People can wake up with a stuffy nose for various reasons, such as the common cold, allergies, and pregnancy. Using certain medications can also cause a stuffy nose.

Depending on the cause, healthcare professionals may recommend different treatments for this complaint. They may sometimes refer to a stuffy nose as nasal congestion.

Keep reading to learn more about the causes of and treatments for waking up with a stuffy nose. This article will also discuss how people can prevent nasal congestion.

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Nasal congestion, or a stuffy nose, can occur when the nasal passages are inflamed or blocked. This can happen for a variety of reasons.

The sections below will look at some types of nasal congestion.


Rhinitis is the medical term for inflammation in the nasal passages. Nasal congestion is a common symptom in allergic and nonallergic rhinitis.

When inflammation occurs in the nasal passage, a person may experience:

  • enlargement of the blood vessels in the nasal passage
  • an increase in nasal secretions
  • swollen nasal tissues
  • impairment of airflow through the nose

People may wake up with a stuffy nose due to exposure to an irritant or allergen. Some diseases, conditions, and medications can also cause a stuffy nose.


Nasal congestion can also occur due to sinusitis. This is the term for when the sinuses swell, typically due to an infection, such as a cold or flu. However, sinusitis can also occur due to other medical conditions.

Alongside a stuffy nose, a person may experience:

  • pain, tenderness, and swelling around the cheeks, eyes, and forehead
  • a reduced ability to smell
  • headache
  • toothache
  • bad breath
  • green or yellow mucus from the nose

The following sections will look at some factors that can cause a person to experience a stuffy nose upon waking.


When a person wakes up with a stuffy nose, it may be due to allergic rhinitis. This is when the nasal passages become inflamed due to an allergic reaction.

People with allergic rhinitis may experience:

  • irritation
  • itchiness
  • sneezing
  • nasal congestion

Once a person develops allergic rhinitis, the airway can become more reactive to substances that do not normally cause allergy symptoms.

Some allergens that can cause a stuffy nose include:

  • dust
  • pollen
  • animal dander
  • work-related allergens, such as wood dust, latex, or flour


Some irritants can also cause nasal congestion. These include tobacco smoke and the presence of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which the following sections will look at in more detail.


Waking up with nasal congestion can also occur due to irritants such as tobacco smoke.

In one 2013 study, researchers found a high prevalence of chronic rhinitis in those who smoke.

Also, a 2017 study involving 1,315 children found that exposure to tobacco smoke can increase the chance of developing rhinitis.


GERD is a condition that causes the contents of the stomach to flow back up through the throat and nasal passages.

One 2015 study found that those with GERD had a higher chance of developing chronic sinusitis.

Nasal polyps

Nasal polyps occur when a person develops tissue growths inside the nasal cavity. Nasal polyps disrupt the ability of the little hairs in the nose, called cilia, to clear mucus and antigens.

Some symptoms of nasal polyps include:

  • nasal drainage
  • facial pressure or pain
  • nasal congestion
  • a decrease in the ability to smell that lasts for longer than 12 weeks

In pregnancy

Pregnant people may also experience a stuffy nose. Doctors call this type of nasal congestion pregnancy rhinitis.

Experts suggest that around 18–30% of pregnant people experience pregnancy rhinitis. However, healthcare professionals are still unsure of the cause.

Although pregnancy rhinitis currently has no cure, people should be aware of this symptom of pregnancy and know the management strategies.

Treatment and management strategies may include:

  • elevating the head end of the bed
  • getting some physical exercise
  • using nasal saline rinses
  • using nasal strips to help open the nasal passages


The use of certain medications can also cause nasal congestion. These medications may include:

  • aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • antihypertensive and peripheric vasodilator drugs
  • psychotropic drugs
  • immunosuppressive drugs
  • medicated nasal sprays
  • hormonal agents

Prolonged use of topical nasal decongestants, such as oxymetazoline or xylometazoline, may result in rebound rhinitis. This effect can develop after only 3 days of regular use.

Viral infections, such as the common cold, can cause a stuffy nose, a sore throat, and a headache.

Alongside a stuffy nose and a sore throat, a person may experience:

  • a runny nose
  • a cough
  • malaise
  • fever
  • sneezing
  • a loss of taste and smell
  • pressure in the ears and face

Other viral infections, such as flu and the new coronavirus, can also cause similar symptoms.

Learn more about the symptoms of flu, the new coronavirus, and the common cold here.

A person with a dry mouth and nasal congestion may have dry mucus membranes.

Some factors that can contribute to the combination of a dry mouth and a stuffy nose can include:

  • a colder climate
  • air conditioned environments
  • nasal irradiation
  • dehydration
  • certain medical conditions, such as Sjorgen’s syndrome
  • dry air
  • certain medications
  • irritants

Learn more about the treatments and remedies for dry sinuses here.

Depending on the cause of the stuffy nose, doctors may choose between over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs.

Some different medicinal treatments for a stuffy nose include:

  • oral decongestant drugs
  • topical decongestant drugs
  • anti-allergy medications
  • topical nasal spray corticosteroids

Someone who experiences nasal congestion due to allergens or irritants should try to avoid the triggers, which may include dust or tobacco smoke.

People taking medications that cause nasal congestion should speak with a doctor before stopping any medication or using any OTC or prescription remedy.

People can also try:

  • using a humidifier if the air is dry
  • washing the hands regularly and thoroughly to reduce the chance of contracting viral or bacterial infections
  • using nasal rinses

Consistently waking up with a stuffy nose can be unpleasant. For this reason, people should contact a doctor if they continually wake up with a stuffy nose.

A doctor can help identify the cause and prescribe an appropriate treatment to help a person breathe more easily.

Several factors may lead to a person waking up with a stuffy nose, including infections, allergens, and irritants. Other conditions can also cause nasal congestion, such as pregnancy and the use of certain medications.

A healthcare professional can help identify the cause and prescribe an appropriate treatment.

Avoiding allergens, practicing proper hand-washing, and using medications appropriately are some ways to prevent nasal congestion.