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Expert Q&A

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One of my nostrils has been clogged. Why?

Asked by Lauren B., Mississippi

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For over a month now, one of my nostrils has been clogged, so to speak. It will randomly open up, or switch from the right to the left. What is causing this, and what can I do to clear it?

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Living Well Expert Dr. Jennifer Shu Pediatrician,
Children's Medical Group

Expert answer

Thanks for your question. I believe you are describing an interesting occurrence called the nasal cycle, where the nostrils alternate being more congested on one side and then more congested on the other. This pattern happens when there is more blood flow to the structures inside the nose, such as the turbinates, which are the round masses that you may see if you look into the nostrils. Increased blood flow causes congestion in one nostril for about 3 to 6 hours before switching to the other side. There is also increased congestion when one is lying down, which can be especially noticeable when the head is turned to one side.

Most people do not notice the alternating obstruction unless they have prolonged blockage of one or both sides of the nose, such as from a deviated nasal septum, a cold, sinusitis, nasal polyps or allergies. Your doctor may be able to determine the cause based on your history of symptoms along with a physical examination. Further testing may be needed to confirm a diagnosis so that the condition can be treated appropriately. Treatment may involve using medications and remedies such as antihistamines or nasal steroids for allergy symptoms, decongestants, saline washes or sprays, or antibiotics. Adhesive nasal strips or inhaled/aromatic therapies may also help. If there is a problem with the nasal anatomy that interferes with breathing, sleeping or the ability to smell, surgery may be needed.

In many instances, such as the one you describe, the sensation of being clogged will be temporary and will go away without any special treatment. I wish you luck, and please be sure to consult with your physician should you have any questions.

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