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Is nasal congestion hampering your workout?

Is nasal congestion hampering your workout and preventing you from your New Years resolutions?? Here are some causes and what can be done to help.

What is Nasal Airway Obstruction?

The nose is the first passageway through which we deliver air to our lungs. In fact, nasal breathing normally delivers 70% of airflow to the lungs. More than 20 million Americans suffer from nasal airway obstruction (NAO), which limits airflow through the nose with significant quality of life consequences.  Symptoms may include: Difficulty breathing at rest and/or while exercising, reduced sleep time/sleep quality and reduced daytime productivity.

What causes Nasal Airway Obstruction?

Even slight narrowing of the nasal passage can lead to significant reduction in airflow. There are four main causes of nasal congestion: infection, allergic, non-allergic rhinitis, and structural abnormalities. Infections are by far the most common. Infections include colds and sinusitis. The vast majority are viral and do not need antibiotics. Colds usually last up to 10 days. Patients usually get relief with over the counter cold and sinus medications, fluids and rest. Bacterial infections persist longer and usually are more severe with discolored nasal drainage and fevers. These infections usually require an antibiotic and steroid. Allergies are very common affecting 10-20 percent of Americans. Other symptoms include sneezing and itchy watery eyes. Allergies can be seasonal, usually from pollen in the air, or they can be non-seasonal, such as dust or pets. Allergies are best treated with allergy avoidance, saline rinses, nasal steroid sprays and antihistamines. Non allergic causes for nasal congestion exist. Exercise itself can cause nasal congestion and drainage. The mechanism for how this works is still not fully understood. Fortunately, if this is impacting your workout, then a prescription nasal spray can help. Structural blockages are physical barriers in the nose preventing normal airflow. This can be caused by trauma to the nose or just something you were born with.  The three areas that can cause narrowing are the lateral wall of the nose, septum and turbinates.  The lateral wall is made of cartilage in the side of your nose and can flex or collapse inward when you breathe.  Some athletes use Breathe rite strips to overcome this collapse.  The septum is a wall, made of cartilage and bone, between the nostrils which can bend and block the nasal passage.  Turbinates are ridges of bone and tissue inside your nose which can limit airflow when enlarged.  Medications do not work as well because the problem is structural.  Structural abnormalities usually require surgical repair.  These surgeries can be done in an outpatient setting with most patients returning to work after 3-4 days.  Nasal packing is usually not required which helps with discomfort.  Surgeries can be tailored to certain problem areas listed above.  If you have questions about whether or not surgery is needed a simple questionnaire and a good physical exam can determine whether or not surgery is right for you.

Dr. Maher Abu-Hamdan is a general ENT and has special interest in sinus and endocrine surgeries. Dr. Abu-Hamdan practices at Allied ENT Specialty Center, a Division of Allied Physicians of Michiana, which is located at 6301 University Commons Ste 360. To schedule an appointment please call 574-232-4800.


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