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How to Find Lasting Relief From Nasal Congestion
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim
When I was a kid, it seemed like I always had a stuffy nose. Sometimes, my nasal congestion was so bad that I had to keep my mouth wide open in order to breathe. There were even times when I couldn’t fall asleep because I felt like I couldn’t breathe at all.
Do you know someone who suffers with chronic nasal congestion? I’m not referring to nasal congestion that comes with typically short-term conditions like the common cold, the flu, a sinus infection, or hay fever. I’m referring to people who feel healthy overall, but can’t figure out why they usually feel stuffed up.
The consequences of living with chronic nasal congestion can be disastrous. For a newborn infant who naturally breathes through her nose, nasal congestion can interfere with breastfeeding and even cause life-threatening breathing problems.
Here are some other potential consequences of chronic nasal congestion:
- Poor quality sleep
- Temporary moments of not breathing during sleep (sleep apnea)
- Chronic fatigue
- Interference with hearing and speech development in children
This list could actually be expanded to include virtually every health condition that we know of, since poor quality sleep over the long haul is a clear risk factor for all types of disease and dysfunction.
So what can cause a person to have chronic nasal congestion in the absence of a cold, flu, sinus infection, and hay fever?
In two words: food allergies.
Many people mistakenly believe that having a food-allergic reaction results in a clear and intense symptom like swelling of the tongue and throat, difficulty breathing, hives, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, loss of consciousness, or even death. While all of these symptoms can be caused by food-allergic reactions, many people experience more subtle reactions. And you guessed it, nasal congestion is one of the most common subtle food allergic reactions.
How does a food allergy lead to nasal congestion?
The inside of your nose is lined with a mucosal membrane that is lined with countless blood vessels. You experience nasal congestion when these blood vessels expand and cause the mucosal membrane to become swollen. Expansion of these blood vessels can result from inflammation that accompanies a food-allergic reaction. Typically, this type of inflammation will begin approximately one hour after eating the food in question, and will last for anywhere between a few minutes to several hours after exposure to the trigger food, with the exact length of time depending on the health of your digestive, cardiovascular, and immune systems.
Although people can be allergic to any food, the following foods account for the majority of all food-allergic reactions:
Tree nuts (walnuts, cashews, pecans, etc)
In my experience, the single most common cause of food-allergic reactions and the number one cause of chronic nasal congestion in the absence of other health conditions is pasteurized dairy. Avoiding significant amounts of pasteurized milk, cheese, ice cream, cream cheese, and other concentrated sources of pasteurized dairy can completely resolve chronic nasal congestion for many people, even those who have suffered with nasal congestion for decades.
If you are unsure of which foods might be causing your nasal congestion, try eating a substantial portion of only one of the foods listed above during your next meal and observe how well you can breathe through your nose and how clear your voice is in the hours following your meal. You can experiment with a different food with each subsequent meal over a period of several days until you identify your food allergies.
It is quite possible that you have an allergy to a food not listed above. Over several days or even a month, you should test all foods that you eat on a regular basis. In addition to the foods listed above, protein-dense foods like beans, seeds, and commercially raised animal products tend to have a greater chance of causing food-allergic reactions.
Once you identify which foods are causing you trouble, it is best to completely avoid these foods for the time being. At the same time, don’t assume that you will always be allergic to all of the foods that are causing you trouble today. Many people are able to overcome some of their food allergies through a variety of lifestyle changes that help to improve the strength of their immune systems, such as building and maintaining a large population of healthy bacteria in their intestines.
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