One of the worst parts of having allergies, a cold or the flu, is the accompanying congestion. That stuffy sensation in your head and face that makes breathing so difficult can also leave you feeling drained and fatigued.
Many people turn to over-the-counter treatments like decongestant sprays and pills but often these are ineffective, and have unwanted side-effects.
Luckily, many home remedies can bring quick and effective natural relief. Here are 13 of the best ways to ease congestion.
1. Drink Warm Liquids
Drinking water and other liquids helps relieve congestion by loosening mucus in the chest and nasal passages, moistening the throat and preventing dehydration. Whenever you can, make your drink a warm one.
Researchers at the Common Cold Center at Cardiff University in Britain tested the effects of hot and cold drinks on flu sufferers. Those that enjoyed a hot beverage experienced ‘immediate and sustained relief from symptoms of runny nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat, chilliness and tiredness’. The same drink at room temperature only provided relief from symptoms of runny nose, cough and sneezing.
2. Steam Your Face
This age old remedy has been used to enhance health for thousands of years – by Hippocrates, the father of medicine; by the ancient Romans; and by the native people of North America. There’s a reason this steam treatment has stuck around for so long – it’s quick, effective and completely safe.
Breathing in steam serves to loosen up the secretions that are causing your stuffy nose, head and chest. A hot shower twice a day will work but you can also try an herbal steam bowl.
Boil water in a pot or kettle and transfer immediately to a large, heat proof bowl. Stir in two spoons of fresh or dried herbs – rosemary, thyme, mint, lavender and eucalyptus are all good options. Drape a towel over your head and lean over the bowl, positioning the towel to keep in as much steam as possible. Breathe in the vapors for up to ten minutes.
3. Rinse with Salt Water
Sure, you could use an over-the-counter decongestant nasal spray but these can be addictive and, for 7% of people, can actually cause more congestion. There’s also the option to buy a simple saline spray.
But why bother, when studies have proven that a DIY salt water rinse is more effective than these conventional treatments!
University of Michigan scientists tested saline nose sprays and saline rinses in 121 adults with stuffiness, sinus pain, and other chronic nasal and sinus symptoms. While all participants reported fewer symptoms after eight weeks of treatment, the nasal rinse group showed far greater improvement in severity and frequency of symptoms.
In the study, the participants used an 8oz saline rinse twice daily. Make up your own saline solution by mixing one cup of distilled (or boiled and cooled) water, a half teaspoon of salt and a half teaspoon of baking soda. Use this in a plastic squeeze bottle or neti pot to rinse out your sinuses.
4. Diffuse Essential Oils
Some essential oils can be incredibly powerful when fighting a stuffy nose and blocked head. Add them to your diffuser and allow them to waft through the house, sprinkle some in your bath, or shake a few drops on a tissue and hold it in front of your nose (without touching your skin). For night time relief from congestion, a few drops on your pillow can work wonders.
The following essential oils are especially effective:
- Eucalyptus – a potent antiseptic, antiviral, and decongestant.
- Tea tree – an effective antimicrobial, expectorant and antiseptic.
- Peppermint – helps to open nasal passages.
- Thyme – powerful antiseptic and great for colds, flu and chills.
- Basil – an antiseptic that helps open nasal passages.
- Rosemary – an antiseptic that helps open nasal passages.
- Pine – decongestant and antimicrobial.
- Lavender – antihistamine, antiseptic and antimicrobial.
- Chamomile – relieves and soothes congestion.
Further Reading: 10 Reasons To Own An Essential Oil Diffuser
5. Make a DIY Decongestant Salve
This homemade rub works great for rattling chest congestion – but its vapors also help clear a blocked head.
Many commercial vapor rubs are petroleum based and add camphor which has been synthetically derived from the oil of turpentine and menthol. What’s more, a Penn State study showed that one popular vapor rub was associated with burning sensations to the skin in 28% of cases, with 5% of study participants reporting redness and rash.
Definitely not something you want to apply to your skin when a homemade version will work just as well but be far more gentle!
Made with coconut oil, shea butter, and essential oils like eucalyptus, peppermint, lavender, lemon and tea tree, this DIY salve is an all-natural, light, silky body butter that rubs in quickly. Find out how to make it here.
6. Hit Your Pressure Points
One way to relieve the congestion-induced pressure in your nose and face is to practice acupressure. By hitting certain pressure points, you can reduce blockage or swelling in the nasal passages and increase the free flow of air from the nose.
Here are five of the best acupressure points for nasal congestion. Can’t bear the thought of applying pressure to your tender face? No problem, one of these moves is on the hands, while the other is at the base of the skull!
7. Apply Hot & Cold Compresses
Alternately placing hot and cold compresses across your sinuses can provide pain relief for many sufferers of nasal congestion, says the American Academy of Otolaryngology.
They recommend using a hot pack for three minutes and then a cold compress for 30 seconds. Repeat this procedure three times per treatment, two to six times a day.
To make a hot compress, take a damp washcloth and heat it for 30 seconds in a microwave. Test the temperature first to make sure it’s not too hot.
A cold pack is even easier to make. Simply wrap an ice pack, or bag of frozen peas, in a clean towel and apply to your face.
8. Eat for Relief
What you eat can play a part in your levels of congestion, as some foods encourage mucus formation, while others can decrease it.
The following foods may create mucus and should be avoided until you recover:
- Fish and shellfish
- Dairy and chocolate
- Nuts (and peanuts)
- Processed meats
- Coffee and sodas
To fight congestion, enjoy plenty of the following:
- Spicy foods
- Warm drinks
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Garlic and other herbs
Overall, if you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet you can decrease mucus formation and the ensuing congestion. A 2006 study found that diets high in sodium, meat and refined carbohydrates may increase mucus, while those containing plenty of fiber, fruits, vegetables and soy can limit it.
9. Plump Up Your Pillows
Lying down at night with your head raised is a great way to relieve congested nasal passages and enjoy a good night’s sleep. Ensure you have plump pillows and add a second one if necessary.
This trick also helps prevent the congestion from going to the lungs which can lead to an annoying and painful cough. You’ll also enjoy relief from tinnitus – one of the side effects of a stuffy nose and head.
If you find it too uncomfortable to sleep with two pillows, place them between the mattress and the box springs to create a more gradual slope.
10. Try an Apple Cider Vinegar Tonic
Anecdotal evidence says that sinuses can be drained and stuffy noses can be cleared by drinking diluted apple cider vinegar.
Add a tablespoon of the vinegar to a glass of water and drink it. You can do this two to three times a day until symptoms clear. If you prefer, try one of these five tasty drinks to help you get your daily dose of this fermented liquid.
Apple cider vinegar may also be added to your bowl of boiling water before inhaling the steam.
11. Give Yoga a Go
While it might be the last thing you feel like doing, getting out of bed and grabbing a yoga mat could do wonders to clear your congestion symptoms.
Five poses are especially effective in relieving a blocked head – the Bridge Pose, Camel Pose, Plow Pose, Bow Pose and Head Stand. If you’re up to it, you could always amp up your workout by completing a few rounds of Sun Salutations between each congestion-soothing posture.
12. Brew Spicy Tomato Tea
Spicy foods are one of the most powerful congestion reliving things you can eat. That’s because many spices, including chilies, contain capsaicin – the chemical which causes the burning sensation on your tongue when you eat it. This chemical is also responsible for the health benefits of spices – including their ability to kill pain.
Another bonus of capsaicin is that it irritates the mucous membranes in the nose, causing them to become inflamed and triggering the nose to ‘run’ – which helps relieve congestion and pain.
To make a spicy tomato tea, boil one cup of tomato juice along with one tablespoon of chopped garlic, one tablespoon of lemon juice, some chili sauce and a pinch of Himalayan salt. Drink this tea slowly while it is hot, twice daily until you begin to feel better.
13. Switch On Your Humidifier
Using a humidifier (such as this one) can provide a lot of relief as the extra moisture in the air helps to break up congestion by thinning the mucus in the nose. It works similarly to holding your face over a bowl of steaming water, but it’s a much more convenient option if you need humidity all day long!
While you can use either a warm-mist or a cool-mist humidifier, the cool-mist one is a better option for two reasons – it is safer, particularly if you have children or pets; and it is more cost-effective as it uses less energy than the warm-mist version.
Make sure to keep your humidifier clean to prevent the growth of bacteria and molds – which will only exasperate your condition, and contribute to further illness. Wipe it down every day with a solution of vinegar, water and tea tree oil.