A stuffy nose happens when the tissues lining the nose become swollen. This swelling develops when the blood vessels inside the nose become inflamed, often as a result of an illness like a cold, the flu, or a sinus infection.
Allergies, hormonal changes, and dry air can also cause a stuffy nose.
In many cases, a stuffy nose will occur alongside a runny nose (also called nasal discharge) or postnasal drip (when excess mucus runs down the back of your throat).
In addition to the sensation of congestion in your nasal passages, a stuffy nose can make it difficult to breathe through your nose. At night, this can cause sleeping problems.
A stuffy nose can also cause pain or tenderness in the sinuses.
Though uncomfortable, a stuffy or runny nose usually goes away on its own within one week.
During that time, there are several home remedies that can help to ease your discomfort and soothe your congestion. Let’s explore the different home remedies for a stuffy nose.
Steam can help moisten and relax your nasal passages to relieve congestion.
Taking a hot shower or inhaling the steam from a pot of boiling water will help loosen up the mucus in your nasal passages.
Steam from a hot shower can also help relieve additional symptoms you may be experiencing as a result of an underlying cold or flu infection, like a sore throat and body aches.
Saline Nasal Spray
Using a saline nasal spray up to three or four times per day can help prevent your nasal passages from drying out.
This will also help to reduce your congestion and remove mucus from your nose.
Humidifiers work to increase the humidity and moisture in your environment, which can be especially helpful if you have a stuffy and/or runny nose.
Placing a humidifier in your room can help keep your nasal passages moist, which helps keep your mucus thin and encourages it to drain from your nose and sinuses.
Using a warm compress or washcloth on your face several times a day can keep your mucus thin, relieve your nasal congestion symptoms, and reduce facial pain.
Drinking plenty of clear fluids is important when you have a stuffy nose, especially if it’s a result of an infection, a cold, or the flu.
Drinking lots of fluids will help to thin nasal secretions and relieve your nasal congestion.
Types of fluids that are good to drink if you have a stuffy or runny nose include:
- Decaffeinated or non-caffeinated tea
- Sports drinks
If you’re also experiencing a fever as a result of an underlying infection, like the flu, it’s important to avoid drinking caffeinated drinks, like coffees, teas, and some types of sodas, as these can contribute to dehydration, which can be a risk if you have a fever.
Elevate Your Head
Congestion usually gets worse when you’re lying down.
When possible, stay upright to alleviate your congestion. But if you need to lie down to sleep or rest, try using an extra pillow or two to elevate your head.
A neti pot is a product designed for nasal irrigation.
These products can look like small teapots, bulb syringes, squeeze bottles, or battery-operated pulsed water devices. (These devices are also called nasal irrigation kits or nasal irrigation devices.)
When used properly, a neti pot can help moisten your nasal passages and soothe nasal congestion.
A neti pot uses either a saline or saltwater solution that is then squeezed or poured into one nostril while your head is tilted.
Because your head is tilted, the solution exits through the other nostril, clearing your nasal passages on its way out.
Neti pots can help relieve a stuffy nose, but there are some things you should be mindful of when using a nasal irrigation device.
For example, when using a neti pot, be sure to pour half of the solution through each nostril.
It’s also important to use distilled, sterile, or previously boiled water rather than tap water, which can contain low levels of bacteria and protozoa that may be harmful when introduced to your nasal passages.
Finally, always be sure to follow the instructions included with your device or kit, including cleaning and drying your pot or device in between uses.
Many people use eucalyptus to alleviate stuffy noses.
Unfortunately, there is limited evidence on the effectiveness of using eucalyptus and other essential oils on their own at relieving congestion symptoms.
One study found that eucalyptus and other essential oils did not lessen congestion symptoms overall.
However, if you find using eucalyptus essential oils to be a soothing practice when you’re feeling unwell, there is very little risk to using them.
Drinking hot, non-caffeinated teas can help break up nasal congestion and soothe a stuffy or runny nose.
Some over-the-counter (OTC) medications can help relieve your congestion, but it’s important to identify the cause of your stuffy nose before deciding which medication to use.
If you’re unsure about the cause of your nasal congestion, reach out to your medical provider for guidance.
Antihistamines can help to relieve a stuffy nose caused by allergies, including environmental and seasonal allergies. These medications may include diphenhydramine (BENADRYLⓇ), loratadine (ClaritinⓇ), or cetirizine (ZYRTECⓇ).
They work by reducing the production of histamine, the chemical that gets activated during an allergic reaction.
Keep in mind that some antihistamines can make you feel drowsy, so take care when using these medications.
If allergies aren’t the cause of your nasal congestion, your provider may recommend the use of an OTC decongestant pill, like phenylephrine (SUDAFED PEⓇ) or pseudoephedrine (SUDAFEDⓇ).
Decongestants are also available in the form of nasal sprays, which may also be recommended in the treatment of a stuffy nose caused by allergies.
In general, decongestants work by shrinking and drying up your nasal passages.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that decongestant nasal sprays are only recommended for short-term use (up to three days). Otherwise, long-term use of these sprays may lead to headaches, nosebleeds, or worsening symptoms.
Tivic’s ClearUP® Sinus Pain Relief is a small handheld device that uses microcurrents to relieve sinus and nasal congestion caused by the flu and cold as well as allergy-related sinus pain.
Trials suggest that after four weeks of regular use, it can relieve congestion symptoms by 44%.
When to See a Medical Professional
In most cases, a stuffy nose will go away on its own after a few days and treatment at home.
But if you’re experiencing a stuffy nose with swelling of the forehead, eyes, or side of the nose or cheek that occurs with blurred vision, reach out to your healthcare provider or seek emergency care.
Additional symptoms that warrant more immediate medical attention are:
- A fever that does not improve after three days of rest and home care
- Severe headache
- Severe throat swelling or throat pain
- White or yellow spots on the tonsils or other parts of the throat
- Discharge from the nose that has a bad smell or is a color other than white or yellow
- Cough that lasts longer than 10 days
- Unusual skin rash
- Sensitivity to bright light
- Stiff neck or pain when you bend your head forward
- Mental confusion
- Persistent vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
How K Health Can Help
Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?
Download K Health to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and, if needed, text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
ClearUP sinus Relief. (2021.)
FDA Expands Indication of Use for Tivic Health’s ClearUP Sinus Pain Relief to Include Congestion for Common Cold, Flu and Allergies. (2021.)
Is Rinsing Your Sinuses With Neti Pots Safe? (2021.)
Stuffy or runny nose - adult. (2021.)
Treatment of Upper Respiratory Tract Infections in Primary Care: A Randomized Study Using Aromatic Herbs. (2011.)