How to Clear a Stuffy Nose
This is the kind of ailment that can be incredibly annoying and in its own way quite frightening, as it can lead to genuine problems breathing. You want to do all you can to get rid of it as soon as possible.
Causes of a stuffy nose
Colds and allergies are two of the most common reasons for a stuffy nose. When you have a cold or allergy, your nasal passages become inflamed and produce extra mucus, which can make it difficult to breathe through your nose.
Though colds and allergies are the main causes, there are other aspects of your health that can lead to a stuffy nose. Among these are sinus infections, where significant inflammation of the nasal passages leads to a blocked nose and a feeling of pressure in the head. There is also evidence that smoking can lead to some people suffering from a stuffy nose and sinus pressure, due to the effects of nicotine and the nature of smoking itself.
A stuffy nose can also lead to the following ailments:
- A general feeling of irritation
- Sleep-deprivation, due to difficulties breathing overnight, when the mucus gathers in the nasal passages
- Pain in the nose
- Bad breath. Though many are unaware of this, in some people the feeling of being ‘bunged up’ and having no clear airflow in the nostrils leads to a staleness in the throat that causes bad breath. It is always worth carrying a mint when you have a blocked nose, ideally a mentholated one, as this may help alleviate the stuffiness, even temporarily.
- Sneezing, some of which can be painful
Hydrate very regularly
Drinking plenty of fluids always helps.
These help flush out your sinuses and stop the nasal passages drying up any further. In addition, fluids help flush out bacteria in the throat and in the nasal region.
If possible, aim for warm drinks, as these are better at cleansing. If hot drinks are not available, however, carry on drinking cold drinks. Hydration itself is the key.
- Hot water and lemon with honey
- Warm water, whisky, lemon and honey
- Mint teas
- Camomile teas
- Teas with hibiscus and lavender
- Miso soup or other light broths
These will all aid significantly in releasing pressure. Most of these drinks contain antioxidant ingredients designed to act as anti-inflammatories.
Use a humidifier
Humidifiers work by adding moisture back into the air. This helps to make your nasal passages less dry, which in turn can help to reduce the amount of mucus that builds up in your nose. Avoiding dry air environments helps your sinuses, as they generally do not like very dry air, as comes from central heating, for example.
If the air is too dry it also makes it more likely your throat will dry out too, and that increases the risks of a throat infection, as throats require moistness and hydration to ensure that they are protected from bacteria, which has less chance to take up residence in a moist throat.
Use a saline nasal spray
If you want another way to thin out mucus, using a saline spray can also help. It loosens and thins mucus, which helps it to drain and leave your nose more freely. A spray can help to moisturize your nasal passages, making them less likely to become congested in the first place.
In addition, they are simple to use, and require just a few drops sprayed into each nostril at any one time. They are especially good for children, as they are easy to administer and are very safe.
Irrigate your nasal cavities
This may sound grim, but it is actually perfectly normal. It is similar to using a saline spray, except that you use a small syringe or bulb spray to pour or squeeze the liquid into your nostril. You are best to have the saline water solution a tad warm, but not at all hot. The warmth of the water will further assist in cleansing your nose from mucus and flushing out any allergens or remaining debris.
Take a hot shower
This may sound simplistic, but the steam in a hot shower actually works to help the nostrils cleanse, as the steam helps liquefy the blocked nasal passages and release mucus. A similar effect can be had in the steam room at a gym or spa, where the wet heat performs the function of warming and then releasing blocked or stuffy noses.
Compress your nose
This is an old and wise remedy! Use a warm compress and place it directly over your nose and nostrils. Breathing in, the moist heat helps to release the mucus that is trapped. To enhance both the effect and the pleasure of this treatment, add some essential oils, such as lavender or lemon, to the cloth itself, so that you help to relax your head muscles and benefit also from the oils’ healing properties.
These can be an outstanding way to address sinus issues or the feeling of a stuffy nose. They work by interfering with the body’s reactions to allergens and various external stimuli that can cause headaches, sneezing and a general feeling of irritation in your nose. They also work on inflammation and therefore reduce the feeling of blockage in your nose, as when you have a stuffy nose your sinuses and nasal passage become inflamed.
Some commonly available types of antihistamines include loratadine, cetirizine and diphenhydramine. Though it can be tempting to think they are all the same, in fact some work better for some people than others, so you may need to try the different types until you find the one that is most effective for you personally.
They are also not always the same price, so check that out too, and talk to a pharmacist for expert advice.
Like antihistamines, decongestants are medications which help to reduce swelling in the nasal passages, allowing for improved airflow and clearing out the mucus buildup that may be causing the feeling of stuffiness. They come in capsule, pill and liquid form, and for many people this makes them a good choice, as they are easy to carry and generally, if taken as a mixture, quite tasty.
One important piece of advice is to take them for only a short period of time, usually for no more than five consecutive days. This is because excessive use can actually cause the body to overreact and produce mucus, thereby making your nose blocked again.
We mentioned saline sprays under home remedies, but OTC nasal sprays are also a good choice. They are medications that come in liquid form and are sprayed directly into the nose. They usually contain steroids, decongestants, and antihistamines which, as we have seen, help to reduce inflammation in the airways and clear the nasal passage.
Occasionally, there may be a side effect of a nosebleed, but this is rare. Generally, they are a simple and easy way to deal with a blocked nose. Nonetheless, take advice from the pharmacist.
Corticosteroid nasal sprays
As we know, reducing inflammation when you have a stuffy nose is important. Corticosteroid nasal sprays do just that and help clear blocked nasal passages. They also reduce thick mucus, making it easier to breathe. Many people find them more effective than decongestants and antihistamines when it comes to relieving a stuffy nose, due to their increased strength.
When to See a Doctor
Seek medical help if your symptoms last more than a week
Usually, your nose will unblock in a matter of days. The approaches we have suggested above tend to work for most. If you continue to have headaches or a feeling of pressure, however, even after these treatments, see a doctor. There may be some underlying immune system issue, or a viral infection that needs to be understood and treated.
Symptoms to be aware of: earaches, fevers and headaches
Look out for more significant symptoms, such as earache, powerful headaches, and any sign of a fever. A stuffy nose should not normally lead to a fever, and if you find you have a high temperature you are likely suffering from a stronger viral infection. You may need additional advice on how to rest well and reduce your fever. This advice is also on the Healthnile site, so check out our ‘How to Cure A Fever.’
Generally, a fever is the body’s natural response to infection or inflammation. It is often the result of a virus, bacterial infection, or allergies. So if you’re experiencing a stuffy nose with a fever, it could be an indication that there is something more significant going on in your body that may need prescription medication.
Having said that, do not panic unduly. Most fevers are mild and short-lived. They usually pass in a day or so, and if you rest and hydrate well, you should not need to visit the doctor.
If, however, you have deep difficulties in breathing at any point, you must seek medical attention and advice. Though lung infections are rare, they do occur, and breathlessness may well be a sign of something that needs medical support.