We’ve all been there. You can’t breathe, you can’t sleep, nothing tastes the same. Actually, nothing tastes at all. You have no energy at all and your pockets are stuffed with used up tissues. Even though is sounds like symptoms of a broken heart, we are talking about something much more common, but almost equally depressing – a stuffy nose.
Stuffy nose, or nasal congestion, may be caused by various factors. Sometimes it accompanies common cold, flu or sinus infection. It may also be the result of an allergic reaction. It occurs when nasal tissues get irritated and the blood vessels get enlarged due to excess liquid. This, in turn, causes swelling that makes it difficult to breathe and eventually affects the sense of smell and taste.
Everyone has a stuffy nose from time to time and while it’s not a life-threatening condition, nasal congestion may become one of the most annoying illnesses you experience. Luckily, there are numerous home remedies that can help you relieve the symptoms of a stuffy nose.
Bottom up! – Stay hydrated
Keeping the body hydrated is a must, especially when you are down with cold or flu. High level of water intake keeps the mucous membrane of the nose moist and helps flush toxins out of your body. The temperature of the liquids you choose to drink isn’t of much importance. However, when you suffer from nasal congestion, it’s a good idea to reach for a cup of hot tea with honey and lemon. Higher temperature of the drink makes the taste more intense, which stimulates the flow of saliva and mucus. That, in turn, soothes the nose and helps clear viruses and bacteria. Just a reminder that honey loses its properties at very high temperatures, so don’t add it into your cup straight away and let your tea cool down just a bit.
A great way to keep your respiratory track (and the skin) hydrated is breathing in warm steam. Make sure, however, that its temperature is not too high. If you have a facial sauna, pour some water in, add 5-6 drops of menthol oil and place your face over the device. Don’t keep it too close to the steam. You need to be able to breathe comfortably. Cover your head with a clean towel and stay like this for 10-15 minutes. The steam hydrates your nasal cavity, opens up nasal passages and relieves the pressure of a stuffy nose. Menthol oil stimulates the nerve receptors in the nose, which eventually makes breathing easier. You may also try a vaporizer or simply breathe in the steam while you’re taking a shower or a bath.
Switching on a humidifier in the room will help you keep the mucous membranes hydrated. A humidifier helps break up congestion since it adds moisture to the air and eventually helps to thin the mucus in your nose. Remember, though, that you must keep the device clean by disinfecting it daily. A humidifier full of bacteria can do more harm than good. If you don’t own a special device, you can simply put a wet towel on the heater in the room where you spend the majority of the day or in your bedroom before you go to sleep. Once the towel gets dry, wet it again and repeat the process. Make sure the towel is fresh. Don’t use one that has been hanging in your bathroom for a few days. Even though it might smell fresh and seem clean, it has already accumulated germs that will thrive in a warmer environment.
If you are too tired to do any of the above and can’t drink a lot of liquids for some reason, e.g. when you have a severely sore throat and swallowing causes pain, simply put a moist washcloth on your face and breath for a few minutes. You will have to repeat it several times a day to see the same results as with a humidifier, though.
For an instant relief from breathing difficulties caused by stuffed nose, you can use saline sprays or go all ayurvedic and buy a neti pot (teapot-shaped device) and saline solution. You use it to flush the excess mucus from the nasal passages. You can make the saline solution yourself at home. Simply mix 1 cup of warm water, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a pinch of baking soda and use the solution to perform a gentle nasal wash 3-4 times a day. Make sure you use filtered water since tap water may contain bacteria. They may be safe to swallow since they get killed easily by stomach acids when we drink it. Regular use of neti pots not only relieves the symptoms of nasal congestion but also reduces the need for steroid sprays in people with allergies.
The magic touch
If you are not too sick to think about pleasures, then consider a massage. Not necessarily a full-body, hot chocolate one, but a simple massage of your nose. Apply some soap on your nose and wet your fingers. Then perform a gentle massage on both sides of your nose. Due to the warmth, the mucus gets released more easily and you will immediately be able to take a deep breath.
Similarly, you can do a massage of sinuses. Start by making circular movements with both index fingers on the spots located on either side of the eye cavity, just above the nose. Move the fingers to the spots just below your eyes and repeat the movements. Finish off by massaging your cheekbones with your thumbs. Every area should be massaged between 20 and 30 seconds. Repeat the cycle until you feel a relief in your sinuses.
You may alternatively put a warm compress over your sinuses. Just wet a washcloth with hot water, lie down and place it on the bridge of your nose. It should cover the sinuses, but not your nostrils. When the washcloth cools down, reverse it again and repeat the process. It might take up to 15 minutes for the mucus to start getting thinned out after you apply a warm compress, but it helps remove excess mucus almost as efficiently as an inhalation.
Get up, stand up (or at least sit up)
The symptoms of nasal congestion normally worsen when you lie down. If you decide to stay in bed for the day, try to sit up instead of staying in a horizontal position. At night put an extra pillow behind your back in order to keep your head slightly more upright. Also, keep the air in your bedroom humidified as it will help thin the mucus in your nose. Remember that your body needs extra rest when you suffer from cold and flu so a sleepless night is the last thing you need. In order to facilitate breathing throughout the night, try a simple trick tested by athletes and use an adhesive strip for your nose. You just place it on the nose and it lets the air pass through more easily by keeping the nostrils more open. It has been reported to work well both for runners and running noses.
Strawberry fields forever
What you eat directly affects the state of your health. Some foods just make you feel better (e.g. chocolate and banana pancakes) and others can actually heal you. If you suffer from stuffed nose and like the idea of taking in more healthy food rather than medicines, then you should consider focusing your diet on immune-boosting foods, like whole grains, beans, raw and steamed vegetables, non-cream based soups and fresh fruits, especially those packed with vitamin C, like oranges, kiwi, papaya or strawberries.
Fans of sharp flavors may reach for the famous natural antibiotic in the form of garlic. Whether you are a fan of garlic chip dip or not, you should include garlic in your diet whenever you suffer from a cold-related stuffed nose. Research shows that people who regularly eat garlic or take garlic supplements are significantly less prone to colds in the winter time. Garlic has been proven to have strong antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. It works like a natural antibiotic. If you can’t handle the flavor or the smell of garlic even in the time of impaired smell and taste, then try garlic capsules. It’s just as effective and produces no bad breath side effects.
If strong, garlic flavor does not satisfy your buds, here’s some good news. It is highly recommendable to eat spicy food when you suffer from nasal congestion. Not only because by eating a plate of chilli con carne you will have a chance to taste some flavor. Spicy foods help clear out sinuses because they contain ingredients that irritate mucous membranes, which causes your nose produce and loosen mucus. That is why you may sneeze or get a running nose when you eat wasabi, mustard or cayenne pepper.
Just like a pill
In the case of a prolonging nasal congestion, you can try some over-the-counter medicines. The majority of them contain various ingredients and before using them, it is extremely important that you either carefully read the label or ask the pharmacist for advice. Be aware that for example an overdose of pseudoephedrine – a very common stimulant present in many cold medicines – may result in elevated blood pressure, headache, nosebleed or even anxiety attacks. Also, if you decide to take some decongestants (medicines that shrink and dry up your nasal passages), remember not to mix them with stimulants like pseudoephedrine, as it may severely increase the risk of unpleasant side effects.
Contrary to a popular belief, Vitamin C doesn’t directly battle congestion, but it is still advisable to supplement it during cold, either in the form of tablets or citrus juices. Vitamin C shortens the duration of a cold, decreases the severity of symptoms and strengthens the immunity system. By drinking orange juice you additionally hydrate your body and give it a boost of nutrients. It is best to go for a freshly-squeezed orange juice not only because of the taste but also its properties. Vitamin C gets oxidised quite fast so you should squeeze a fresh portion every time you wish to drink it. Leaving a glass of orange juice in contact with oxygen for a few hours means losing over 50% of vitamin C that it originally contained.
Eucalyptus oil, a common ingredient of rubs and ointments helps loosen phlegm. If your stuffy nose is accompanied by a cough, you should try rubbing eucalyptus ointment in your chest. It will give you an instant relief, even though – just like vitamin C – it doesn’t directly fight the congestion. It has, however, strong antibacterial effects. In order to let it penetrate the skin better, apply a small amount of eucalyptus oil rub on your chest before bedtime, wrap a cloth around your neck and cover yourself with a blanket or a duvet. You will notice a huge difference just after one night.
Eucalyptus oil also does miracles when used for inhalations. It is recommendable to use it interchangeably with menthol oil in the inhalation therapy.
I need a doctor
If you think you’ve tried it all and after seven days the symptoms of nasal congestion still don’t go away, you should contact your doctor as you may need to get some antibiotics prescribed. In case you notice some alarming signs like fever, swelling of the forehead, cheeks or eyes that occur with blurred vision, one-sided nose bleeds, continuous facial or tooth pain or nasal discharge of an unusual colour or smell, you should contact your doctor immediately.