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5 ways to decongest a stuffy nose

Is there anything more unpleasant than nasal congestion? When the nose feels stuffy, for many people it is like half functioning. BreatheWe know, it is one of our vital functions, and if it cannot be performed as naturally as always, life feels uphill: less oxygen enters, we have to inhale more often and we get tired more quickly.

The worst thing of all is that, even if you blow your nose with all your might, your nose will continue to feel clogged, as if a wall of mucus had been built in its cavities. Is there an effective way to decongest it and breathe again?

“The nose is an organ that prepares and filters the air before it directly enters the lungs,” explains Santiago Ibacache, head of Otorhinolaryngology at Clínica Santa María. “How much and how the nose has to work will depend a lot on the environmental conditions.”

The best air for our nose to function well, as described by the specialist, is humid, clean and, hopefully, relatively warm. “The worst thing is dirty, dry and cold air, because that is when the nose has to work the most,” he points out.

What, exactly, is the problem with the nasal passages? Its job is to humidify the air that enters through them before it reaches the posterior nasal region and then its final destination, which is the lungs.

Specifically, Ibacache says that the pits manage to add up to 90 percent of humidity to the air we breathe and heat it to almost 37 degrees Celsius, which is ideal for the lungs. “If the physical environmental conditions are more difficult—such as too cold or too dry—the nose will become congested in order to achieve this goal,” he warns.

According to the specialist, there are other conditions that directly affect the conditions of the nasal mucosa. The most frequent are the colds. “A viral rhinitis is going to inflame and congest the nose,” says Ibacache.

Any virus with respiratory symptoms, such as rhinoviruses, which are the most common colds, is capable of stripping the nasal cells of their hairs, even before we feel symptoms.

“Each nasal cell has small hairs on the surface, which make a high-frequency shake and send the mucus towards the posterior region to swallow; that’s normal. But as soon as the virus enters, these threads are lost and the mucus stagnates in the nose,” says the doctor. The inflammatory state resulting from the immune response also produces more mucus, “therefore the nose fills with mucus, which can lead to a risk of greater superinfection, congestion and even rhinosinusitis.”

A different story is what happens with allergic rhinitis, the second most common case, which is characterized by an inflammatory state resulting from an immunological response to some allergen agent.

“The most frequent agents are dust or pollen. If one does not treat them properly, an extra condition is added that will facilitate congestion, the production and stagnation of mucus, and secondarily, an eventual infection,” he elaborates.

Other possible causes of congestion are environmental pollution, environmental dirt, smoking or environmental hazards“which obviously also facilitate a chronic inflammatory state of the nasal mucosa,” says Ibacache.

Congested people of the world: all is not lost. There are several things that can be done to prevent or alleviate this discomfort.

But before going with the following list, doctor Mauricio Bonilla, a public health specialist at the Saluta platform, says that if the nasal congestion is severe or persistent (preventing breathing for extended periods of time), or if it is accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, facial pain or difficulty breathing, it is important to consult a doctor to rule out other pathologies.

If the situation is not so serious but still annoying and unpleasant, here is a list of actions that could alleviate it.

When you have a cold or a virus, drinking water will always help. “Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, helps thin mucus and facilitates its elimination,” says Bonilla.

“Adequate hydration is beneficial for any organ,” says Ibacache: both the circulatory system, the lung system, the neurological system, and the skin. The nose, of course, is another organ that is also managed based on body fluids, therefore, “adequate systemic hydration is always beneficial.”

Nasal washes are another strategy you can take in the midst of congestion, as it is useful to clean the nasal passages and eliminate excess mucus. They can be performed with physiological saline solution, available in any pharmacy.

Bonilla says that there are some nasal wash kits that include a preformed nozzle, which can facilitate the application of the saline solution.

“In general, there are bottles on the market prepared to make an adequate nasal wash, something useful in any inflammatory condition of the nose, even colds,” complements Ibacache. If you cannot access one of these products, it is possible to do it in a more homemade way: it should be a salt water solution that is as aseptic or clean as possible. Bonilla’s recommendation is that it be cooked water brought to body temperature, “similar to the water we use to prepare a bottle,” she analyzes.

Although it may seem a little obvious, it never hurts to repeat that “getting enough sleep and adequate rest helps the body recover and fight the infection or allergy that causes congestion,” says Bonilla. To cope with the discomfort, it is advisable to sleep with your head slightly elevated, because it helps reduce swelling and nasal congestion.

Nasal congestion, especially at night, largely depends on the position of the head. That is why if you are congested and sleep in your usual position (with your head at a rather flat height), you will most likely wake up obstructed. The key is to include this inclination with cushions, so you don’t suffocate at night.

As Bonilla explains, using a humidifier or air vaporizer increases humidity in the environment, which helps thin mucus and relieve congestion. “A very dry environment can irritate the nasal passages and make congestion worse,” she explains. If you are thinking about purchasing a machine with this function, it is key to consider the size of the room you want to humidify, in addition to following the instructions according to each manufacturer.

The feeling when we have a cold and get into a hot shower, with a lot of steam, is simply wonderful. Ibacache explains that this occurs because “by feeling that the air is humid and clean, nasal congestion and vasocongestion decrease, in such a way that they free breathing a little and give the sensation of relief.”

“In an acute state, showers help, but in more chronic pathologies they are less effective, since they only reduce symptoms for a short period and do not attack the root, which can be an inflammatory disease,” says the head of Otorhinolaryngology at Clínica Santa Maria.

Another important point is to avoid exercising during days when there is congestion, take medication according to the diagnosed condition and drink plenty of water.

“It is necessary to keep in mind that, beyond an untreated cold or allergic rhinitis, when congestion persists beyond 10 to 15 days, or is associated with other things such as headache, toothache, facial pain, loss of vision, smell or feverish sensation, obviously you have to go to a medical service to rule out a major complication or other pathologies that cause congestion,” warns Ibacache.

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