How to properly unblock your nose when you're feeling stuffy

Albeit not nearly as menacing as another airborne virus currently ravaging the world (naming no names), the common cold can still be a real pain.

From aching muscles to a sore throat, cold symptoms can wipe you out and leave you feeling lousy – and that’s before you factor in a blocked nose.

Dr Deborah Lee, of Dr Fox Online Pharmacy, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Usually, a blocked nose is caused by a viral, upper respiratory tract infection.

‘The nose is a particular problem as you feel you can’t breathe, especially when you lie down, which all leads to sleepless nights and exhaustion.’

Allergies and irritants can also be causes of a stuffy nose, which occurs when the thin mucus membranes and blood vessels inside the organ swell in response to a threat.

But while it may serve a biological purpose, nasal congestion feels anything but natural.

Dr Deborah, who just got over a mammoth head cold of her own, advises avoiding antibiotics (which many people use to remedy a cold despite the fact they’re ineffective against viruses) and painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen when you’re feeling stuffed-up.

Neither will alleviate symptoms of a common cold, and unnecessary antibiotics can make you resistant to the drugs when you actually need them.

Instead, she shared a few easy tricks and readily-available remedies to effectively clear the blockage.

Have no fear, you’ll be back to your old self in no time.

Try practical manoeuvres

The typical reaction to a blocked nose is to blow it, which does get rid of snot and mucus but doesn’t address congestion.

Because a stuffy snout is an inflammation response, it’s this you need to focus on. And you can pretty much trick your body into playing ball.

Dr Deborah says there are two practical manoeuvres to try that London ENT claim will unblock your nose in seconds.

The first involves holding your breath for as long as possible.

Dr Deborah says: ‘When you finally have to take a breath in, your sinuses will automatically start to clear because your brain has switched into survival mode as it knows you can’t breathe and are short of oxygen.’

Explaining the second, she adds: ‘Alternatively, press your tongue firmly against the roof of your mouth. Then tap twice with two fingers in between your forehead and your nose. Release your tongue. Then repeat doing this for 20 seconds.’

Perhaps avoid doing this in public, though, as it’ll likely garner more confused side-eye than a maskless cough on the tube.

Hum congestion away

Another handy trick to try is humming.

‘Humming increases the nitric oxide (NO) content of the sinus cavities by 15 to 20 times,’ says Dr Deborah, adding that ‘NO is known to have antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.’

She continues: ‘In a published case report, a man with chronic sinusitis who hummed at a low pitch (18 hums a minute) for one hour, woke up the following morning with a clear nose for the first time in months.’

The authors of this study suggested humming for an hour up to four times a day, but unfortunately they didn’t give any song recommendations.

Sip ginger tea

Cold and flu remedies often come in the form of hot drinks. Apparently, however, a bog standard herbal tea can do a better job.

Ginger is a special ingredient, with the root boasting all sorts of powers, from reducing nausea to promoting healthy digestion.

And, according to Dr Deborah, a ginger tea can calm the inflammation in your nose and let you breathe easier.

She says: ‘Ginger has been used for years in Chinese medicine.

‘It has been shown to have antihistamine effects in people with allergic rhinitis. It can also inhibit cytokines – cell signalling molecules involved in the inflammatory response.’

Consider alternative therapies

There’s no ‘cure’ for a cold, which limits traditional medicinal treatment options.

Don’t write off alternative therapies, though, as research has shown that some natural remedies are effective at combatting associated symptoms.

Acupuncture is one of these, as Dr Deborah explains: ‘A recent 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis has concluded that acupuncture can produce symptomatic relief for the common cold.

‘It has also been shown to reduce nasal symptoms and improve nasal airflow in those with chronic sinusitis.’

Sinupret is another drug-free treatment worth giving a go. A herbal preparation containing elderflower, sorrel, primrose flowers with calyx, gentian root, and European vervain, it’s proven to lessen congestion.

Dr Deborah says that ‘these herbs are known to have mucolytic and anti-inflammatory activity,’ something confirmed by dozens of scientific studies on sinupret over the years.

Head out on a walk

Another common misconception about colds is that they’re related to temperature itself.

This is an old wives’ tale, but that doesn’t stop us from wanting to cosy up and vegetate as we recover.

On the contrary, a brisk walk might just be the thing to unblock your nose.

‘Walking is good for colds,’ says Dr Deborah. ‘As you breathe faster and more deeply, this encourages the nasal passages to open up and helps the mucus to drain.’

Healthcare professionals recommend gentle exercise during a cold – just make sure you stay hydrated and don’t exert yourself if you’re not up to it.

Dr Deborah caveats this, saying: ‘If you have bodily symptoms “below the neck” – such as a bad cough, chest discomfort, stomach pains, sickness or diarrhoea – exercise should be avoided.’

Kick your smoking habit

Did you know that smokers get more colds than nonsmokers?

Dr Deborah says: ‘The noxious substances in cigarette smoke paralyse the cilia, the tiny hairs in the sinuses and airways that beat foreign particles and mucus away from the airways.

‘This also increases the risk of sinusitis. It’s best to try not to smoke and to keep away from cigarette smoke when you have a cold.’

If you’ve tried all that and still can’t get relief, this could suggest a different cause for your blocked nose.

Other potential causes of nasal congestion include nasal polyps, allergies, or structural issues like a deviated septum.

‘A blocked nose may also be due to sinusitis, which can be acute or chronic,’ explains Dr Deborah. ‘Having a weakened immune system, such as those with cancer, taking steroids, or HIV infection, increases your risk of sinusitis.’

A common cold tends to stick around for a week or two before going away on its own, so keep an eye on how symptoms clear up after this point and chat to your pharmacist or doctor if you’re still concerned.

Feeling bunged-up is rubbish yet rarely something to worry about, so try these methods to alleviate the worst of it and give yourself some much-needed rest.

The saying goes, this too shall pass – and surely that applies to a snotty nose as well as the rest of life’s little inconveniences.

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