How Do You Relieve a Stuffy Nose?

stuffiness nose
Relieving a stuffy nose may involve avoiding causative allergies, using nasal sprays, and taking medication to fight the flu and common cold.

A stuffy nose is a constant source of irritation and discomfort for children and adults. Stuffiness may be due to sinus infections, allergies or other causes. Going further, you may have a stuffy nose only during a specific season or sometimes even all year round.

Here are a few tips to tackle a stuffy nose and nasal congestion.

  • Avoid the causative agent:
    • Seasonal allergies, certain perfumes, exposure to tobacco smoke or mold can cause nasal stuffiness, sneezing and watering. The best way to manage these is to avoid exposure.
    • If there is a flu endemic around, you may want to observe a safe distance from infected individuals. Use surgical or N95 masks that give you reasonable protection from inciting agents.
    • General measures such as not using wood-burning stoves and fireplaces for warming the room, proper upkeep of heater vents and avoiding strong scented cleaners and perfumes may help avoid allergic rhinitis (inflammation of the nostrils) or sinusitis.
  • Saline drops for nasal irrigation:
    • Saline sprays and drops are available over the counter and safe for adults and kids. These nasal sprays can be used two or more times per day to help relieve congestion and a runny nose.
  • Nasal irrigation:
    • Some individuals report a relief of symptoms when they perform nasal irrigation using syringes, neti pots or bottle sprayers.
    • Nasal irrigation kits available in the pharmacy may be used to clean sinuses and thus relieve nasal congestion.
    • Make sure you learn the procedure well because unsterile neti pots and using tap water for irrigation may result in life-threatening meningitis.
  • Hydration:
    • Drink plenty of water, chicken broth or juices since these will help counteract the adverse events of antihistamines, such as a dry mouth and throat. 
    • Drinking warm fluids promotes sinus drainage and soothes the throat. Fluids such as bone broth, clear soups and chicken soups can help make you feel better.
  • Humidifiers:
    • One of the best ways to help with a stuffy nose is to use warm mist humidifiers that moisten the air, sinus cavities and oral passages and help relieve symptoms.
    • These require regular cleaning and maintenance. For safety reasons, prefer using a cool-mist humidifier if there are children in the house.
  • Application of warm facial compresses:
    • Drape a warm towel over your head and breathe in steam from a bowl of hot water directed toward your face. Or, take a hot shower to help ease pain and mucus drainage.
  • Sleep with your head elevated:
    • This helps drain your sinuses and facilitate reducing congestion. In addition, piling pillows under your neck as you sleep may relieve a stuffy nose.
  • Medications:
    • Antihistamines, decongestants, steroid sprays and nasal sprays containing oxymetazoline may help with rhinitis symptoms. In some cases, oral medication may be needed. Rarely, a surgeon may advise surgery (in case of a severely deviated nasal septum or polyps).

What causes a stuffy nose?

Causes of a stuffy nose may include:

  • Allergic rhinitis: It may be triggered by exposure to indoor or outdoor allergens, such as dust mites, dander and pollen.
  • Nasal polyps: These may be single or multiple and may be due to long-term allergies, drug sensitivities, asthma or immune reactions.
  • Deviated nasal septum: A deviated nasal septum may be present from birth, due to an injury or from a surgical procedure and may cause repeated episodes of a stuffy nose.
  • Upper respiratory tract infection: Seasonal flu, chronic sinusitis and the common cold can cause a runny nose and inflammation of the nasal passages, along with a productive cough (cough with mucus) and mild fever.
  • Occupational rhinitis: Due to exposure to a potential allergen at the workplace, individuals in certain professions, such as baking, livestock breeding, farming, working at construction sites and working in drug manufacturing plants, may develop workplace allergies.
  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) rhinitis: Individuals who use CPAP machines for the management of obstructive sleep apnea often develop nasal stuffiness.
  • Rhinitis medicamentosa: Overuse of xylometazoline and oxymetazoline nasal sprays to treat stuffiness may cause constant and rebound nasal congestion.
  • Medication-induced rhinitis: Birth control pills containing estrogen and progesterone, antihypertensive medications such as angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitors (ACEI), diuretics, erectile dysfunction drugs and certain classes of antidepressants cause stuffiness in the nose.
  • Rhinitis of pregnancy: Rhinitis associated with pregnancy is when a pregnant woman develops nasal congestion in the last months of pregnancy in absence of other signs of respiratory tract infection or allergies. This condition gets relieved on its own post the delivery.

Is a stuffy nose a sign of COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a viral infection that primarily targets your respiratory passages and lungs. Runny nose, stuffiness of nasal cavity, fever, sore throat and fatigue are symptoms seen in the seasonal cold and COVID-19 infection. While not every case of a stuffy nose points to COVID-19, if you are not sure where the infection came from, you have been in contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19 or you experience high fever along with shortness of breath, you should call your doctor to get tested the virus and start treatment if needed.