When Should I Worry About...

Can Congestion Cause Dizziness, Chest Pain, Nausea & Other Issues?

May 15, 2024 - Katie McCallum

Why am I dizzy? What's with this chest pain? Why does my stomach hurt?

An unexplained bout of an unusual symptom can have you searching just about anywhere for answers. Maybe even involving that stuffy nose you've been dealing with. It has your face feeling like a pressure cooker, after all.

"Nasal congestion is a symptom, not a diagnosis," says Dr. Kristin Marcum, ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist at Houston Methodist. "When thinking about its related symptoms, where we actually need to start is with what's causing congestion in the first place."

The most common causes of nasal congestion include:

  • A cold
  • Allergies
  • Sinus infection
  • Your anatomy, like having a deviated septum or large turbinates

Each of these can lead to irritation in the nasal passageways — and other symptoms too, in certain cases.

Here's everything you need to know about nasal congestion, including whether it can lead to dizziness, chest pain, nausea, headaches and more.

What is nasal congestion?

"When the lining of the nose gets irritated or inflamed, it swells," explains Dr. Marcum. "This causes an increase in mucus production, which can make it hard to breathe through your nose and lead to mucus draining down the back of your throat."

The latter is why sore throat and cough can be companion symptoms of nasal congestion.

"If you have a lot of drainage or you're sleeping with your mouth open all night, that irritation and dryness can lead to a sore throat or cough," adds Dr. Marcum.

But can nasal congestion affect the body in ways other than these?

Can congestion cause more than a stuffy nose, sore throat and cough?

Can congestion cause dizziness, ear pain, nausea, headaches and even chest pain?

For starters, it's important to point out that these symptoms can be caused by a multitude of health issues or conditions, not just a cold or one of the other causes of congestion.

"They can happen alongside nasal congestion in some cases — but the congestion itself isn't necessarily what's causing them, the underlying problem is," explains Dr. Marcum.

We break down how each of these symptoms might (or might not) be related to nasal congestion below:


"If nasal congestion is severe and goes untreated long enough, it can lead to mucus buildup in your ear," explains Dr. Marcum. "It's rare for this to happen but can potentially cause dizziness or vertigo."

Dr. Marcum points out that, most of the time, nasal congestion is self-limiting — resolving on its own as your body fights off a cold, for instance. But if a stuffy nose lingers despite treatment, it's important to see your primary care doctor.

Additionally, there are many other (and more common) causes of dizziness, including balance problems, overheating, low blood sugar, anemia and more.

Ear pain

Just as the back of the throat is connected to your nasal passageways, so is the middle ear, via the eustachian tube. The job of this tube is to help equalize pressure within the ear by draining fluid.

"If the nose is so swollen and congested that the Eustachian tube becomes blocked, fluid and pressure can build up and cause ear pain," says Dr. Marcum. "But this would be a far-reaching effect of nasal congestion."

Like dizziness, this typically only happens when severe nasal congestion goes untreated for some time. There are also other causes of ear pain to consider, including ear infection or injury.


Runny and stuffy nose are the first symptoms to come to mind with a cold, but upper respiratory viral infections can cause a whole slew of uncomfortable issues, upset stomach included.

"This is a case where it's not the congestion that's the problem, it's the underlying cause of the congestion that leads to an accompanying symptom like nausea," says Dr. Marcum.

But nausea can also be caused by a variety of unrelated issues, ranging from food poisoning to migraines to anxiety.


If nasal passageways become blocked with mucus, pressure can build up in the sinuses and lead to pain around the eyes and forehead.

"Nasal congestion has to be pretty severe to feel this level of sinus pressure, though" adds Dr. Marcum.

(Related: Where Common Types of Headaches Are Felt)

Chest pain

Though uncommon, chest pain can accompany nasal congestion in some cases. But like nausea, the cause isn't the congestion itself. It could be the accompanying cough, though.

"You can definitely cough enough to cause some chest pain," says Dr. Marcum.

Importantly, chest pain is a symptom that should be taken very seriously. You'll want to ask yourself some questions to help gauge if the type of chest pain you're feeling is a sign of a medical emergency or can wait for a scheduled doctor's visit.

How to get rid of a stuffy nose

Whether you're dealing with the immediate consequences of nasal congestion or the far-reaching ones described above, the ways to get rid of congestion range from home remedies, like saline sprays and nasal rinses, to over-the-counter medications, like antihistamines and decongestants.

No matter what you try, Dr. Marcum says it's important to see your primary care doctor if congestion doesn't go away. He or she may refer you to an ENT if anatomy might be to blame or if it's a chronic issue in need of more specialized management.

"We're looking for the underlying cause, since we need an accurate diagnosis to effectively treat any symptoms you're experiencing," says Dr. Marcum.

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