Sinus congestion: causes, signs, symptoms and treatment

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Sinus congestion refers to a condition in which the mucus blocks the nasal passages, nose or sinuses blocking airflow across the passageways. A person with sinus congestion may experience runny nose or stuffy nose, posterior nasal drip, nasal congestion, ref eyes, cough, sore throat and fever.

Treatment for sinus congestion may often depend on its underlying cause. Treatment options often include saline nasal sprays, oral fluids, humidifiers, cough suppressants, antihistamines, decongestants and non-steroidal Sinus congestionanti-inflammatory medication or acetaminophen to treat fever.

Disclaimer: this page on sinus congestion, causes, signs, symptoms and treatment is for learning purposes only. To learn more about allergic reactions, treating fevers and recognizing emergencies sign up for first aid classes with a workplace approved provider.


Causes of sinus congestion include:

  • Allergic rhinitis
  • Deviated nasal septum – the wall that separates the nostrils may be deformed
  • Influenza
  • Exposure to cold or dry air
  • Nasal injury
  • Nasal foreign body
  • Nasal polyps
  • Sinusitis
  • Sinus cancer
  • Upper respiratory infection

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of nasal congestion may include:

  • Facial pain – pain in the nose or sinuses
  • Nasal discharge
  • Runny nose
  • Post nasal drip – drainage from the nose down the throat
  • Breathing difficulty through the nose due to mucus blockage
  • Red eyes
  • Fever
  • Sore throat

Treatment options for sinus congestion may include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication for facial or nasal pain due to sinus congestion : Naproxen, Ibuprofen or Ketoprofen
  • Oral antihistamines
  • Decongestant medication – to be used by older children and adults only
  • Take plenty of fluids
  • Saline nasal spray
  • Antibiotics – for sinusitis which is caused by bacterial infection

Home care treatment

Follow these home care treatment steps to reduce the symptoms of sinus or nasal congestion:

  • Quit smoking and avoid passive smoking
  • Avoid alcohol or drink alcohol in moderation – 2 glasses per day for men and 1 glass per day for women
  • Drink plenty of fluids such as juices, broths, soups and water
  • Avoid exposure to cold or dry environments
  • Use saline nasal drops
  • Avoid blowing your nose too hard
  • Place a vaporizer in your room before you sleep
  • Apply warm, damp compresses on your face 3 times a day for 20-30 minutes
  • Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain
  • Take decongestant medication
  • Take oral antihistamines
  • Take medication as directed by your health care provider. Avoid skipping doses as this may make the medication less effective.
  • Consult your doctor if symptoms worsen with home care treatment

When to seek medical attention

See your doctor as soon as possible if nasal or sinus congestion accompanies the following symptoms:

  • Blood drainage from the nose or bloody mucus
  • Brown mucus from the nose
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Nasal foreign body – sinus congestion occurs due to a foreign object being lodged in the nasal passage
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Fever of 102 degrees F (38.8 C)  or above
  • Worsening cough
  • Worsening pain in the ear
  • Worsening facial or nasal pain
  • Worsening sore throat
  • Worsening headache

Learn More

To learn more about nose issues, allergic reactions and how to recognize and treat minor and major emergencies enrol in workplace approved first aid courses with a credible provider.

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