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Nasal congestion is a common problem that is typically associated with the common cold, flu, and allergic reactions, but it can also result from some serious health conditions or a structural problem such as a deviated septum.
It can feel different to different people, but it is typically characterized as a heavy or clogged feeling inside the nose. The stuffiness occurs when the tissue lining of the nasal passage swells up and produces excess mucus, thus leaving little room for the movement of air.
Nasal congestion tends to persist, ranging from a few days to weeks, until the underlying cause is treated.
Home Remedies to Get Relief From Nasal Congestion
Nasal congestion can be treated with the following home remedies:
1. Use nonprescription decongestants
Decongestants are a class of medications that help curb swelling and mucus formation inside the nose to ease breathing.
Decongestants are easily available over the counter at every pharmacy and come in the form of capsules, tablets, and syrups, nasal drops, and sprays. Topical formulations are generally more quick-acting and effective than oral ones.
Oxymetazoline and phenylephrine are two of the most widely used nasal sprays to relieve congestion.
Although nonprescription decongestants are generally safe, you should not use more than one decongestant at a time or for more than 3 days at a stretch. If the congestion persists, reuse the decongestant after a 3-day gap.
Consult your doctor before using decongestants if you are on some other prescription medicine.
Caution: Decongestants are not considered safe for people with hypertension, even if it’s well controlled.
Decongestants are generally used as the first-line treatment for nasal congestion, often with an antihistamine for added relief. This is a fairly safe drug that helps bring down inflammation in the nasal passages by shrinking the underlying blood vessels.
2. Inhale steam
Inhaling steam helps in loosening the mucus so it can be easily expelled. It relieves congestion in the chest and nose while lubricating the respiratory tract.
You can also add a few cloves of garlic or a few drops of essential oils (1) to your steaming water or bath. The best essential oils to use for this purpose include eucalyptus, peppermint, lavender, thyme, tea tree, frankincense, grapefruit, and chamomile.
These potent liquids possess various medicinal properties and inhaling their therapeutic vapors can help water down the thick mucus, curb inflammation in the airways, and exert antimicrobial activity to fight the underlying infection.
Perform steam inhalation twice a day.
- Put a few drops of essential oil in a diffuser or add them to your warm bathwater to breathe in the soothing vapors.
- Add a few drops of essential oil to a bowl of steaming hot water and then lean over it with a towel over your head to inhale the vapors.
- Use a neti pot for more localized steam inhalation. Simply place the snout of the kettle near your nostrils to inhale the steam coming out of it.
Caution: Follow precautionary measures during steam inhalation to avoid scalding. It is suggested that children below 12 years, pregnant women, and patients suffering from high blood pressure, cardiac problems, or nervous system disorders do not perform steam inhalation.
Always consult your doctor before using any of the above-mentioned oils for inhalation therapy to avoid an allergic response. Do not use them in concentrated form and discontinue their usage if you experience a sensitivity reaction.
Breathing in the warm, moist steam helps break down the condensed mucus in the respiratory passages so that it swiftly drains out of the nose instead of jamming your airways. Moreover, essential oils are known to exhibit medicinal properties that may help relieve nasal congestion induced by an allergy, illness, or infection when used in aromatherapy.
3. Do nasal irrigation
Nasal irrigation is the practice of washing the nasal cavity to loosen the mucus and remove the inflammation-causing proteins, irritants, bacteria, and allergens from the nasal passage. (2)
This procedure has been commonly used both in Ayurveda and clinical practice for the management of allergies, colds, and sinus infections but finds only a brief mention in expert-curated guidelines for the treatment of respiratory tract infection. (3)
Nasal irrigation has been marked as a safe practice by the US FDA, but nasal rinse devices such as squeeze bottles and bulb syringes should be sterilized before use to prevent the risk of infections. Moreover, use a sterile saline solution with an appropriate salt balance to avoid irritation.
Consult your doctor before doing nasal irrigation, especially if you have a weak immune system. (4)
4. Use a vapor rub
On comparing vapor rub, petrolatum, and no treatment, vapor rub was found to be the most effective in providing relief from nasal congestion caused by upper respiratory tract infections, thus allowing uninterrupted restful sleep to the patient. (5)
5. Consume herbal tea
Based on anecdotal evidence, ginger, garlic, and peppermint can be used for their antispasmodic and antiviral properties to relieve congestion caused by common respiratory infections such as the common cold or flu. (6)
The best way to derive the medicinal benefits of these healing herbs is in the form of tea.
6. Apply a warm compress
Placing a warm compress over your sinuses can help stimulate blood circulation in the area and bring down the inflammation in the underlying tissues or blood vessels.
Moreover, this gentle topical heat can help melt the dense mucus accumulated within your respiratory passages to facilitate its drainage and thereby relieve nasal congestion. Even though this remedy has no solid scientific backing, it has delivered good results for a lot of users and is worth a try provided you do it correctly.
- Drench a towel in hot water and wring out the excess water so that it’s damp but not soaking wet.
- Check to ensure if the towel is comfortably warm.
- Place the towel over your nose bridge and forehead.
7. Try hot sauce/peppers
Eating spicy foods may help clear your clogged nose by facilitating the drainage of mucus. These foods get their heat from capsaicin, which is the main active ingredient of chili peppers and hot sauces. (7)
The heat helps dilute the thick mucus, making it easier to flush out. This is why you often get a runny nose after eating something very spicy.
- Simply add hot sauce, cayenne, and black pepper to your regular dishes.
- Consume black pepper tea to open up your blocked sinuses.
- Mix 1 teaspoon each of cayenne pepper and honey, and consume this runny paste as medicine. (8)
Note: People with a sensitive stomach, GERD, or other such problems should avoid using this remedy to avoid digestive distress.
Self-Care for Relief From Nasal Congestion
These self-care measures can provide relief from nasal congestion:
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep your body hydrated.
- Use a vaporizer or a cool-mist humidifier indoors, especially at night, to increase moisture levels. This helps in thinning the mucus, making it easier to breathe. (9) Avoid the usage of hot-water vaporizers, especially around children, as the hot water can burn the skin.
- Keep your head elevated, sit upright, and sleep with the head elevated. Discomfort due to congestion increases when you are lying down.
- Incorporate vitamin C-rich foods in your diet to increase your immune power.
- Consume warm chicken soup as it helps in diluting the mucus and reducing the tissue inflammation that is responsible for the congestion.
- Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids as they help in reducing inflammation.
- Avoid allergens that can worsen the congestion.
- Do not consume grains, sugars, dairy products, and starchy vegetables, as they can increase mucus production and cause nasal congestion.
- Use nasal strips to facilitate the opening of the nasal passages, thus helping in relieving congestion and improving sleep quality.
- Do not swim in chlorinated pools as chlorine can irritate your nasal passage.
- Reduce or avoid alcohol intake.
- Increasing your fluid intake can help thin out the mucus to facilitate its easy expulsion, thereby clearing the nasal passages and preventing postnasal drip and other problems.
- Tobacco smoke acts as an irritant and increases inflammation of the nerves. This results in the overproduction of mucus, further blocking the nose. Therefore, quit smoking.
Tips to Prevent Nasal Congestion
Nasal congestion can be prevented by maintaining a hygienic lifestyle.
- Do not come in close contact with infected individuals and avoid sharing food or drinks with them.
- Wash and sanitize your hands properly. This helps in protecting you against pathogenic germs.
- Avoid allergens that may trigger congestion.
- Use humidifiers in dry weather.
Most-Asked Questions About Nasal Congestion
How long does nasal congestion last?
The duration of your nasal congestion depends on its cause. If it is caused by a bacterial or viral infection, nasal congestion will subside along with the infection in 5–10 days. If it is due to allergies, the congestion may persist for longer.
Why is nasal congestion more prevalent at nighttime?
On lying down at bedtime, the blood flow toward your nose and head increases, causing further swelling of the blood vessels and tissues inside the nasal passage. Moreover, people with acid reflux often suffer a backflow of stomach acids into the food pipe on lying down due to the backward push of gravity.
The acid irritates the back of the throat, and the discomfort can be felt in the nasal passageways because the two are connected. To reduce this problem, feed babies and young children with their head in an elevated position. In adults, meals should be avoided for at least 2 hours before bedtime.
Can apple cider vinegar clear a congested nose?
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is another remedy for nasal congestion that has gained a lot of popularity among general users but not enough scientific support. Thus, you must invariably consult your doctor before trying it to avoid any undue side effects.
Due to its alkaline nature, ACV may help dissolve the mucus accumulated inside your airways to relieve nasal congestion and restore normal breathing. Moreover, it is credited with significant antimicrobial properties that can help sanitize the insides of your nose.
But all these are suggested benefits with no credible proof.
On the contrary, ACV is scientifically recognized as a mild acid, which is not safe for direct application.
Many people soak Q-tips or paper towels in ACV to clean their nose with it. This can damage the sensitive skin of your nasal passages and is strictly ill-advised. Similarly, nasal irrigation with ACV is a complete no-no.
The least dangerous ACV remedy is adding a few drops of this potent liquid in your steam bath. However, there are far simpler and safer remedies to clear your nasal congestion than using apple cider vinegar.
Nasal congestion not only makes breathing difficult, but it can also affect your speech and hearing and even disturb your sleep in the long term.
The avoidance of congestion-causing allergens along with proper self-care measures can help manage the condition, but medical help may be needed if your symptoms persist or worsen despite proper home care.