When to See a Doctor for Congestion

5 Scenarios When You Should See a Doctor for Congestion

man blowing nose
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People get congested for a variety of reasons. Allergies, the common cold, the flu, sinus infections and other upper respiratory infections can all leave us stuffed up and feeling pretty miserable.

But how do you know when the congestion has gotten so bad that you need to see your health care provider? Usually, congestion is something that can be treated with over the counter medications called decongestants, flushed out with a neti pot or saline spray or it will go away on it's own with time.

But occasionally the congestion gets so bad that those methods don't work and your best course of action is to see a doctor to be diagnosed and treated.

When is it Time to See a Doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have congestion and any of the following symptoms:

  • When accompanied by sore throat, aches, chills and runny nose
  • When congestion persists for more than two weeks despite over the counter treatment
  • When accompanied by pain or swelling around the eyes
  • When accompanied by a significant headache or severe pain in the face and forehead
  • When you are also experiencing a dry cough or discharge from the nose

Any time you are concerned about your congestion, you should consult your doctor. While a visit to the office might not be necessary, discussing your symptoms with your doctor or nurse can put your mind at ease about your symptoms and help you determine the best treatment for you.

Medications for Sinus Congestion

A physician may prescribe one of two categories of medications to treat the different types of sinus congestion. They are known as antihistamines and decongestants.

  • Antihistamines - This medication is used for a runny nose. Antihistamines help dry the sinus congestion and slow the drips. Antihistamines are also commonly used to treat seasonal allergies.
  • Decongestants - This medicine is used to combat that stuffy, full feeling in your head. Decongestants reduce the swelling in your nasal passages which allows mucous to drain. Some common decongestants include Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) and Sudafed PE (phenylephrine).

Many medications combine one of these decongestants or antihistamines with other medications to make multi-symptom treatments. They are sold under numerous brand names.

Other Remedies for Congestion

  • Humidifiers - These devices help keep moisture in the air and prevent nasal passages from drying out. They are especially effective in the winter. With heaters running, the air in our homes tends to dry out quickly, which in turn dries out nasal passages and makes it more difficult to breathe.
  • Saline nasal spray - This can be used a few times a day tp help loosen congestion and improve drainage. You should take caution not to overuse over-the-counter nasal decongestant sprays (such as Afrin). Using them for longer than three to four days can actually increase congestion.
  • Neti Pot - Used for centuries, neti pots rinse out the sinus cavities. There are several varieties available now in nearly any pharmacy or store that has a pharmaceutical section.


"Cold and Flu Symptoms" Familydoctor.org Nov 2010. American Academy of Family Physicians. 30 Jul 12.

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