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Nasal congestion is a common symptom of a cold or an allergy. There are many ways to relieve the discomfort that a stuffy nose can bring.

When the body reacts to an unknown substance — such as dust, an allergen, or a virus — it launches an immune response, and inflammation can arise.

Nasal congestion develops when inflammation affects the blood vessels inside the nose, and the nasal tissues swell. A buildup of mucus may also occur.

This article will look at a range of tips for managing a stuffy nose, from steam inhalation to consuming horseradish. There is limited scientific evidence to confirm that many of these methods work, but some people may find them useful.

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Many people with nasal congestion find that inhaling steam helps them feel better. They may use a bowl of plain water, adding chamomile or peppermint oil, or take a warm shower.

People should take care not to use boiling water, however, and they should always place the container on a flat, level surface.

The warmth and moisture can be soothing to the membranes inside the nose, providing temporary relief. There is also a theory that it allows mucus to drain better and that it may help kill the virus. However, science has not confirmed these theories, and there is no evidence to suggest that it improves symptoms.

The results of a 2016 trial suggest that steam did not have an impact on nasal congestion due to recurrent sinusitis. Also, a 2017 review found no evidence to suggest that steam can either benefit or harm a person with a common cold.

Steam inhalers are available for purchase online.

Using saline spray may help decrease tissue inflammation in the nose and reduce stuffiness.

The same 2016 trial that looked at the effectiveness of steam inhalation also looked at the impact of nasal irrigation. The authors concluded that nasal irrigation with saline spray appears to have some benefit for people with nasal congestion due to chronic sinusitis.

Saline-only sprays do not contain medication, so they are usually safe to use during pregnancy. Saline sprays are available over the counter and online.

Learn how to make saline solution at home here.

People can use neti pots to flush the sinuses and help relieve dry nasal passages.

People can use these devices to apply salt water or a saline solution. They can help flush out and moisten the nostrils.

However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warn people to take the following precautions to reduce the risk of infection:

  • Use only distilled, sterile, or previously boiled and cooled water.
  • Follow the instructions for the device with care.
  • Ensure that the device is clean and completely dry when not in use.
  • Wash and dry the hands before use.
  • Ask a doctor before using the device if the person has a weakened immune system or is a child.

Tap water can contain bacteria. It is not suitable for use in a neti pot or any other flushing device.

People can buy neti pots online.

Learn more about neti pots and how to use them safely here.

Applying a warm compress can help relieve the pain of nasal congestion and increase circulation in the sinuses.

To prepare a warm compress:

  • Soak a washcloth in water that is warm but not hot.
  • Wring out any extra water.
  • Apply to the nose or forehead.

Some people like to add sliced fresh ginger to the water before soaking the washcloth.

Eucalyptus oil comes from the leaves of the eucalyptus tree. People have used it for medicinal purposes throughout history.

Certain components in eucalyptus oil may have healing properties and act as:

  • an antibacterial agent
  • an anti-inflammatory
  • a pain reliever
  • a sedative

Inhaling eucalyptus in steam or through a diffuser may help reduce nasal symptoms. To use, add a few drops of oil to a bowl of hot water or follow the instructions on a diffuser.

Lozenges and rubs containing eucalyptus or methol may also help clear the nose.

Never apply eucalyptus or other oils directly to the skin, as this may cause a reaction.

Eucalyptus oils and other products are available for purchase online.

Although research suggests that essential oils may have some health benefits, it is important to remember that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor or regulate the purity or quality of these. A person should talk with a healthcare professional before using essential oils, and they should be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. A person should always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.

Sometimes, an allergic reaction causes a stuffy nose. Allergy medications often contain an antihistamine that blocks this reaction.

A 2015 Cochrane review concluded that antihistamines might help manage the severity of symptoms in adults with a common cold in the first day or two of illness. However, in the following days, they were no more helpful than a placebo.

Various options are available online, but people should ask a healthcare professional for advice before using an antihistamine.

It is essential to read the directions on the package and be aware of side effects. Some allergy medications can cause drowsiness, for example, so people should not drive when using them.

Are there any natural antihistamines? Learn more here.

Decongestants cause the small blood vessels in the nose to narrow. This decreases the swelling in the lining of the nose and reduces the feeling of stuffiness.

A 2016 Cochrane review was unable to confirm that a single dose could help relieve the symptoms of a common cold in adults, but multiple doses may have a small benefit.

People should not use decongestants for longer than a week, as long-term use can actually worsen congestion.

Side effects can include increased heart rate, headache, and dry mouth. Nasal spray decongestants may also cause sneezing and burning inside the nose.

Anyone with high blood pressure, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, glaucoma, or another condition should ask a doctor if it is safe to use decongestants before doing so. They are not suitable for children under 6 years of age, and they may not be suitable during pregnancy.

Decongestants are available online or over the counter, and some need a prescription. They come as nasal sprays, drops, tablets, or syrup.

Learn which decongestant is best to use for each age group here.

Some people find that adding moisture to the air from a cool or warm mist humidifier provides relief. However, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that this works to soothe a common cold.

It is important to keep a humidifier clean and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to prevent bacteria or mold from developing.

Humidifiers are available for purchase online.

What are some other health benefits of using a humidifier? Learn more here.

It is always a good idea to drink plenty of water, and some people say that this helps reduce nasal congestion.

However, experts have found no evidence to suggest that drinking additional fluids can help relieve symptoms, and they advise people to consume only what is comfortable.

That said, they do note that warm infusions or lemon drinks can have a soothing effect.

How much water does a person need to consume every day? Learn more here.

Some other tips that may help include:

  • eating spicy vegetables, such as horseradish
  • applying light pressure to the bridge of the nose with the thumb and index finger
  • gently massaging the sinuses with the fingers
  • drinking a glass of water mixed with a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar
  • consuming peppermint or ginger tea
  • boiling two or three cloves of garlic in water and drinking the mixture twice per day
  • using a supporting pillow to prop the head up during sleep

Various diseases and conditions can cause nasal congestion, including the following:

Learn more about what causes nasal congestion here.

Nasal congestion is often temporary, and most people can treat it at home. However, if the symptoms persist or there are additional symptoms, it may be a good idea to seek medical help.

Some conditions that cause nasal congestion can also lead to complications. If a person has a viral infection, for example, they may also develop an ear infection, bronchitis, or sinusitis.

Symptoms that may indicate a more serious condition include:

  • green mucus
  • facial pain
  • pain in the ear
  • headache
  • a fever
  • coughing
  • chest tightness

People who develop any of these symptoms may want to contact a doctor to rule out a bacterial infection or another cause or complication.

Nasal congestion is a common symptom of common colds, seasonal allergies, and other illnesses. It can cause discomfort, but many home and over-the-counter remedies can help ease this discomfort.

Not all of these remedies have scientific evidence to support their use, but many people say that they bring relief.

Anyone who has a persistently stuffy nose or additional symptoms, such as a fever, should seek medical advice.