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Catarrh and nasal congestion

For most people, colds or flu go away and they feel fine after a few days or so. Some people, however, are left with catarrh - unpleasant nasal congestion with a build-up of mucus, usually in the nose, throat, ears or chest.

Catarrh can also be caused by hayfever (allergic rhinitis), other allergies or fleshy swellings in the nose called polyps.

Diagnosing catarrh

Catarrh is difficult for doctors to diagnose as it affects different people in different ways. The Royal College of Surgeons for England/ENT.UK says some people call catarrh the feeling of mucus at the back of their nose. Others say it is a build-up of phlegm in their throat. It may be the need to keep clearing the throat for other people.

Other symptoms may include blowing the nose having no effect, throat discomfort, crackling noises in the ears, constantly feeling like something is stuck in the throat, a persistent cough or feeling sick.

Some people may experience facial pain from their blocked nose and sinuses; the senses of smell and taste may also be affected.

People who get catarrh may suffer from it for many years (chronic catarrh) and find it gets worse when they have a cold or flu.

ENT.UK says patients seem to have one of two types of catarrh:

  • Excessive mucus running out of the nose
  • Excess mucus they are unable to clear

Treatment for catarrh

There is no one treatment that works for catarrh. Different people may find different approaches more helpful than others, including over-the-counter decongestant products - by mouth or nasal spray - designed to relieve the symptoms of catarrh.

ENT.UK says some people find salt water nasal rinses are helpful, while for others trying not to clear the throat so often may actually ease some of the symptoms.

Some people find that inhaling steam from a bowl of hot (but not boiling) water helps. Menthol crystals or eucalyptus oil may be added to the water. Steaming is not normally recommended for children as there is a risk of scalding.

For chronic or recurring catarrh, a GP may want to rule out nasal polyps. This may involve being sent for a CT scan. Doctors may also recommend allergy testing to try to pinpoint any specific triggers that lead to catarrh.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on August 16, 2013

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