Remedies for a Stuffy Nose

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on February 22, 2023
4 min read

A stuffy nose is one of the most commonly experienced symptoms and is more likely to be annoying than dangerous. Congestion occurs when nasal passages are inflamed and filled with excess mucus. When severe, a stuffy nose can impede airflow and force a person to breathe from their mouth.

When looking for relief from a stuffy nose, it can help to know its cause. Anything that irritates the nasal passages can produce a stuffy nose. Common causes include:

  • Infections, like colds, flus, and sinusitis.
  • Allergies, like hay fever and pet allergies.
  • Airborne irritants, like car exhaust and tobacco smoke.
  • Dry air. 

The most decisive way to treat a stuffy nose is to eliminate its cause, but there are several ways you can experience more immediate relief.

In general, you want to keep mucus thin, which will help it drain from your nose. Over-the-counter drugs, nasal washes, and positional adjustments may also help.

Breathe in Steam 

Steam thins mucus and soothes irritated nasal passages. Taking long showers can also help with muscle aches and mild fatigue, which are symptoms that sometimes accompany a stuffy nose. You can also fill a bowl with hot (but not boiling) water and lean over it. Drape a towel over your head to contain the steam and receive maximum benefits.

Drink Plenty of Fluids

Drinking lots of water isn’t a bad idea when you aren’t feeling well, because it will keep you hydrated, but there isn’t much scientific evidence that fluids have a real effect on colds and congestion.  You can also drink fruit or vegetable juices, which bring their own health benefits, but be careful not to let sugar consumption spike. Hot herbal teas will both contribute to your fluid intake and provide plenty of steam to flush out your sinuses.

Flush Nasal Passages 

A neti pot or nasal irrigator will flush your nose out. You can purchase a saline spray at most drug stores or make your own. Use it several times a day to help clear congestion and keep nasal passages moist. If making your own, combine:

  • 1 cup warm water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • A pinch of baking soda

Just be careful to keep your neti pot or irrigator clean. Wash the head and rinse out the body after each use. These devices can easily become contaminated with irritants or bacteria.

Apply Nose Strips and Elevate Head Before Bed

If a stuffy nose is keeping you from sleeping, you might find some relief from adhesive nose strips. These sit on your nose, pulling open and widening the nostrils to make breathing easier. 

You can also tuck an extra pillow under your head. Congestion frequently worsens when you lie down. Keeping your head elevated can help mitigate the problem. By the same principle, you should try to sit or stand upright throughout the day.

Put a Humidifier in Your Room

Dry air can irritate nasal passages, which can especially be a problem in the colder months due to indoor heating. Using a humidifier returns moisture to the air and can help you breathe easier.

Use a Bioelectronic Sinus Device

If you have sinus inflammation, pain, and congestion, you may want to try a bioelectronic sinus device. It works by using microcurrents to stimulate nerve fibers in your sinuses. 

Use Over-the-Counter Drugs

Non-prescription decongestants and antihistamines may help, but be careful because they can come with some nasty side effects.

Decongestants can help dry up a runny nose. They also narrow blood vessels, which can reduce inflammation. But they can also increase blood pressure or contribute to anxiety or insomnia. 

Decongestant sprays should be approached with particular caution. Prolonged use can backfire and lead to worse nasal swelling than you first had.

Antihistamines help with allergy symptoms by blocking histamines, which lead to runny noses, watery eyes, and sneezing. Many have a sedative effect, so use with care. 

While a stuffy nose is usually no cause for alarm, it can be symptomatic of a more serious condition. You should see a doctor in the following cases:

  • You also have a high fever
  • Symptoms last longer than 10 days
  • Nasal discharge is yellow or green and you experience sinus pain or fever
  • Nasal discharge is bloody
  • You have a sore throat accompanied by white or yellow spots
  • You have a clear discharge after head trauma

Children should also see a doctor when:

  • An infant under 2 months has a stuffy nose and a fever
  • An infant’s runny nose makes breathing difficult or interferes with nursing

Make sure to only give children appropriate medication according to a doctor’s guidelines. Some studies suggest that children under the age of 4 may be harmed by over-the-counter cold medications while receiving little benefit from them.

With young children, you should also be on the alert for nasal discharge that only comes from one nostril. If only one side of their nose is congested, it could indicate the presence of a foreign object.