No one wants to be that kid sniffling his way through a crucial final, but during the winter season in particular, it can be hard to avoid catching a cold. The combined cold weather and stress of finals can be enough to overpower an immune system. Colds usually involve coughing and headaches, but often include nasal congestion as well. Nasal congestion develops when tissues swell because of inflamed blood vessels, and the body makes extra mucus to trap unwanted particles.
Image Source: Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy
Nasal congestion can be caused by several different factors. When a virus, like the rhinovirus that causes the common cold, infects a person, one of the ways that the person’s immune system responds is by signaling cells around the nose to secrete mucus and trap particles before they can enter the body. The virus causes the release of the molecule histamine, which increases blood flow to nasal tissue and inflames the tissue, creating a sensation of stuffiness. Similarly, an allergy causes the immune system to overreact and produce mucus to trap the offending particles, such as pollen or dust. During pregnancy, an increase in hormones like progesterone and estrogen might also cause swelling in the nose. Additionally, nose surgeries might cause a thinning of tissues inside the nose, making it easier for bacteria to grow and cause congestion.
While treating the direct cause of nasal congestion is the most effective way to stop congestion (for example allergy medication), there are also quick short term solutions: the steam from a warm shower (to help drain mucus from the nose), or a saline spray (to decrease inflammation), or a warm compress. Pill or nasal spray decongestants that narrow blood vessels to limit swelling could also counteract nasal congestion.
Since dry air is also a cause of nasal congestion, increasing the humidity in the air could also improve conditions. For example, putting a humidifier in the room could help. More moisture makes mucus less thick and easier to remove.
While runny noses and colds can be problematic during the winter season, there are treatments and relief that can help to minimize suffering.
Feature Image Source: B0006938 Common cold virus by Wellcome Images