A stuffy nose or sinus congestion is nothing to sneeze at – so to speak. We need to breathe air or life becomes very uncomfortable very quickly. After only three minutes of holding your breath, you might damage your brain.
Nasal blockage can arise from allergies, a cold or flu, smoking and lung diseases (pneumonia, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cystic fibrosis).
We get around a clogged nasal airway by breathing through our mouths. The throat may become raspy, irritated, and sore as a consequence. This is because humans were designed to capture moisture by breathing through the nose. Mouth breathing costs a 42 percent moisture loss. Dehydration leads to fatigue, feeling tired and listless.
Plus, it’s really hard for many people to fall asleep while breathing through an open mouth. Sleep quality declines due to arousals and awakenings. With an average 20 breaths per minute – 28,000 a day – it’s easy to see why being forced by a medical condition to take 9,000 of them through the mouth quickly becomes annoying – and unhealthy.
Proper body function depends on mucus. It forms a protective and moisturizing layer to prevent vital organs from drying out and traps irritants like dust, smoke, or bacteria. It also fights off infections with antibodies and bacteria-killing enzymes.
Take a guess at how much mucus the average human body makes in 24 hours? If you answered 1 to 1-1/2 liters a day, you win the grand prize! This slippery, stringy liquid substance (kids call it “snot”) is produced by many lining tissues in the body, including the nasal passage.
“The main difference between mucus and phlegm is that mucus serves as the regular protective layer of the airways whereas phlegm is produced during inflammation and diseases in the airways. Phlegm consists of bacteria, virus, and other debris.”
Fortunately, there are known remedies to reduce excess mucus and phlegm. Mucus is “a sticky, wet liquid produced by glands (special organs) inside the nose, throat, and other parts of the body that help to protect them.”
Here are twelve things you can do to relieve a stuffed up nose:
- Drink fluids. More is better since we know that mouth breathing robs us of almost half the moisture we need to stay fully hydrated. That’s why you’re supposed to “get plenty of bed rest and drink plenty of fluids” when a cold or flu stops nose breathing.
- Humidify the air. Running a furnace in colder weather can dry out the air inside your home. Restore normal moisture levels with a cool mist humidifier in rooms where you spend a lot of time, especially near your bed.
- Elevate your head. Lying on your back lets mucus build up in the back of your throat. Use pillows to keep your head raised while sleeping or relaxing on the couch.
- Put a warm, wet cloth on your face. Not only does this feel super good when you can’t breathe through your nose, inhaling through a moistened washcloth replaces water in the throat that was lost by mouth breathing. Step up this treatment by taking a hot bath or shower. Bathroom steam helps loosen and clear mucus in the nose and throat. Or pull out all the stops and lie in a warm tub with a wet washcloth draped over your face. Ahhhhh.
- Expectorate. This imposing medical term simply means “to eject from the throat or lungs by coughing or hawking and spitting.” Our parents and culture may have taught us that spitting is not cool but when you can’t breathe through your nose and feel excess phlegm or mucus building up in your mouth, go ahead and hock a loogie – spit it right out (preferably, into a sink, cup, or tissue). Don’t swallow phlegm because it will continue to circulate through the body until it winds up in the sinuses again.
- Spray with salt water. Sounds awful, doesn’t it? But since your nose is clogged, you can’t taste anything. Get a small spray bottle or irrigator at the pharmacy that lists only sodium chloride (table salt) as an ingredient. Make sure to use sterile or distilled water when spraying directly into the nasal cavity. Have a tissue handy because the dam may break from the injected saline solution.
- Gargle with salt water. My mom loved this treatment. We kids hated it. But it really works. Heat water in a cup as hot as you can stand – without scalding delicate throat tissues. Add so much salt that the solution becomes supersaturated – the water dissolves as much salt as it can and leaves the rest in suspension in the glass. Take a sip, tilt your head back, and gargle for as long as you can. Avoid swallowing any of this highly salted water. Spit and repeat until the cup is empty. You can do this as often as you like to break up mucus and soothe a sore throat.
- Avoid decongestants. It is an odd fact that drying up a runny nose by taking a decongestant medication also prevents the body from eliminating mucus and phlegm. Consider these drugs as a last resort (if you must get some rest, for example).
- Go for the eucalyptus. Known as an effective treatment for mucus and phlegm, eucalyptus oil comes in many over-the-counter cold and flu products. Small bottles are available if you want to add some drops to that warm bath or the wet washcloth you’re breathing through. Some people find sinus relief from rubbing the oil directly under the nose, on the temples and forehead, and on the chest.
- No smoking. Since tobacco smoke is both irritating and toxic, being around it only aggravates a congested nose. It also produces more mucus and phlegm which is the opposite of what should be happening. Take a break if you use tobacco products and stay away from other smokers.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine. Both alcohol and caffeine are dehydrants – they remove water from the body. Since mouth breathing does the same thing, do yourself a favor and drink warm, non-caffeinated beverages instead.
- Gently blow your nose. A stuffed-up nose begs to be blown into a tissue. Resist the urge to use dynamite force to blast the blockage away. This usually won’t work and could damage the fine tissues inside the nose and sinuses, producing pain, pressure, and possible infection. Use the softest facial tissues you can find and apply lotion to the lining of your nose if it becomes red and irritated from repeated blowing.
Follow these twelve tips to reduce mucus and phlegm and breathe easier – through your nose!