8 ways to clear nasal congestion

Whether it’s allergies or a cold, you likely want relief from this pesky symptom fast. These tips can help.

Getting a stuffy nose, or more technically, having rhinitis with congestion, happens to everyone at some point. Whether it’s a bad cold or a cat allergy running rampant, being forced to mouth breathing is never fun. So what can you do when your stuffy nose won’t clear up? Experts explain.

Why is my nose always stuffy?

There are a few reasons you may have nasal congestion, but why does your nose become congested in the first place?

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A stuffy nose happens when your nostrils become inflamed and the blood vessels swell. Because mucus filters harmful particles from your nose, your body increases mucus production in an effort to remove the cause of inflammation. This could be from a variety of causes, including: 

  • Allergies
  • A virus like a cold, influenza, or COVID-19
  • A sinus infection
  • Environmental irritants

But mucus isn’t the only thing your body’s immune system produces when your nose becomes inflamed.

“When your body senses the inflammation, it triggers the release of histamine, a chemical that causes the lining of your nasal passages to swell further, making it harder to breathe through your nose,” explains Sony Sherpa, MD, a holistic physician at Nature’s Rise, an organic wellness company. “This reflex is an evolutionary adaptation that helps protect the nasal cavity from foreign particles and irritants. The result is difficulty breathing through your nose, as well as a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, and coughing.”

If you experience a stuffy nose that started while you feltl under the weather with other symptoms like a sore throat, sinus pressure, and a runny nose, it’s likely caused by a virus or infection like the common cold. However, if you otherwise feel well and you always have a stuffy nose, this is more likely from allergies or environmental elements. If you have a stuffy nose in only certain places, like in your house or at work, the cause is likely environmental. 

8 ways to get rid of a stuffy nose

No matter the reason you’re dealing with a stuffy nose, it can get old quickly. For some relief, try these eight ways to get rid of a stuffy nose.

1. Add moisture to the dry air

”One of the most effective treatments is to use a humidifier or vaporizer to add moisture to the air; this helps thin mucus in your nasal passages, making it easier to breathe,” Dr. Sherpa says.

Some humidifiers also work as essential oil diffusers, and many find that peppermint and eucalyptus oils naturally decrease congestion. If you don’t own a humidifier, a steamy hot shower may provide some temporary relief. Or you can boil some water, and afterward while the hot water cools, put your head above the steam to breathe in the moisturizing mist. Clean the humidifer per the owner’s manual or you may spew mold into your air.

2. Apply warm compress

Similar to adding moisture to the air, a warm compress is a common and natural way to relieve nasal congestion. Soak a small washcloth with warm water (be sure you can comfortably touch it), wring it out, lie down, and place it over your nose. 

Breathe through your nose and take in warm moisture from the damp towel to break up mucus build up. This is an excellent solution if you’re trying to sleep. When you’re done, just throw the towel on your nightstand and stay cozy in bed.

3. Try a saline nasal spray

“I would recommend a nasal spray that has saline in it,” says Brian Clark, a registered nurse and CEO of United Medical Education. “Nasal sprays help to reduce the inflammation in your nose, clearing up your breathing.”

Saline spray quickly clears a stuffy nose. Often, you can unblock your stuffy nose in three minutes or less. Saline nasal sprays, made with gentle ingredients, are available in generic brand, readily available at major drugstores, and are inexpensive. These are not to be confused with nasal sprays like Afrin, which use more powerful ingredients.

4. Drink clear fluids

“Drink plenty of fluids, such as water, tea, or warm broth,” Dr. Sherpa says. “Drinking fluids will help thin mucus and loosen congestion, as well as flush irritants.” In addition to clearing mucus, you’ll stay hydrated, which has a whole host of benefits.

RELATED: 7 health benefits of drinking water

5. Go for a dip

If you live near the ocean and are feeling up to it, Clark had a fun and scenic idea to clear up your stuffy nose: “Taking a swim in salt water can also clear a stuffy nose by reducing inflammation,” he says.

6. Purchase a neti pot

If you’re not by a beach, you could try a neti pot. Neti pots are available in two forms: one looks like a teapot that you use to pour saline into your nostrils and the other is a squeeze bottle with a lid that fits into your nostril and you squeeze saline up your nostril. These aid in nasal irrigation and helps some people find relief more effectively than a swim or nasal spray. 

7. Look into air purifiers

If you believe your stuffy nose is from environmental irritants or allergens, an air purifier in your room could provide some relief. There is limited research on if air purifiers can help stuffy noses, but it has helped children with asthma in some studies. Opt for a machine with a HEPA filter, which traps dust, pollen, and certain mold spores. Change the filters as recommended by the owner’s manual.

8. Speak to a pharmacist

When natural remedies don’t cut it, you can always try an over-the-counter medication like a nasal decongestant, such as Afrin or Mucinex. If you believe your stuffy nose is from allergies, an antihistamine, like Benadryl or Zyrtec, may also be helpful.

Don’t forget to use a SingleCare card to save on all sorts of cold and allergy medications. For example, Mucinex could cost as little as 17 cents with our coupons. 

When to see a healthcare provider for a stuffy nose

A stuffy nose is usually just an annoyance with no cause for concern, assuming you have no other symptoms. However, if your stuffy nose lasts more than seven days, see a healthcare provider.

Some symptoms may indicate a bigger issue like a deviated septum or nasal polyps. “If you experience green or yellow mucus, high fever, severe pain around the face, headache, chest pain, and loss of appetite, you should also seek medical attention,” says Dr. Sherpa. “In such cases, a stuffy nose can be a symptom of an underlying condition, so it’s important to get checked out to make sure you get the best possible treatment.” 

While you wait for your appointment, try our home remedies and tricks above to breathe easier. 



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