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Nasal Congestion or Obstruction

Nasal obstruction can cause difficulty breathing, congestion, chronic sinus infections, snoring, sleep apnea, and other symptoms that can interfere with a patient’s quality of life. Board-Certified Otolaryngologist (ENT) and fellowship-trained Rhinologist Dr. Shawn Allen can properly diagnose the conditions behind nasal obstruction and customize a treatment plan so that residents of Houston, The Woodlands, and nearby areas in Texas can achieve lasting relief.

Woman with nasal obstruction holding her nose

What is Nasal Obstruction?

Nasal obstruction is a blockage in the nasal passages that often leads to congestion and mouth-breathing when severe. Patients may experience nasal obstruction in one nostril or both. Nasal obstruction may be a constant issue for some patients (such as a deviated septum causing a fixed obstruction), while it may affect others only at certain times of the year (such as fluctuations in the size of the turbinates due to colds, seasonal allergies, etc.). In many patients, it alternates sides due to fluctuations in turbinate swelling (the natural “nasal cycle”). Nasal obstruction warrants treatment when obstructions are impairing nasal breathing more frequently and impacting quality of sleep or energy levels, accompanied by other symptoms such as pressure, pain, or drainage, and fail to improve with consistent use of topical nasal steroid sprays and allergy medications.

Woman blowing nose in tissue

Symptoms of Nasal Obstruction

Nasal obstruction may be caused by a number of factors, and may present with symptoms such as:

  • Congestion
  • Difficulty breathing through one or both nostrils
  • Runny nose
  • A nasal voice
  • Mouth breathing
  • Restless sleep
  • Snoring
  • Headache
  • Postnasal drip
  • Pain or pressure in the face
  • Frequent sinus infections

Nasal Obstruction Causes

In many cases, nasal obstruction is the Trusetd Source Checkbox Trusted Source Nasal obstruction: a common presentation in primary care Mohamed S, Emmanuel N, Foden N Go to Source result of structural issues within the nose or sinus cavities. Common structural causes of nasal obstruction include:

Deviated Septum
The septum is a structure made of bone and cartilage that separates the nasal cavity into two nostrils. When the septum is crooked, or deviated, it Trusetd Source Checkbox Trusted Source Deviated Septum American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery Go to Source can make it difficult to breathe through the nose.

Turbinate Hypertrophy
Turbinates are small bony structures covered by a skin called mucosa that lie on either side of the nasal septum. In patients with turbinate hypertrophy (enlargement), the Trusetd Source Checkbox Trusted Source Turbinate Hypertrophy American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Go to Source mucosa is enlarged or inflamed, either as the result of anatomical abnormalities or factors such as infection or irritation. Turbinate hypertrophy can lead to nasal congestion or nasal obstruction, in addition to other symptoms.

Nasal Valve Collapse
Nasal valve collapse, or stenosis, can be caused by a deviated septum, injury, prior rhinoplasty procedures, or by progressive weakening of the nasal cartilages associated with aging. Nasal valve collapse can occur on one or both sides of the nose. Nasal obstruction and congestion is a common symptom of nasal valve stenosis.

Nasal Polyps
Nasal polyps are Trusetd Source Checkbox Trusted Source Nasal Polyps American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology Go to Source benign soft tissue growths in the nasal passages or sinuses that may be caused by chronic sinus infections, allergies, or sensitivity to certain medications. Nasal polyps don’t generally cause pain, but large nasal polyps can cause nasal obstruction.

Additional factors that may cause or contribute to nasal obstruction include:

  • Sinus Infections (Sinusitis)
  • Allergies
  • Non-Allergic Rhinitis>
  • Chronic nasal decongestant abuse
  • Mucus buildup
  • Nasal foreign bodies (generally seen in young children)
  • Tumors or growths within the nasal cavities or sinuses

Nasal Obstruction Treatment

Treatment for nasal obstruction is dependent upon the cause of the obstruction itself. During a consultation with experienced Rhinologist Dr. Shawn Allen, an examination will be conducted that might involve nasal endoscopy (during which a small camera is used to look inside the nose), and a CT Scan of the sinuses to help determine the full extent of the problem. When Dr. Allen has diagnosed the source of nasal obstruction, he can formulate a treatment plan designed to provide lasting relief.

Treatment options for nasal obstruction include:

Nasal Sprays and Medications

If a patient’s nasal obstruction is caused by allergies or a sinus infection, topical nasal steroid sprays, antibiotics, and possibly decongestants or antihistamines can reduce nasal swelling and drainage and make it easier to breathe. Steroid pills may also be prescribed in certain patients. If a patient’s nasal obstruction does not adequately respond to medication or is caused by factors that are not treatable with medications, surgery may be recommended.


Septoplasty, or deviated septum repair, is an outpatient surgical procedure performed endoscopically to straighten the septal deviation and improve airflow through the nasal passages.

Turbinate Reduction

For patients whose chronic nasal obstruction is a result of turbinate hypertrophy, nasal turbinate reduction (or inferior turbinate reduction) may be performed. This is an endoscopic procedure performed to Trusetd Source Checkbox Trusted Source Turbinate Reduction Stanford Health Care Go to Source reduce the size of the turbinate tissue.

Nasal Valve Repair

Nasal valve repair surgery often involves using long-lasting stents or donor cartilage from another part of the patient’s body to reinforce a collapsed nasal valve.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you know if you have a nasal obstruction?

The best way to determine whether your congestion and other symptoms are caused by nasal obstruction is to consult with an experienced Rhinologist such as Dr. Shawn Allen for an examination and diagnosis. Once Dr. Allen determines the source of your symptoms, he can formulate the most effective treatment plan.

Will surgery to correct a nasal obstruction change the way my nose looks?

Rarely. Nearly all of the procedures Dr. Allen performs to alleviate nasal obstruction are endoscopic, which means that they are performed through the nostrils using a small camera and instruments on the inside of the nose.

Dr. Shawn Allen

Contact Dr. Shawn Allen

If nasal obstruction is causing you discomfort, difficulty breathing through the nose, and other issues, it is possible to achieve relief by consulting with Dr. Shawn Allen, a Board-Certified Otolaryngologist (ENT) who specializes in treating nasal and sinus conditions. If you live in Houston, The Woodlands, or surrounding areas, please contact us to schedule an appointment with Dr. Allen.

1 Mohamed S, Emmanuel N, Foden N. Nasal obstruction: a common presentation in primary care. Br J Gen Pract. 2019 Nov 28;69(689):628-629. doi: 10.3399/bjgp19X707057. PMID: 31780494; PMCID: PMC6867212. Available: Accessed December 20, 2022.

2 American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. Deviated Septum. Available: Accessed December 20, 2022.

3 American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Turbinate Hypertrophy. Available: Accessed December 20, 2022.

4 American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Nasal Polyps. Available: Accessed December 20, 2022.

5 Stanford Health Care. Turbinate Reduction. Available: Accessed December 20, 2022.

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Dr. Shawn Allen has either authored or reviewed and approved this content.

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