Natural remedies for sinus and nasal congestion relief
Although a stuffy or congested nose can be caused by thick mucus blocking the nasal passage, it can also be caused by swelling and inflammation of the small blood vessels lining our sinuses, not to mention that certain medical conditions like asthma can trigger symptoms as well.
While gently blowing your nose may help, clearing all the mucus can be difficult, putting you at risk for an infection that may trigger excessive mucus production as your immune response becomes over-reactive. When this happens, you may feel some fluid dripping down the back of your throat.
There are several natural methods that can provide relief for a stuffy nose, while also reducing nasal drip. However, the most effective method to stop congested sinuses is to prevent it in the first place.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the best way to prevent colds, including the sinus problems that often accompany them, is to simply gargle with plain water three times a day. If you do that, the study says you’ll reduce your risk of catching a cold with nasal congestion by nearly 40 percent.
Nevertheless, and despite your best efforts to prevent it, you may still experience sinus congestion. But the good news is there is something you can do to get relief – and naturally.
There are a variety of home remedies that can effectively relieve sinus discomfort and the underlying inflammation, as well as symptoms from a common cold and the flu. Here are some of the most common for treating sinus problems:
Steam and Clean Treatment – Steam thins out mucus and constricts blood vessels, making it easier to rid your nasal passages of any gunk clogging them up. Here are some tips for using steam to effectively de-stuff your nose:
1. Boil a pot of hot water, then pour it into a bowl and add six drops of eucalyptus, peppermint, lavender or mint oil, which are common oils used in aromatherapy to alleviate symptoms of congestion.
2. Next, hold your face over the bowl with a towel placed over your head and the bowl, then inhale the steam.
3. You can also add herbs to the boiling water or add vinegar when inhaling steam to help kill bacteria.
Sinus Rinse Treatment – One of the most popular ways to relieve congestion is by using a saline (salt) solution to clean and clear your nasal cavities. You can buy a commercially prepared solution from your local pharmacy, or make one yourself:
1. If you prepare your own saline rinse, try using un-processed sea-salt mixed with distilled water and administering it directly into your nasal cavities with a dropper or bulk syringe.
2. The saline solution works by supposedly killing bacteria and shrinking the blood vessels on the affected membrane before flushing out the stale secretions.
3. Alternatively, you can use a Neti pot to pour the solution into one side of the nose at a time, tilting your head side-ways over the sink as the solution comes out of the other side of your nose, or you can use a squeezable rinse bottle (the makers of the Neti pot make a good one), spraying it up one side of the nose at a time as you hold the other side closed with your mouth open.
Pungent Drink Treatment – Drinking something hot, especially if it contains ingredients that de-stuff the nasal passage, is a popular and easy way to get quick relief. Here is one recipe that has worked for many people:
1. Mix 2 teaspoons of organic apple cider vinegar and a pinch of cayenne pepper powder with a quarter cup of hot water.
2. Drink it warm twice a day, both in the evening and morning.
3. You can also try adding hot salsa, horseradish, onion and crush black pepper cones.
Honey Drink Treatment – Sinus problems can also include an annoying cough, especially when you have an infection triggering excessive mucus production, but here comes honey to the rescue, with a recipe from traditional Chinese medicine.
1. Mix 1 tablespoon honey with 1 cup of hot water, stir well, then drink and enjoy.
2. Honey acts as a natural expectorant, promoting the flow of mucus.
3. Squeeze some lemon in if you prefer a little tartness.
Air Purifying Treatment – If your stuffed nose is due to allergens, installing an air conditioning purifier in your home can help remove allergens and other irritants that may be lurking around the house, or your can try the following:
1. If you have a vaporizer, try adding a few drops of essential oils like eucalyptus, peppermint, lavender or mint oil for a more aromatherapy effect.
2. If you don’t have a vaporizer, try using the steam inhalation method instead.
3. A humidifier is another way to open clogged nasal passage, and using a portable one that you can place near your bed at night can really help alleviate sinus congestion during sleep.
Drink Water Treatment – Drinking plenty of water is important for keeping yourself hydrated, and doing so throughout the day helps clear thin mucous from the nasal passage, while flushing out toxins from your body.
1. You may have heard that you shouldn’t drink tea when you have a cold, but that only applies to caffeinated tea, which can actually increase fluid loss.
2. Otherwise, drinking herbal tea is good for your nasal health, especially if you steep the roots or leaves to release the natural compounds.
3. Ginger tea, lemon balm and peppermint tea have also been known to reduce the symptoms of cold.
Mustard Treatment – Mustard is an ancient remedy for nasal and chest congestion, as well as for the flu and chest colds, dating back to the Ancient Romans who early on understood the healing properties of mustard, as it has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that can be inhaled through the vapors. Try this recipe for making a mustard plaster:
1. Mix 1 tablespoon of dry mustard, 2 to 4 tablespoons flour, and 1 egg white with warm water to form a paste.
2. Next, find a clean handkerchief, or square of muslin big enough to cover the upper chest, and smear the paste mixture over the cloth as if you were smearing mustard on a sandwich, then place another cloth over it.
3. Dab olive oil on the skin, and then apply the mustard plaster to the upper chest for a few minutes before removing and washing off any traces of mustard fro the skin*.
* Mustard plaster can burn, so be careful not to leave it on for more than a few minutes.
Hot Lemonade Treatment – Using fresh lemons to make hot lemonade has been a flu remedy used since Roman times, but lemons are also acidic and help make mucous membranes distasteful to bacteria and viruses. Try this recipe using lemon oil, which gives lemon juice its aromatic qualities and contains antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and anti-inflammatory agents:
1. Place 1 chopped lemon (skin, pulp, and all) into 1 cup of boiling water.
2. While the lemon steeps for 5 minutes, inhale.
3. Then strain, add honey to taste and enjoy, drinking it 3 to 4 times a day until your symptoms clear.
Pepper Drink Treatment – Pepper is an irritant, but it’s good for congestion and cough with thick mucous. Try this recipe with pepper to stimulate circulation and the flow of mucus:
1. Place 1 teaspoon of black pepper into a cup and add 1 tablespoon of honey.
2. Fill the cup with boiling water, and let steep for 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Then stir and sip.
Thyme Drink Treatment – It's time to try thyme when the mucous membranes are stuffed, and it’s also good for headaches, working as a powerful expectorant and antiseptic due to its constituent oil, thymol. Try cupping your hands around a mug of thyme tea and breathing in the steam with this quick and easy recipe:
1. Add 1 teaspoon of dried thyme leaves to 1 cup of boiling water.
2. Let steep for five minutes while inhaling the steam.
3. Next, strain the tea and sweeten with honey to taste, then slowly sip as the thymol works its way through your upper respiratory tract, loosening mucus and inhibiting bacteria from settling down to stay.
Sinus Supplement Treatment – Sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinuses, and a handful of supplements can really make a difference, including the following
1. Try taking Curcumin (500 mg daily), Vitamin C (2,000 to 4,000 mg daily in divided doses throughout the day), and essential fatty acids or EFAs (1,000 mg twice daily).
2. Vitamin D is another recommended supplement, with some doctors advising patients their patients to temporarily double or triple their daily dose of Vitamin D to help relieve sinus infections.
3. Some doctors also recommend taking a daily dose of 10,000 IUs of vitamin A, plus an additional 15,000 IUs of the vitamin A precursor, known as beta-carotene, as Vitamin A helps to maintain a healthy immune system in general, while also keeping mucous membranes healthy*.
* Zinc is a mineral also known to fight sinus infections, and it also improves the absorption of Vitamin A. As a supplement, 30 mg is the typical dose.
The above remedies are by no means conclusive, nor will they necessarily work for everyone. It's also important to see your doctor if your sinus symptoms do not improve or get worse because some sinus problems can lead to an infection, as well as polyps that can place pressure on the eyes and cause vision problems, not to mention other serious issues.
While the human nose is designed to serve as a high-efficiency air filter that's capable of removing 80 percent of the various substances in the air when it's functioning fully, problems erupt when it's unable to prevent mucus from reaching the lungs, where a sinus infection can occur.
If you experience any symptoms of a sinus infection, including low-grade fever, post-nasal drip, difficulties smelling, bad-breath, breathing problems, headache, fatigue, and/or cough, please see your doctor.
SOURCE: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Consumer Reports Health: Treating sinusitis, Don't rush to antibiotics (April 2012); miscellaneous other sources.