Nasal congestion is rarely serious, but it can be very annoying. Nasal congestion can give you a headache, it can make it hard to breathe, and it can keep you awake at night.
This article covers the causes of nasal congestion and provides helpful tips on how to find relief, including how to sleep with a stuffy nose.
Causes of nasal congestion
Nasal congestion AKA “stuffy nose” can be caused by allergies, a sinus infection, a cold, or the flu. People with a deviated septum are more likely to suffer from nasal congestion.
Congestion can also be caused by the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy.
Symptoms of congestion include:
- Sinus pain
- A feeling of pressure around the eyes, nose, and/or forehead
- Mucus buildup
- Thick snot
- Stuffy/runny nose
- Swollen nasal tissue
A stuffy nose that lasts longer than 7 days is sometimes a symptom of a bigger problem, such as:
- Hay fever
- Nasal polyps
- Chemical exposure
- Environmental irritants
- Chronic sinusitis
- Deviated septum
You should visit a doctor if you nasal congestion does not clear up after 10 days or if you have any of the following symptoms:
- A high fever that persists for three or more days
- Nasal pain along with green discharge and fever
- Asthma, emphysema, or a weakened immune system
- A head cold for more than 14 days
- Bleeding from the sinuses
- Headaches along with confusion, fever, weakness, or neck stiffness
- Congestion along with wheezing, cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
What is actually happening inside your nose?
When your nose is bothered by an irritant, your nervous system sends a signal to increase blood flow to the area. This causes your nasal passages to swell, which can make it hard to breathe. Click here to read more about the science behind nasal congestion.
Home remedies for nasal congestion
Nearly everyone gets a stuffy nose from time to time, so needless to say there are all sorts of home remedies.
We recommend trying a few of the following methods before you decide to visit a pharmacy:
Take a hot shower
The steam from a hot shower helps the mucus drain from your nose. If you don’t want to take a hot shower, you can just stand in the bathroom with the door closed while hot water is running. Breathe in the steam for 3-5 minutes.
Staying hydrated isn’t something most people associate with clearing a stuff nose, but there are many benefits:
- Decreases pressure in your sinuses, which can lead to less inflammation and irritation
- Thins the mucus in your nose
- Helps push fluid out of the nose
For added benefit, drink a glass of water with 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar mixed in.
Spice it up
Have you ever experienced a runny nose while eating spicy foods? You can use this effect to your benefit to help clear nasal congestion. Some of the best foods to try:
- Spicy chili
- Raw garlic
- Raw onion
- Spicy mustard
How to drain your nose properly
Apply a warm compress
Wet a washcloth with hot water, wring it out, and apply it to the forehead/nose to relieve that stuffy feeling. Optional: soak fresh ginger in the water before use.
You can also heat up the washcloth by putting it in the microwave while damp.
Try eucalyptus oil
Eucalyptus products have long been used to clear the nasal passages. Eucalyptus oil has antimicrobial, decongestant, and anti-inflammatory properties – meaning it can help clear sinuses and help prevent infection.
To use, place 5-10 drops of eucalyptus oil in a bowl of just-boiled water and inhale the steam. You can also use lavender or peppermint oil.
Hold you head over the bowl or pot while you inhale. Keep breathing in the steam for 10 minutes.
Use a humidifier or vaporizer
Humidifiers are generally used during dry months to add moisture to the air. A cool mist humidifier can help reduce inflammation inside the nose and thin the mucus there, making it easier to drain the nose.
Dealing with nasal congestion at night
You need lots of sleep to recover from a cold, but nasal congestion can make falling asleep hard or impossible to sleep. Even worse, nasal congestion seems to get worse in the evening.
Encourage your sinuses to drain during the night by propping your head up on two pillows. As mentioned earlier, run a humidifier at night to thin the mucus inside your nose.
Avoid alcohol in the evening, especially wine. Alcohol can help you sleep, but it can also increase congestion and cause dehydration.
You can also sleep with nasal strips, which keep nasal passages open by lifting the sides of the nose. Not only will this help relieve a stuff nose, but it will also reduce snoring.
If you have allergies:
- Take an antihistamine before you go to bed
- Keep pets out of your room, and especially out of your bed
How to get rid of a stuffy nose fast
Try a saline spray for instant relief. Saline sprays work by decreasing tissue inflammation inside the nose. OTC saline sprays do not contain medication, so they are appropriate for use by pregnant women.
Try a neti pot
Another option is the neti pot, a strange device which has been used for hundreds of years to clear the nostrils of mucus.
Be sure to use distilled water, previously boiled water, or saline solution with the neti pot to avoid introducing bacteria.
How it works: the neti pot flushes liquid through the nasal passages to clear out mucus.
How to use: mix 16 ounces of any of the liquids mentioned above with 1 teaspoon salt. Fill the pot with the solution. With your head tilted over a sink or tub, place the neti pot’s spout into whichever nostril is facing up.
As you slowly poor the liquid into your nostril, it will travel through the nasal cavity and exit the other nostril. If liquid gets into your throat, just spit it out. When you’re finished, repeat the process with the other nostril.
How to unblock one nostril
Try these two weird tricks to unblock your nose:
Tongue and tap
Touch the tip of your tongue to the top of your mouth. Release your tongue. Next, using two fingers, press and release repeatedly on your forehead (the spot between your eyebrows) for 20 seconds.
This method works by rocking the vomer bone, which helps clear up congestion.
Hold your breath
Tilt your head back and pinch your nose. Hold your breath as long as you can. Take a breath when you finally need to.
This method tricks your brain into thinking you aren’t getting enough oxygen. The body responds by clearing up the sinuses to allow oxygen in.
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