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Causes of Dry Nose and Congestion

author image Dr. Isobelle Galeon
Isobelle Galeon is a physician scientist with clinical training in Internal Medicine. She earned her Graduate Certificate in Public Health Sciences and Masters in Public Health (Epidemiology) from the University of Colorado Denver. She is currently completing her PhD in Clinical Sciences and training in translational medicine at the same university.
Causes of Dry Nose and Congestion
Man with cold lying on couch using tissue. Photo Credit: Tafiphoto/iStock/Getty Images

Colds can certainly lead to a dry, stuffy nose, but things in your environment can, too. Irritating cigarette smoke and allergens like pollen, dust mites and pet dander can all lead to that dry, stuffy sensation -- that is, when the nose isn't actively runny. Some cold and allergy medications can contribute to the dryness as well. Pregnancy and certain hormone imbalances can cause nasal congestion too. Talk to your doctor if you have worsening or persistence of symptoms despite treatment.

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If it's a virus, along with a runny and stuffy nose, you may have a cough, headache, sore throat, fever and body aches, and colds can last anywhere between 2 and 14 days -- sometimes even longer. With severe congestion, mucus drainage may be impaired, resulting to nasal obstruction, mouth breathing and nasal dryness. Antihistamines and decongestants may also aggravate nasal dryness, so it is important to keep the nasal passages moist and clear of mucus with the use of saline sprays. In addition, humidifiers can help treat dry winter air to aid in loosening the mucus in the airways.

Airborne Irritants and Allergens

Environmental and airborne irritants such as cigarette smoke, pollen, household dust mites, mold and pet dander may result in episodic nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing and watery and itchy eyes. Unlike the common cold, however, fever, body aches and pains do not usually accompany these episodes, which may last for weeks at a time. American Academy of Otolaryngology suggests treatment with anti-allergy medications including steroids and decongestants. Saline sprays and humidifiers should be used to prevent nasal dryness. And although a series of allergy shots can provide long-lasting benefits against the specific trigger allergens, the identification and avoidance of the triggers is crucial to limiting the frequency of episodes.

Nonallergic Rhinitis

In some cases, airborne and other irritants such as cigarette smoke, strong odors, cold air and alcoholic drinks; medical conditions, such as pregnancy or abnormal thyroid function; and medications, such as certain blood pressure-lowering medicines or overuse of nasal decongestants, can all expand the nasal blood vessels and result in nasal stuffiness in susceptible individuals. The constant and continuous use of nasal decongestant sprays may result in severe rebound congestion that is only relieved by the additional use of the nasal decongestant. This cycle of nasal congestion is difficult to treat and can only be prevented by using these sprays strictly according to the instructions.

Chronic Infections and Nasal Polyps

Less commonly, a variety of other conditions can produce nasal symptoms, including problems with the structure of the airways due to a deviated septum or nasal polyps. Nasal polyps are noncancerous growths that result from recurrent infections, allergies, asthma or medications. Multiple growths or a single large mass can obstruct the nasal passages and result in inadequate mucus drainage, breathing problems, loss of the sense of taste and decreased or absent sense of smell. Always see your doctor for nasal symptoms that seem odd or won't go away.

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