How to Get Rid of a Stuffy Nose: Step by Step Guide

A girl wearing a scarf that covers her nose.

The majority of us will suffer from a stuffy nose at least a couple of times a year – probably more than this if you have allergies. In winter, cold and flu season comes along and in summer, hay fever rears its ugly head, so we can never really escape.

Nasal congestion can make the basic act of breathing a challenge and leave you feeling drained. Luckily there are a lot of solutions out there to help ease the situation – from natural remedies to over-the-counter medicines. Read on to find out how to get rid of a stuffy nose.

What Causes a Stuffy Nose?

A sneezing womanThere are many different causes for a stuffy nose. Some examples are: the common cold, flu, hay fever, allergies and environmental irritants (source). It can be hard to pin down the exact reason for your stuffy nose – although luckily treatment is mostly the same regardless of cause.

Exposure to an irritant causes increased blood flow to the vessels in your nose. This results in swelling of the nasal tissue and fluid leakage, making it harder to breathe. (source) Nasal congestion is often accompanied by a headache, sneezing, watery eyes and a sore throat.

How to Get Rid of a Stuffy Nose

1. Blow Your Nose

I’m sorry if this seems obvious but I couldn’t leave it out. Personally I try to avoid blowing my nose when experiencing nasal congestion as it can irritate an already raw nostril and aggravate a headache but it’s a quick solution if you need one.

For a longer-acting fix, try one of the other methods on this list as some studies have shown that blowing your nose can actually make the situation worse by pushing mucus back to the sinuses. Experts recommend blowing one nostril at a time while covering the other. (source)

2. Inhale Steam

A pot with steam coming out from it.This is my personal favourite when I have a cold or flu as it’s not only effective but relaxing too. Fill a bowl with steaming water, hold your head over it, inhaling deeply. You can place a towel over your head and the bowl to stop the steam from escaping.

This method works by introducing moisture to the nostrils and beyond, breaking up and diluting mucus, allowing it to be cleared from the nose more easily.

3. Try Some Eucalyptus Oil

Eucalyptus oil is a common ingredient in commercial cold and flu remedies. It helps loosen mucus and has antiseptic properties. There are lots of different ways to use eucalyptus oil to relieve your stuffy nose.

You can apply a diluted mixture of eucalyptus oil and vaseline (1 drop eucalyptus oil to one teaspoon vaseline) to the chest at night as a vapour rub. Alternatively, leaving a bowl of eucalyptus oil beside your bed will release vapour and help with night breathing. You can also add a few drops to the steam treatment in step 2 above. (source)

4. Use a Saline Spray

A saline solution is a mixture of salt in water at the same concentration as that found in your body, making it non-irritant. It may also be referred to as “salt water solution”. Saline sprays thin mucus and dissolve crust in the nasal passage, improving breathing.

Saline sprays are found in most pharmacies and are simple to use. First blow your nose and then, blocking one nostril at a time, insert the nozzle into the open nostril and spray while breathing in. Repeat with the other nostril. (source)

5. Drain Your Sinuses with a Neti Pot

The neti pot is a product which looks like a small teapot. You fill it with saline solution and insert its spout into one nostril while tilting your head to the other side, allowing the solution to flow up your nasal passage and out the other nostril.

This video does a better job at explaining

It looks a bit intimidating but it’s extremely effective, especially for more severe cases of congestion. It works by physically shifting the mucus from the nasal passage. Make sure to use sterile saline solution from the pharmacy, never tap water.

6. Use a Humidifier

If you find yourself or a family member suffering from a stuffy nose regularly, it might be worth investing in a humidifier. They work by adding moisture to the air, helping to thin the mucus in your nose in a similar manner to the saline spray and steam bath. Some models also allow you to add essential oils such as eucalyptus.

7. Eat Spicy Food or Garlic

Foods such as chili peppers, garlic, horseradish, black pepper and curry spices are said to have mucokinetic, or mucous-thinning activity. You’ve probably experienced a runny nose or teary eyes as a result of hot food before, this can be useful when trying to clear nasal blockage. However, be careful as these foods can make sinusitis worse. (source)

8. Drink Hot Soup or Tea

A hot cup of tea or coffee.If you have nasal congestion, staying hydrated is one of the most effective methods to combat it. The liquid will travel to the nose and help dilute the mucus, allowing it to drain and relieve your symptoms. Hot, clear fluids are best for this, with the added benefit of steam inhalation discussed in point 2.

9. Take a Hot Shower

Another way to get steam into the nasal passage is to jump into the shower for 10 to 20 minutes, at the hottest temperature you can tolerate. Breathe deeply, allowing your lungs and nasal passage to fill with steam.

10. Massage your sinuses

A traditional remedy for nasal congestion is self-massaging your sinuses. It’s said to act on pressure points and will also relieve associated headaches.

There are lots of different techniques – check out this video for a tutorial

11. Stay Upright or Elevate Your Head

If you find your sleep disturbed as a result of your stuffy nose, try to avoid sleeping completely flat. Add two extra pillows to raise your head above the rest of your body, stopping mucus pooling and creating a blockage in the nasal passage. During the day, try to sit upright as much as possible.

12. Over the Counter Medicines

If all else fails, take a trip to your local pharmacy for some over-the-counter medicines. The staff there will be able to recommend the most appropriate product, whether that be an oral antihistamine, decongestant or medicated spray.

When to See a Doctor

A doctor writing notes on a notepad.

A stuffy nose caused by cold or flu will usually self resolve within a week or so. If you haven’t seen a major improvement over this time, you may need to take an antibiotic.

If you experience symptoms like: a high fever, blood in your mucus, sinus pain, wheezing or shortness of breath or persistent facial pain, you must see a doctor right away. (source)


I hope you find this guide helpful, you shouldn’t have to go through every step to get some relief – find 2 or 3 methods that work for you and stick with them. Since most of these remedies are non medicated, they are suitable for both adults and children. I find when one of us brings home a cold (usually the kids), the whole family ends up catching it!

Let me know how you get on with the solutions above, and if you have a personal favourite not listed here, I’d love to hear about it too.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

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