Although it is one of the most prominent and bothersome symptoms of colds and allergies, nasal congestion is a commonly misunderstood phenomenon. Many people believe that their congestion is caused by excess mucus trying to flush out the cause of illness, a completely understandable assumption considering the sheer number of tissues they go through in an hour. The pressure throughout the face and difficulty in breathing through the nose that a congestion sufferer experiences, however, may have very little to do with mucus. Nasal congestion is swelling of the blood vessels that line the nasal cavity, often as a result of inflammation (just as sinus congestion is the swelling of tissues within the sinuses).
Understanding Nasal Inflammation
Nasal inflammation is often caused by the body’s response to what it identifies as foreign agents. When the body recognizes a foreign presence it thinks might be dangerous (such as a cold virus), it springs into action. Certain cells begin to message one another to increase blood flow to the site of concern, carrying cells with the ability to attack an invader. These cells secrete substances to fight the attack, causing inflammation. As a result, the blood vessels in the tissues lining your nose and sinuses literally swell up due to inflammation. Inflammation in the nose and sinuses, like that which occurs anywhere else in the body, is part of a healthy body’s immune efforts, not the work of harmful pathogens like an infection.
That being said, many of the threats the body reacts to may be harmless. Many of the viruses that cause common cold syndrome would cause little harm if left alone. However, our bodies have been engineered to remain on high alert at all times. That’s one reason nasal congestion is so common—because the body uses it as a defense against a host of things it thinks are dangerous. So it is okay to treat your nasal congestion using a decongestant without affecting the ability of your body to defend itself. In truth, by the time you begin treating your congestion, the virus that caused it may have already run its course. Just remember to consider using medicine that treats swollen tissues or inflammation in order to combat nasal congestion.