No one likes to be congested. Instead of breathing easy, your nose is stuffed and you can only breathe through your mouth. Here we’ll take a look at what causes congestion, how it affects your life and what you can do about it.

So what causes congestion? It can be any number of things that irritate the sinuses and nasal passages. Rhinitis, or the inflammation of your nasal passages, is one of the most common causes of congestion. Seasonal allergies to grasses and pollens or reactions to dust or mold can lead to congestion. Outside irritants such as cigarette smoke or dry air can cause rhinitis, the irritation of your nasal passages, too.

Viral illnesses—like colds and the flu—and bacterial infections like sinusitis or sinus infections can all cause a stuffy nose. Mucus is your body’s way of reacting to and clearing out foreign objects, like bacteria or viruses. If your nose is running, that means you’re getting the illness-causing invaders out of your body. A stuffy nose doesn’t allow you to clear them out, meaning you could be sick even longer.

There are less common reasons you could be congested. A deviated septum happens when the wall between your nasal passages (the septum) is displaced to one side or the other. It can irritate your nose and make it difficult for air and mucus to get in and out, causing congestion. Nasal polyps can cause chronic congestion that doesn’t seem to go away. They’re benign growths on the lining of the nasal passages, and can grow large enough to almost completely block passages. Causes vary, but are most commonly thought to be allergies, asthma or recurring sinus infections.

Severe nasal congestion can have serious negative consequences on your daily life. It makes it difficult to breathe properly. You will usually have to breathe through your mouth instead of your nose, so your breath may not be as deep as it normally would. That makes it much harder to sleep. You may have restless nights and have trouble falling asleep, since breathing through your mouth isn’t natural or calming. Congestion may also cause you to snore.

It’s no better when you’re awake. Your inability to breathe properly means you won’t be able to exercise. Even regular tasks like walking to your car or going up stairs will be more difficult. Plus, that feeling is terrible. No one likes being congested all day. It makes you feel sluggish and tired. You can’t smell or taste properly.

So what can you do about congestion? If it’s a cold or virus, you may just have to wait it out. Get plenty of sleep, drink water and eat healthy foods. If you have allergies, there may not be much you can do. See a doctor if they’re really bad. You can use cold and sinus or allergy medications to help alleviate some of the symptoms. Bacterial infections may require antibiotics. Limit your exposure to outside factors like cigarette smoke as much as possible.

If you have a deviated septum or nasal polyps, you’ll probably need more medical attention. A severe deviated septum or recurring nasal polyps may require surgery to permanently correct.