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a woman unstuffing her clogged nose through steam inhalation

How to Unstuff Your Nose Instantly

By Mallory Logsdon, PA-C Updated on Jul 07, 2024
Table of Contents
    Key Takeaways
    • Nasal congestion, or a stuffy nose, can have different causes.
    • Techniques such as steam inhalation and nasal irrigation provide quick relief.
    • Proactively managing nasal congestion improves long-term comfort and respiratory health.

    To instantly unblock a stuffy nose, you can try several effective techniques at home. These methods can provide quick relief by thinning mucus and flushing out irritants from the nasal passages.

    In addition to home remedies to help you breathe easier, it’s important to address the underlying cause of the nasal congestion by consulting a healthcare provider.

    Read on to discover why your nose might feel congested, 6 ways to address it, prevention tips, and when to see a doctor.

    What Causes Stuffy Nose?

    A stuffy nose, also called nasal congestion, is primarily caused by irritation and inflammation of the nasal passages [*]. It can be described as a sensation of fullness, which makes it difficult for air to flow freely through the nose.

    Many factors can trigger a stuffy nose.

    One of the most common causes is viral infections, such as the common cold or flu. These infections lead to irritation of the nasal lining, prompting the body to produce excess mucus to flush out the virus.

    Allergies are another significant contributor to nasal congestion, known as allergic rhinitis or hay fever—and it affects one in six individuals [*]. When exposed to allergens like pollen, dust mites, pet dander, or mold, the immune system overreacts, releasing chemicals that cause swelling and congestion in the nasal passages.

    Sinus infections (sinusitis), whether bacterial, viral, or fungal in origin, can also cause nasal congestion. When the sinuses become inflamed and filled with mucus, it leads to a blocked and stuffy feeling in the nose.

    Other potential causes of nasal congestion include irritants (like smoke), a deviated septum, spicy foods, overusing decongestant nasal sprays, and hormonal fluctuations [*].

    How to Unstuff Your Nose Instantly

    As you’ve learned, nasal congestion can have multiple underlying causes, ranging from viral infections and allergies to structural abnormalities and sinus issues.

    Regardless of the underlying cause, there are some effective techniques you can try to quickly experience relief and improve breathing comfort:

    1. Steam inhalation

    Steam inhalation helps unstuff your nose by moisturizing and soothing the nasal passages. When you inhale steam, the warm moisture helps to loosen mucus and reduce inflammation in the nasal tissues. As nasal passages open up, relief from congestion is experienced.

    A convenient tip is to create a makeshift steam room in your bathroom. Close the bathroom door and turn on the hot water in the shower to create a steam-filled environment. Breathe deeply through your nose to inhale the warm moisture.

    2. Nasal irrigation

    Nasal irrigation is a technique used to flush out excess mucus and allergens from the nasal passages. It involves rinsing the nasal cavity with a saline (saltwater) solution using a neti pot, squeeze bottle, or bulb syringe. This process moisturizes the nasal lining, thins out mucus, and washes away allergens like pollen or dust that may be causing congestion.

    Many patients find nasal saline irrigation to be a helpful and well-tolerated treatment for nasal congestion.

    Research indicates that saline nasal irrigation can enhance mucociliary function by increasing the ciliary beat frequency. This improved function promotes better clearance of mucus and particles, further aiding in the reduction of nasal congestion [*].

    Related: Why It's Important to Use a Nasal Spray

    3. Nasal decongestants

    While there are recommendations on the internet for over-the-counter oral and nasal decongestants for management of a stuffy nose, these medications are not recommended by most health care professionals given the significant side effects and risks including rebound congestion or more serious cardiovascular side effects. Personalized Allermi formulas may contain a micro-dose of a decongestant that can provide fast-acting relief, and is a far safer alternative to oral or high dose nasal decongestants.

    Related: Decongestants vs. Antihistamines

    4. Essential oils

    Essential oils like eucalyptus, peppermint, and tea tree help unstuff your nose by their natural properties that can help clear congestion and ease breathing. These oils can be used in a diffuser to disperse their aroma into the air or added to hot water for steam inhalation.

    Important: Use essential oils cautiously and follow recommended dilution guidelines to prevent irritation, especially for those with sensitive skin [*].

    5. Warm compress

    A warm compress is a simple and effective home remedy that involves applying warmth to the face around the nasal and sinus areas.

    Simply take a clean washcloth and soak it in warm (not hot) water. Wring out the excess water so that the cloth is damp but not dripping. Leave the warm compress in place for about 5 to 10 minutes, or until the cloth cools down. Reheat and reapply as needed for continued relief.

    The warmth from the compress helps to dilate blood vessels, which increases blood flow and allows the nasal tissues to relax, easing congestion and promoting drainage of mucus.

    6. Hot soup

    Hot soup, particularly broths or clear soups, is also a popular remedy for alleviating a stuffy nose or nasal congestion. They work by providing warmth, which helps promote blood flow to the nasal passages and sinuses.

    Since hot soups are liquid-based, they help provide hydration to the body. Staying hydrated is important for maintaining thin and flowing nasal mucus.

    Additionally, the ingredients in the soup, such as garlic, onions, and spices, may have anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce swelling in the nasal tissues [*].

    How to Prevent Stuffy Nose

    Being proactive about avoiding a stuffy nose means taking preventive measures to minimize the likelihood of nasal congestion before it occurs. Prevention allows you to enjoy better nasal health and productivity in daily activities.

    Consider these helpful tips to prevent stuffy nose:

    • Maintain good hygiene. Wash your hands frequently to reduce the spread of viruses and bacteria that cause colds and infections which lead to nasal congestion.
    • Manage allergies. Identify and avoid allergens such as pollen, dust mites, pet dander, and mold. Use environmental control measures such as allergy-proof covers on pillows and mattresses to reduce dust mite exposure, and clean surfaces regularly to reduce allergen exposure. If your pets trigger your congestion, keep them out of the bedroom and bathed every 2 weeks to reduce animal dander exposure.
    • Keep indoor air moist in dry climates. Keep indoor air moist with a humidifier during dry weather or in heated indoor environments, to prevent nasal passages from drying out and becoming more susceptible to irritation.
    • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids like water, herbal teas, or broths to keep nasal secretions thin and easier to expel.
    • Avoid smoking and pollutants. Tobacco smoke and environmental pollutants can irritate the nasal passages and worsen congestion. Avoid exposure to these whenever possible.
    • Exercise regularly. Physical activity can improve blood circulation and promote healthy nasal function.

    When to See a Doctor for a Stuffy Nose

    You should see a doctor for a stuffy nose if you have symptoms that persist for more than 10 days or are severe, such as high fever, severe headache, or colored nasal discharge.

    Additionally, if you experience recurrent or chronic nasal congestion that doesn't improve with over-the-counter remedies, it could indicate underlying issues that may require further evaluation and medical treatment.

    The Bottom Line

    Whether nasal congestion is caused by allergies or other factors, several methods can help you feel better!

    However, keep in mind that prevention through good hygiene practices and allergen management remains key to minimizing the frequency and severity of nasal congestion episodes. If symptoms persist or worsen, consulting a healthcare provider is always advisable.

    References:

    1. Stewart, M., Ferguson, B., & Fromer, L. (2010). Epidemiology and burden of nasal congestion. International Journal of General Medicine, 3, 37-45. https://doi.org/10.2147/ijgm.s8077
    2. Akhouri, S., & House, S. A. (2023, July 16). Allergic rhinitis. StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538186/
    3. Nasal congestion. (2023, March 2). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/nasal-congestion/basics/causes/sym-20050644
    4. Kushnir, N. M. (2011). The role of decongestants, cromolyn, guafenesin, saline washes, capsaicin, leukotriene antagonists, and other treatments on rhinitis. Immunology and Allergy Clinics of North America, 31(3), 601–617. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iac.2011.05.008
    5. Clinic, C. (2024a, May 9). 11 Essential oils: Their benefits and how to use them. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/essential-oils-101-do-they-work-how-do-you-use-them
    6. Zhao, X., Lin, J., Li, H., Li, B., Wu, T., Geng, F., Ma, W., Wang, Y., Miao, H., & Gan, Y. (2021). Recent Advances in Bioactive Compounds, Health Functions, and Safety Concerns of Onion (Allium cepa L.). Frontiers in Nutrition, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2021.669805
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