La Femme Correspondent
YOU may dismiss that blocked or stuffy nose as little more than an inconvenient irritation, however it can significantly impair quality of life and has been linked to fatigue, headaches, sleep disorders and even learning difficulties.
According to a Gauteng ear, nose and throat specialist, one in five South Africans is likely to suffer from the condition at any given time, which means it is vital to protect your health by keeping your nasal passages congestion-free.
Commonly known as a stuffy or blocked nose, nasal congestion is a far more serious health concern than many people realise. One of its causes is rhinitis, an inflammation of the nasal membranes, which can be caused by pollen, animal hair, pollution and mould as well as by viral and bacterial infections.
According to the American Lung Association, infectious rhinitis accounts for more doctor visits than any other condition in the United States and the situation may be similar here at home in South Africa.
“The condition has a massive influence here in South Africa as well,” confirms Dr Raymond L Friedman, an ear, nose and throat physician at the Sandton and Linksfield Clinics in Johannesburg.
“It is an extremely common condition. For example, we know that between 20 to 25% of South Africans suffer from allergic rhinitis and that the majority of acute paediatric [children’s] visits to a doctor will include rhinitis in one form or another,” Friedman said.
Apart from the extremely uncomfortable symptoms commonly associated with nasal congestion, such as frequent sneezing, itching (of nose, eyes, ears and palate), dripping nose and postnasal drip, it can also contribute to more serious conditions such as learning difficulties, sleep disorders and fatigue.
For example, in one study conducted in France, 43% of people suffering from severe allergic rhinitis reportedly had trouble sleeping.
Another common complaint is the loss of the sense of smell, which usually also means a loss of taste and an inability to appreciate the flavour of food.
“It can significantly impair a person’s quality of life,” observes Friedman.
“It can lead to speech and swallowing difficulties, poor concentration, missed school and work days. It can also result in significant complications such as asthma, sinusitis and otitis media [ear infections].”
Although a key function of the nose is to clean the air we breathe – catching potentially harmful allergens before they reach the throat and lungs – it is often overloaded through high [levels of pollution] exposure.
Friedman said: “Severe overcrowding, enormous populations and large people movements” made infections spread more rapidly and contact with new bacteria and viruses much more prevalent.
An effective, healthy, congestion-free nasal filtering system is a vital part of the body’s immune defence system.
“It is your most basic, fundamental hygiene and essential for normal health. The nose is central to so many functions and, if you can’t breathe properly, you are going to quickly run into problems that affect your daily life, such as not being able to sleep properly.
“Not only that, epidemiologists have worked out that not treating rhinitis adequately first time can end up costing you four times more.”
While there is a lot that you can do to ease your nasal congestion, Friedman recommends a visit to your doctor for a proper diagnosis should any of the following “persistent” cases occur: the nose is unable to function properly for more than seven to 10 days; it seems to have cleared up and then gets worse again and cases that are very severe.