Nasal congestion: More than physical obstruction

October 13, 2011

Nose feel congested and stuffed up? Scientists from the Monell Center report that the annoying feeling of nasal obstruction is related to the temperature and humidity of inhaled air. The findings suggest that sensory feedback from nasal airflow contributes to the sensation of congestion. This knowledge may help researchers design and test more effective treatments for this familiar symptom of nasal sinus disease.

Nasal sinus disease, usually caused by infection or allergy, is one of the most common in the United States, afflicting approximately 33 million people and accounting for over $5.8 billion in healthcare costs annually. Nasal congestion and the associated feeling of obstruction is the symptom that typically causes individuals to seek .

However, symptoms of nasal congestion have been difficult to treat effectively because, as many physicians have found, patient reports of congestion often have little relationship to the actual physical obstruction of nasal airflow.

"By establishing that feelings of nasal congestion can be sensory-related, we open doors for more targeted treatment," said study lead author Kai Zhao, Ph.D., a at Monell. "For example, effective treatments may need to include a focus on restoring optimal humidity and temperature in the patient's nasal airflow."

In the study, published online in the free-access journal , 44 healthy volunteers rated symptoms of nasal congestion after breathing air from three boxes: one containing room air at normal humidity, another containing dry air at , and the third containing cold air.

The volunteers reported reduced after breathing from both the cold air box and the dry air box as compared with the room air box, with the cold air box decreasing reports of congestion most effectively.

Calculations revealed that humidity also was an important factor, with lower humidity associated with decreased feelings of congestion.

The authors speculate that temperature and humidity interact as air moves through the nasal cavity to influence nasal cooling. It is this cooling that is then detected by 'cool sensors' inside the nose to influence the feeling of air flow as being either easy or obstructed.

"Someone in the desert, all other things being equal, should feel less congested than someone in the jungle. In the low humidity of the desert, there is more evaporative cooling inside of the nose, such that the temperature of the nasal passages is lower. This leads to a feeling of greater air flow – and less sensation of obstruction." said co-author Bruce Bryant, Ph.D., a sensory scientist at Monell.

Future studies will examine patients reporting to see if the sensory findings reported here can explain their symptoms, and also explore how sensory factors interact with other predictors of nasal obstruction.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

The 'love hormone' may quiet tinnitus

September 23, 2016

(HealthDay)—People suffering from chronic ringing in the ears—called tinnitus—may find some relief by spraying the hormone oxytocin in their nose, a small initial study by Brazilian researchers suggests.

Bile acid uptake inhibitor prevents NASH / fatty liver in mice

September 21, 2016

Drugs that interfere with bile acid recycling can prevent several aspects of NASH (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis) in mice fed a high-fat diet, scientists from Emory University School of Medicine and Children's Healthcare of ...

New therapeutic target for Crohn's disease

September 20, 2016

Research from the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) identifies a promising new target for future drugs to treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The study, published today in Cell Reports, also indicates ...

Mosquitoes, Zika and biotech regulation

September 19, 2016

In a new Policy Forum article in Science, NC State professor Jennifer Kuzma argues that federal authorities are missing an opportunity to revise outdated regulatory processes not fit for modern innovations in biotechnology, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.