Skip to main contentSkip to accessibility services
Read about

Swollen Nose: Symptoms and Causes

Tooltip Icon.
Last updated March 15, 2021

Swollen nose quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your swollen nose.

Swelling of the nose, either internal or external, can be frustrating and sometimes painful. Swelling inside of the nose can be caused from irritation from an obtrusive object, inflammation from allergies, or nasal polyps. Outside nose swelling can also be caused from allergic reactions or trauma from an injury.

7 most common causes

Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis
Cellulitis
Relapsing Polychondritis
Illustration of a person thinking with cross bandaids.
Broken nose
Illustration of a health care worker swabbing an individual.
Nose or sinus tumor
Illustration of a doctor beside a bedridden patient.
Motor-vehicle accident
Illustration of a health care worker swabbing an individual.
Non-specific nasal injury

Swollen nose quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your swollen nose.

Take swollen nose quiz

Swollen nose symptoms

Swelling occurs whenever the parts of the body enlarge due to accumulation of fluid in the body tissues. Swelling can be generalized and occur throughout the body, or be localized and only affect a specific part of the body.

Most people are familiar with localized swelling, and in the case of a swollen nose, this type of swelling is difficult to ignore, especially if the swelling is external. However, internal swelling of the nose may be more difficult to discern. Though there is some overlap between the symptoms of internal and external swelling of the nose, there are some important differences to note.

Common characteristics of external nose swelling

If your nose is swelling externally, you are likely to experience:

Common characteristics of internal nose swelling

If your nose is swelling internally, you are likely to experience:

  • Sensation of nasal blockage or difficulty breathing through the nose
  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Nasal discharge
  • Decrease in sense of smell
  • Postnasal drip: Mucus running down the back of the throat
  • Pain, tenderness or pressure: This may be felt around the forehead, eyes, cheeks or nose.

Common accompanying symptoms of a swollen nose

Both types of swollen nose symptoms can cause:

  • Generalized pain in the affected area
  • Redness or warmth

If you notice any of these swollen nose symptoms, promptly make an appointment with your doctor to follow up on your symptoms, get a diagnosis and receive appropriate care.

Swollen nose causes

Though different, both external and internal causes of nasal swelling are relatively limited. Any condition that causes accumulation of fluid in the tissues of your finger, for example, will cause swelling, but not many conditions specifically target the nose.

Environmental causes

Causes of external nasal swelling are largely environmental such as:

  • Trauma: Anything that causes direct injury to the nose — a punch in the face, a car accident, a traumatic fall — can result in external swelling of the nose, especially if the nose breaks. These causes may also be associated with visible deformity and bleeding depending on the severity of the trauma.
  • Insects: Insects are a nuisance in general, but insects become even more annoying when they happen to involve the nose. A bite from any insect — mosquito, spider, flea, etc. — can cause the nose to swell and also become itchy and painful.

Causes of internal nasal swelling

Causes of internal nasal swelling can be divided into the following.

  • Obstructive/structural: Sometimes the nose can become lined with soft, painless, noncancerous growths known as nasal polyps. The mechanism for the growth of these polyps is currently unknown, but they can cause swelling of the internal nasal cavity and lead to blockage and congestion that worsens swollen nose symptoms. Structural abnormalities such as a deviated septum or narrow nasal passage can also lead to swelling and its associated symptoms.
  • Inflammatory: Any condition that causes your body to mount its natural immune response against irritation and injury – infection, allergy, autoimmune disease – can cause internal selling of the nose. Swelling is one of the primary signs of inflammation and often goes hand-in-hand with inflammatory causes. Nearly 37 million Americans suffer from at least one episode of acute nasal inflammation each year.

8 conditions of a swollen nose

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Swollen nose quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your swollen nose.

Take swollen nose quiz

Iatrogenic nose condition

Surgery of the nose or nose piercing can result in side effects ranging from infection, pain and swelling to numbness and decreased sense of smell.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: nose pain, bloody nose, bump in or on the nose, nose redness, swollen nose

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Wegener's granulomatosis

Wegener's granulomatosis, more recently re-named granulomatosis with polyangiitis, is a disorder in which a dysregulated immune system causes widespread inflammation of small blood vessels throughout the body. This results in slower or impaired blood flow to your nose, sinuses, throat, lungs, and kidneys.

Symptoms can be widespread and affect various parts of the body such as the eyes and ears or respiratory system, yet usually begin more generally with fever, fatigue, a loss of appetite, and weight loss. With treatment, a full recovery is possible; however, this condition can be fatal.

Treatments include immunosuppressive medications in order to control the disease in the short- and long-term.

Rarity: Ultra rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, loss of appetite, joint pain, shortness of breath, fever

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Relapsing polychondritis

Relapsing polychondritis is an episodic, inflammatory and destructive disorder involving primarily cartilage of the ear and nose. It can also potentially affect the eyes, tracheobronchial tree, heart valves, kidneys, joints, skin, and blood vessels.

You should visit your primary care physician for mild severity of relapsing polychondritis. Medications such as NSAIDs and steroids are generally prescribed.

Nose or sinus tumor

A tumor in the nose or one of the sinuses occurs due to abnormal growth of the cells lining the inside of the nose and sinuses. These tumors are rare and can cause symptoms like congestion or blockage, nose bleeds and sometimes facial pain or swelling.

You should visit your primary care physician to discuss your symptoms and to get further tests done. Referral to an ENT surgeon is likely needed.

Rarity: Ultra rare

Top Symptoms: new headache, congestion, vision changes, ear fullness/pressure, ear pain

Symptoms that never occur with nose or sinus tumor: improving congestion

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Non-specific nasal injury

Nasal injuries are very common due to the position of the nose on the face. While fragile, many injuries to the nose are not actually fractures.

You can go see your doctor tomorrow, who can rule out a fracture. Imaging and physical exam can find fractures of the nose. Treatment for a non-fracture is just ice and simple pain management.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: constant nose pain, nose pain caused by trauma, swollen nose, nose bruise, bloody nose after being hit in the nose

Symptoms that always occur with non-specific nasal injury: nose pain caused by trauma, constant nose pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Motor-vehicle accident

After any motor-vehicle accident, it's hard to rule out subtle, but maybe dangerous, things that could have happened within the body. You should go see a doctor immediately.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: motor-vehicle accident, arm weakness

Urgency: Emergency medical service

Granulomatosis with polyangiitis

Granulomatosis with polyangiitis, or shortened GPA, was formerly known as Wegener's granulomatosis. It is caused by inflammation of the blood vessels by the body's immune system. The inflammation can happen anywhere, but often affects the sinuses, lungs, and kidneys.

You should visit your primary care physician soon to provide an early diagnosis. Treatment of inflammatory diseases commonly involve prescription medications such as a steroid to decrease inflammation, and a cell-damaging medicine to kill abnormal cells.

Cellulitis

Crohn's disease is an inflammation of the bowel. It is caused by a faulty immune system response which makes the body attack the lining of the intestines.

The disease usually appears before age thirty and can affect anyone. Those with a family history may be most susceptible. Smoking is a known risk factor.

Aggravating factors include stress, poor diet, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin.

Early symptoms usually develop gradually, but can appear suddenly. These include fatigue, loss of appetite, fever, mouth sores, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and blood in stool.

Untreated Crohn's disease can cause ulcers throughout the digestive tract as well as bowel obstruction, malnutrition, and deteriorating general health.

Diagnosis is made through blood test and stool sample test. Colonoscopy, CT scan, MRI, endoscopy, and/or enteroscopy may also be used.

Crohn's disease cannot be cured, but can be managed through reducing the inflammation. Antibiotics, corticosteroids, and immune system suppressors may be tried. Excellent nutrition, vitamin supplements, smoking cessation, and reduction in stress can be helpful.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fever, chills, facial redness, swollen face, face pain

Symptoms that always occur with cellulitis: facial redness, area of skin redness

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Broken nose

Nasal fractures are common occurrences. The force needed to break the nasal bones is less than any of the other bones of the face because of their thinness and position. For kids, treatment and diagnosis is different because of the bones may not be fully formed.

You should go to urgent care or the emergency room immediately by car, where diagnosis can be confirmed by taking pictures. Treatment involves stabilizing the nose and referring to an Ear/Nose/Throat surgeon or a plastic surgeon for further management.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: mouth breathing, constant nose pain, swollen nose, nose pain caused by trauma, nose bruise

Symptoms that always occur with broken nose: nose pain caused by trauma, swollen nose, constant nose pain

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Swollen nose quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your swollen nose.

Take swollen nose quiz

Swollen nose treatments and relief

It may be difficult to prevent causes of external nasal swelling. However, if your symptoms are due to a traumatic cause, promptly make an appointment with your doctor to assess for serious injury.

At-home treatment

Put an ice pack over your nose every 15 minutes to minimize further irritation and prevent continued fluid accumulation in your tissues.

Prevention

Unlike with external nasal swellings, there are many lifestyle changes and measures you can take to prevent internal nasal swelling symptoms.

  • Limit exposures that cause upper respiratory infections: Upper respiratory infections are contagious and usually passed from person-to-person. Limit contact with people with cold symptoms, wash hands frequently and utilize other good hygiene practices.
  • Avoid pollutants: Cigarette smoke and other pollutants can irritate and inflame the nasal passages. Take measures to limit your contact with such pollutants to prevent swollen nose symptoms.
  • Manage allergies and inflammatory conditions: Keeping symptoms of seasonal allergies and other inflammatory conditions under control will help keep your nose protected from insults that can quickly cause swelling and its associated symptoms.

If these preventive methods do not improve your swollen nose symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor. Nasal swelling can quickly become uncomfortable and debilitating if not treated properly.

When to see a doctor

If conservative methods are ineffective, your doctor may suggest the following.

  • Irrigation: Saline nasal sprays or solutions can rinse away irritants from the nasal passages, decrease blockage and promote drainage.
  • Anti-inflammatory: Medications that prevent and treat inflammation such as inhaled corticosteroids are often used to combat the many causes of internal nasal swelling.
  • Decongestants: Medications that reduce congestion and sensations of nasal blockage can help relieve swelling and its associated symptoms.
  • Pain relievers: Swelling and pain often go hand-in-hand. Your doctor may prescribe over-the-counter pain medications to combat these swollen nose symptoms.

When it is an emergency

Seek immediate care if:

  • You cannot breathe
  • Are experiencing a fever
  • Have severe pain
  • Have nausea, you vomit, or have trouble with your vision
  • Have experienced a head injury

You should also seek care immediately if your nose is bleeding profusely and will not stop or you believe you have broken your nose.

Questions your doctor may ask about swollen nose

  • Do you have any body piercings?
  • Have you ever had any surgeries?
  • Were you struck in the nose?
  • Were you recently exposed to the freezing cold (under 32F or 0C)?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

Share your story
Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
Read full bio

Was this article helpful?

21 people found this helpful
Tooltip Icon.

References

  1. Nasal obstruction. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Johns Hopkins Medicine Link
  2. Nasal obstruction. Stanford Children's Health. Stanford Children's Health Link
  3. Newton JR, Ah-See KW. A review of nasal polyposis. Ther Clin Risk Manag. 2008;4(2):507-512. NCBI Link
  4. Teixeira J, Certal V, Chang ET, Camacho M. Nasal septal deviations: A systematic review of classification systems. Plast Surg Int. 2016;2016:7089123. NCBI Link
  5. Causes of nasal inflammation. American Sinus Institute. American Sinus Institute Link
  6. Benninger MS. The impact of cigarette smoking and environmental tobacco smoke on nasal and sinus disease: A review of the literature. Am J Rhinol. 1999;13(6):435-438. NCBI Link