You don’t realize how great it is to breathe through your nose until you can’t. Whether you suffer from allergies or a cold, excess snot makes life difficult.
A runny nose is neither sexy nor professional, but be thankful for mucus. Life would be much worse without it. Snot keeps the sinus cavity lubricated. It filters allergens and other impurities from the air we breathe. Mucus increases when we get sick, because the proteins in snot help pull invasive germs, viruses, and bacteria out of the body.
Help snot do its job. Mucus proteins absorb water like a sponge, so good hydration is essential. When mucus gets thick it gets stuck, which can lead to headaches, post nasal drip, and a cough that can last for weeks.
Hydration should be the primary focus of sinus relief. Beware of over-the-counter decongestants that can dry you out. If the air in your home is too dry, get a humidifier.
Water, herbal tea, broth, and fresh fruit (especially citrus) are excellent choices for hydration. Stay away from alcohol and excessive caffeine intake, which can further dehydrate sinuses.
The most direct way to hydrate the sinuses is with a neti pot—a plastic or ceramic pitcher designed to rinse the nasal cavity. The technique comes from ancient Aryurvedic medicine and is widely recommended by modern doctors for chronic congestion.
Although it’s strange at first, pouring water up your nose is actually quite easy and comfortable. However, don’t wait until you’re too stuffy to learn. A clogged nose requires patience and experience.
A little salt is added to the warm neti pot water to match the salinity of body fluids. Get a non-iodized sea salt with fine crystals that dissolve easily. Stir in a drop or two of eucalyptus essential oil for extra sinus relief.
Peppermint, cajeput, and eucalyptus all contain strong essential oils that help thin nasal mucus. Rub a few drops on the forehead and on either side of the nose, and get ready for the water works.
Or consider a classic steam. Add a few drops to a large bowl of steaming hot water, put your face over it, and gently breathe in the vapors. Cover your head and the bowl with a towel to keep in the steam. Be careful not to add too much oil. It can cause a coughing fit.
Olbas, a Swiss company, makes a pocket inhaler available at most health food stores. For about $6 you get a small white tube scented with essential oils for sinus relief on the go.
A warm washcloth or a hot shower can help loosen nasal mucus, but you can get much more therapeutic effect from a bath. Dissolve a cup or two of Epsom salt in the water. This salt is absorbed by your skin as magnesium, a mineral that relaxes tense muscles, and helps the body get rid of excess mucus. After the tub is filled, add a total of 40 drops of any of the essential oils mentioned above. Stir the brew with your hand or foot and climb in.
Fresh horseradish is one of the best things to open nasal passages, but anything with a pungent, spicy flavor will do. Onions, ginger, peppercorns, cinnamon, fennel, and hot mustard are some of the flavors to seek when you can’t breathe.
Definitely add extra chili peppers to your food when stuffy. Congestion dulls taste, so you probably can take much more heat than normal. Got any habanero hot sauce you’ve been too afraid to try? This is the time to pour it on.
What Not to Eat
Avoid foods which can increase mucus and trigger inflammation, such as sugar, wheat, or dairy. Don’t make the problem any worse than it already is.
Instead, go for hot, hydrating foods such as soup or stew—extra spicy, of course.
The Chinese herb ma huang (better known as ephedra) is one of the most effective decongestants. Unfortunately, it was banned in the United States in 2003 after problems arose with pseudoephedrine (a synthetic drug derived from ephedra). Chinese herbalists are still technically allowed to prescribe ma huang, but it’s now nearly impossible to find in the United States.
A native American ephedra known as Mormon Tea is still legal, although it does not contain the same alkaloid strength as ma huang. However, it is still beneficial in sinus congestion. It was used extensively by the Native Americans of the Southwest and was a favorite of the American herbalist Dr. John Christopher.
In addition to the spicy herbs mentioned above, other sinus relieving favorites include chamomile, turmeric, licorice, goldenseal, and orange peel. Homeopathics to try are Kali bichromicum and Pulsatilla.
This article is provided for information only and is not meant to prescribe medical care. Please consult a physician for treatment of any medical problems.