Nasal congestion: More than physical obstruction

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

Nasal congestion can mean severe asthma

Dec 20, 2010

Nasal congestion can be a sign of severe asthma, which means that healthcare professionals should be extra vigilant when it comes to nasal complaints. Furthermore, more severe asthma appears to be more common than previously ...

Recommended for you

Liberia opens one of largest Ebola treatment centers

13 minutes ago

Liberia's president opened one of the country's largest Ebola treatment centers in Monrovia on Friday, remembering the days when "the dying, the sick, the dead who could not picked up on time" as officials ...

WHO issues new guidance on Ebola protective gear

3 hours ago

The U.N. health agency is updating its guidelines for health workers dealing with the deadly Ebola virus, recommending tougher measures such as doubling up on gloves and making sure the mouth, nose and eyes ...

User 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.