal or decaffeinated tea - it will soothe your congestion and help with inflammation.
  • Use a humidifier - this will add moisture to the air, which can relieve some discomfort. You can also add an essential oil like eucalyptus or peppermint to help you breathe.
  • Take a hot shower - the steam will relieve congestion.
  • Be prepared - getting up often for tissues or medicines may disrupt your sleep. Keep everything close to your bed.

Doing these things will help improve your sleep.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Anand Abbot MRCGP Written by our editorial team Last reviewed 16-01-2024
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Further reading

Hay fever treatments: what’s suitable for your symptoms

Hay fever treatments: what’s suitable for your symptoms

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