Have you ever wondered why your nose is blocked every time you have a cold? What is causing it and how to get rid of it?
Nasal congestion, commonly known as a ‘stuffy nose’, is the uncomfortable, stuffed-up feeling you experience during a cold or the flu. It can also be due to an allergy or a sinus infection. A sinus infection is an inflammation (a proactive biological response of the body tissues to harmful irritants) of the cavities around the nasal passages.
Causes of Nasal Congestion
Your nasal passage is a channel of airflow through the nose. The walls of your nasal passages are coated with mucous membranes, which contain tiny hair-like cells that are responsible for the movement of mucus (a normal, slippery, and stringy fluid in the nose) towards the throat.
When you are down with a cold or an allergy, the membranes lining your nasal passages become swollen, inflamed, and irritated. As a result, these inflamed tissues begin to produce more mucus, to flush out the allergen (any substance that is eaten or inhaled, such as dust, pollen, or pet dander) that causes the irritation.
This build-up of mucus makes you feel stuffed up, leading to nasal congestion and this is why it is also referred to as ‘stuffy nose’.
Nasal congestion often clears up in about 2 to 3 days. But if it lasts longer than that, it could be a result of an underlying health condition such as:
Injury or trauma to the nose or sinuses
Long-term exposure to chemicals or environmental irritants
A long-lasting sinus infection, known as chronic sinusitis
Overuse of medications like nasal sprays or drops
Nasal polyps (growths or tumours in the nasal passages which are usually noncancerous)
While nasal congestion is more common in children, it can happen in adults and in some women during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester.
Symptoms of Nasal Congestion
Stuffy or congestion feeling, leading to difficulty in breathing
5 Home Remedies for Nasal Congestion
Simple home remedies can help relieve symptoms of nasal congestion. Common ones that you can try include:
1. Take a hot shower. The steam can help to thin out the mucus in your nose and reduce inflammation. Taking a hot shower can help your nostrils open up and return your breathing to normal, for a while.
2. Steam inhalation is an age-old home remedy for nasal congestion. Steam inhalation has the same effect as that of taking a hot shower. You can use an electric steam inhaler or a vaporizer or a humidifier.
If you do not have one at home, make your DIY (Do-It-Yourself) inhaler by following these steps:
Pour boiling water into a large bowl or a vessel.
Cover your head with a towel, and lean over the bowl.
Allow the steam to build up and take in deep breathes, alternating between your nose and the mouth.
Do not bend over a lot. Be mindful of your face.
Did you know that steam inhalation is even more effective and therapeutic when essentials oils are added to it? Studies show that adding 3 to 7 drops of essential oil to boiling water for steam inhalation, can help ease symptoms of cold and relieve your blocked nose.
Eucalyptus oil is the most recommended essential oil to be used for this. Make sure to consult your doctor before using it to avoid any sort of irritation.
3. Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated thins out the mucus and keeps your nose moist. This allows the tiny hair-like cells (cillia) to push out the secretions faster, thus, giving you relief. Intake other fluids such as vegetable broths and soups to stay hydrated.
4. Drain your sinuses. You can clean your clogged sinuses/nostrils with an ancient Ayurvedic technique called Jal Neti. This technique uses water to purify and clean the nasal path, right from the nostrils to the throat. It is highly prevalent across the world and it is recommended to do this regularly, after consultation with your doctor.
Things You Need for Jal Neti
A neti pot: A pot-shaped container, specially designed to flush fluids and mucus out of your sinuses
A pinch of salt
Steps Involved in Jal Neti
Step 1: Add 1 teaspoon of salt per 500ml of water. Mix the salt properly and pour the lukewarm water into a clean neti pot.
Step 2: Stand with your head over a sink. Now bend forward from the waist and keep your head at a 45-degree angle.
Step 3: Slowly insert the spout of the pot into the upper nostril and tilt it until water enters your nasal passage.
Step 4: Once the water flows into your nostril, it will come out through your other nostril and empty into the sink.
Step 5: Repeat the same steps with the second nostril.
Remember to understand and learn this practice properly before doing it. Perform the steps slowly and cautiously.
5. Keep your head elevated while sleeping. Lying flat on your back can result in mucus buildup and lead to increased discomfort, especially during the night. Elevate your head with 2-3 pillows at night to keep your head above your heart. This position will reduce mucus buildup and help you breathe comfortably.
Besides these home remedies, you can also try nasal drops and OTC (over-the-counter) medications, after consulting your doctor. Practicing pranayama (breathing exercises) regularly helps in cleaning and preventing inflammation of the sinuses.
In case of prolonged nasal congestion, visit an ENT specialist immediately.
1. Naclerio, R., 2010. Pathophysiology of nasal congestion. International Journal of General Medicine, p.47.
2. Aafa.org. 2021. Rhinitis, Nasal Allergy, Hayfever | AAFA.Org. [online] Available at: <https://www.aafa.org/rhinitis-nasal-allergy-hayfever/> [Accessed 15 January 2021].
3. Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Nasal Congestion Possible Causes | Cleveland Clinic. [online] Available at: <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/17980-nasal-congestion/possible-causes> [Accessed 15 January 2021].
4. Muschealth.org. 2021. Congestion, Stuffy Nose, & Nasal Obstruction. [online] Available at: <https://muschealth.org/medical-services/ent/sinus-center/congestion> [Accessed 15 January 2021].
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