Walking through life with a stuffy nose can kind of feel like wading through deep water. Congestion may cause brain fog, ruin your sleep, and make even the simplest tasks seem overwhelming. Grocery stores and pharmacies stock shelves and shelves of over-the-counter treatments for sinus problems, but many medicines may be too strong for regular use and come with unwanted side effects. Home remedies for a stuffy nose can be a gentler option, and they often use things you may already have lying around your place. Read on for seven science-backed natural remedies for congestion relief.
1. Bedding and pillow position
During the day, as long as your upper body stays vertical, gravity works to help drain mucus and keep it from accumulating in your nasal cavity. When you lie down to go to bed, you lose that pull. Instead, mucus in your nasal cavity can start to pool and clog your nasal passages. Switching up your sleeping position may help with this.
To get some of that gravity back, use pillows to prop your head up as you sleep. The closer you can get to a sitting position—without interrupting your sleep—the more gravity will help keep your nasal passages clear. At a minimum, make sure your head is elevated above your heart. This can decrease blood flow in the nasal passages and reduce inflammation in the blood vessels, another contributing factor to nighttime congestion.
You can also help make your bed a congestion-free zone by regularly washing your pillowcases, sheets, and blankets. Dust, animal dander, pollen, and other allergens may accumulate on your bedding over time. If your congestion is caused by allergies, you may notice fewer nighttime symptoms when you sleep on freshly cleaned bedding. Some people with allergies also use dust mite covers and hypoallergenic bedding to help reduce allergen exposure while they sleep.
2. Respiratory system hydration
Anyone who has ever had a stuffy nose knows that mucus drains much, much faster when it is thin and watery. Thicker mucus, on the other hand, can quickly block your nasal passages. Your lungs are 80% water so hydrating your respiratory system can help your body add water to your mucus, thinning it out and making drainage easier. If congestion keeps you from breathing through your nose at night, these tips may help:
- Use a humidifier to keep the air from becoming too dry in your bedroom while you sleep. Aim to keep the relative humidity in your room between 30 and 50%. While dry air can make congestion even more uncomfortable, excess indoor humidity can lead to mold and mildew growth and worsen nighttime allergy symptoms.
- Breathe in steam from the shower or a pot of warm water. For the second option, heat a pot of water on the stove until it is almost—but not quite—boiling. Then, drape a towel over your head to create a tent to trap the steam. Keeping your head under the towel, carefully lean over the pot and inhale the steam for around five to ten minutes.
- Drink plenty of clear fluids throughout the day. Try to avoid fluids with sugar, alcohol, and caffeine, as these can dehydrate you. Hot drinks, such as herbal tea, may also have an immediate effect in thinning out mucus and promoting drainage.
- Use a saline nasal spray throughout the day. Saline nasal sprays or washes can lubricate your nasal passages, loosen mucus, and help your sinuses drain.
- Place a warm wet towel or washcloth over your face. The moist heat can help loosen mucus and relieve pain and discomfort from sinus pressure.
3. Nasal irrigation
A nasal irrigator, such as a neti pot, bulb syringe, or squeeze bottle, may help relieve congestion and clear blocked sinuses by moistening your nasal passages and loosening thick mucus. Generally, neti pots are considered safe by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) when used properly. Never use tap water in your neti pot. Instead, choose distilled bottled water or water that has been boiled and cooled.
Many nasal irrigators come with a special salt mixture designed to reduce the discomfort of pouring water into your nose. Follow the directions on the package to mix the saline solution using lukewarm water. Then, lean over the sink and tilt your head sideways. Gently pour the water into one nostril, breathing through your mouth. It will drain out your other nostril. When the solution is gone, gently blow your nose and repeat the process on the other side.
Remember to thoroughly clean the neti pot between each use, keeping it free from dust, cleaning chemicals, or anything that could irritate your nasal passages or trigger allergy symptoms.
4. Air purification
If you have allergies, one of the best ways to decrease symptoms like congestion is to reduce your exposure to allergy triggers. This is especially important in your bedroom, where you (hopefully) spend many uninterrupted hours each night. Regular cleaning can help keep dust and other allergens from building up on the floors, furniture, bedding, and other items in your room. Putting an air purifier in your bedroom may also help.
Air purifiers cycle the air in a room, trapping airborne allergens as they pass through the unit’s filter. Many allergens, such as dust and pollen, exist as solid particles floating in the air. So, when searching for an air purifier, look for one that can capture fine particulate matter (PM). For example, HEPA filters and Molekule’s PECO filters can both capture PM. (Molekule goes even further by breaking down allergens at the molecular level.) Carbon filters cannot.
To get the most benefit from your air purifier, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for placement, room size, and filter replacement.
5. Hot and spicy
Anytime you notice yourself sniffling after eating spicy foods, you’re experiencing their natural decongestant properties firsthand. Here are three foods and herbs that may help with nasal congestion at home:
- Ginger: In a 2020 study published by BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies, researchers found that a daily 500-milligram dose of ginger extract was as effective as loratadine (the active ingredient in the antihistamine Claritin) in relieving nasal allergy symptoms. Not only did the ginger extract help with congestion, but it lacked the side effects of loratadine, which include drowsiness, fatigue, dizziness, and constipation.
- Capsaicin: The spicy sensation you get from eating hot peppers is caused by a compound called capsaicin. Contact with capsaicin can cause a burning sensation on your skin, tongue, and eyes, but ingesting it can actually help open nasal passages and drain mucus. In a study published in Current Allergy and Asthma Reports, capsaicin nasal spray was found to be particularly effective in reducing congestion.
- Mint: Though it does not work as a decongestant, the menthol in mint can make it feel like you are breathing more easily, which is why it is included in many products sold as sinus decongestants. Camphor and eucalyptus can also have a similar effect. So, while mint tea may not relieve your congestion, it can still give some much-needed comfort when you’re battling a stuffy nose.
6. Chicken noodle soup
There’s a reason why chicken noodle is the go-to soup for people who are sick. Not only does hot soup create steam that can hydrate and loosen mucus, the chicken also contains cysteine, which can break up and thin mucus. Plus, the broth can be great for hydration, as long as there isn’t too much sodium.
Cysteine is an amino acid found in some foods, including chicken, turkey, garlic, yogurt, eggs, and whole grains. It is also available as a dietary supplement. In addition to helping with congestion, cysteine has also been used as a supplemental treatment for bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
When you aren’t feeling well, chicken soup can be a giant bowl of comfort, especially when it’s homemade. Cooking chicken soup from scratch also makes it easier to avoid processed meats and control the sodium level of the broth.
Curcumin is an ingredient in turmeric, a root used in many traditional dishes throughout India, China, and neighboring regions. It has been found to have potent anti-inflammatory effects and has performed well in studies on decongestion. In one 2016 study, researchers found that curcumin was capable of improving sneezing, runny nose, and congestion in people with allergic rhinitis (hay fever).
There are two main options for supplementing with curcumin. First, you can buy it in pill form, often sold as turmeric supplements. Second, you can use turmeric for sinus congestion by incorporating it into your cooking or mixing it into drinks, such as golden milk. However, simply ingesting curcumin isn’t enough. Alone, it has low bioavailability, meaning that your body can only process a small percentage of the curcumin you consume.
Pairing curcumin with piperine, an active component of black pepper, can increase its bioavailability by 2000%. So, if you’re cooking with curcumin, make sure to sprinkle in some black pepper as well. If you prefer taking it as a supplement, look for one containing piperine or black pepper. (Note: It’s always a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider before you start taking any new dietary supplements.)
Over-the-counter decongestants and pain relievers may help with congestion, but they aren’t the only way to find sinus congestion relief. These simple home remedies for a stuffy nose—along with plenty of rest and hydration—may help clear up congestion too. If your congestion ever comes with pain or fever, lasts longer than a week, or worsens after treatment, reach out to your healthcare provider for help.