There are few ailments in life as common and annoying as seasonal allergies or a head or chest cold. Congestion is a typical symptom of many different types of cold viruses and even respiratory bacterial infections. You know the feeling, it’s a strenuous act just to breathe, you feel your pulse in your own head, and your voice is muffled and scratchy. What most do not realize is that the primary cause of congestion is not thick mucous (although it plays a part), but rather inflammation in the tissues and blood vessels lining the nasal passages as a result of cold and flu viruses or even common allergens. Many people run to the pharmacy to find some nasal congestion relief through over-the-counter drugs and other commercial products. Fortunately, for those in the know, there are a few natural remedies for congestion that can help without the nasty side effects.
Natural Remedies for Congestion & Sinus Relief
It does not take over the counter medicine or any highly refined commercial solution to help with congestion. There are natural solutions to nearly any everyday problem. Congestion is yet another ailment that can be aided by natural means. Here are five all natural remedies for congestion to reduce the severity of your symptoms and get on with your day.
1. Breathe in Some Steam
The inflammation that leads to congestion is caused by the overproduction of mucous in the airways of the head and chest. Usually this mucous is easily cleared, but when you’re congested, it collects like glue. Breathing in steam is a time-tested method to break up that congestion.1 That’s right, plain old water vapor. It is hard to get more natural than that. You can create steam in all sorts of ways. Choose the method that works best for you:
- Humidifier – This device can turn regular water into steam to aid your congestion.
- Pot of Boiling Water – Boil a pot of water and slowly breathe in through your nose. Be careful not to get too close and burn yourself. You may choose to drape a towel over your head and shoulders to help trap the steam.
- Hot Shower – Taking a hot shower can have all kinds of benefits when you don’t feel well, but in this case, it can provide a steamy atmosphere to naturally help with congestion.
We always recommend using distilled or filtered water, which ensures that you aren’t introducing any additional chemicals like chlorine into your system.
Want to add a little extra oomph to your steam treatment? Add a few drops of high-quality eucalyptus oil like this one to the water to further clear out our airways. If you’re treating a child under age 10, however, you may want to avoid eucalyptus and other high 1,8-cineole oils and instead opt for congestion-busting alternatives like spruce, fir, or cypress.
Consider following your steam treatment up with a cold compress across your forehead, nose, and cheeks, which can help relieve sinus pain and inflammation.
2. Saline (Salt Water) Rinse
Of the available natural remedies for congestion, a saline rinse is not the most pleasant experience for many people. However, rinsing your nasal passages and sinuses with a saline solution can help with removing mucus from your sinus/nose and improve the feeling of stuffiness.2 Just be sure not to use a saline rinse if you are so stuffy that you find it difficult to breathe through your nose as this can cause further discomfort.
Create the Saline Solution – Combine 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to 1 cup of warm (boiled previously) or distilled water. It is important to sterilize tap water and let it cool. Alternatively, you can purchase pre-mixed packets of the saline mix to combine with sterile water.
Rinse – This solution needs to travel through your nasal passage. You can aid in this process by using something to squirt the saline solution such as:
- Neti-Pot – This handy apparatus naturally passes the saline solution through the nasal passage. It has been used for thousands of years in ayurvedic medicine for sinus related problems.
- Ear Syringe – You have probably seen them most commonly used with babies, but they work great for rinsing the nasal passage as well.
- Pre-made Rinse Kit – Though not necessary, pre-made kits can be very convenient and reusable.
Be sure to follow the instructions carefully and thoroughly clean and air dry your neti-pot, bulb syringe, or kit before the next use. You can use a saline rinse up to two times a day. We prefer once in the morning and once in the evening at least an hour before laying down for bed. Though possible, we do not recommend simply “snuffing” the solution as it can be ineffective and lead to discomfort.
3. Drink Hot Liquids (Try Tea or This Fire Cider)
As mentioned earlier, steam can be a wonderful natural remedy for congestion. In the same vein, hot liquid is also one of the simplest natural remedies for congestion. Nearly any generic hot water, hot tea, or even hot chicken broth can help with congestion symptoms, though we suggest staying away from dairy products as they can increase mucous production. The act of drinking hot liquid happens to aid in relieving congestion naturally. 3 Simply sipping on some hot water can do the trick. But, combining that water with herbal tea can be the one-two punch you need for relief. Using a tea that contains menthol is a great compliment to hot water when it comes to natural congestion treatments. Fresh ginger tea can also provide soothing relief from congestion. Together ingredients like menthol and ginger can relieve your congestion and soothe the inflamed lining of your nose and throat. Consider adding some raw wild honey for added throat comfort and natural sweetness.
- Peppermint Tea – It contains menthol, which helps to thin mucous and open up nasal passages. Peppermint tea combines the effect of menthol, steam and warm liquid, all of which can help speed clearance of nasal gunk.
- Ginger Tea – Steep one teaspoon of freshly ground ginger root in a cup of boiling water for ten minutes. After steeping, you can strain out the ginger pieces or leave as is.
- Warm Tea – Though menthol-related tea is best, any other kind of tea will help so long as it’s warm.
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, you can try our quick and easy version of fire cider. While most fire cider recipes call for a laundry list of ingredients and time for the mixture to “marinate,” this version can be whipped up in no time if you have these natural health pantry staples on hand.
Quick and Easy Congestion-Busting Fire Cider
- 6 oz. filtered water
- 2 tablespoons raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar
- 2-4 teaspoons of raw wild honey (Bonus: Try to find local honey for seasonal allergies or hay fever)
- dash of cayenne pepper (Bonus: You’ll get the benefits of natural remedy #4 below!)
- fresh lemon juice or slice of fresh lemon (optional)
Bring the filtered water to a soft boil and pour into a mug. Add apple cider vinegar, honey, and cayenne pepper. Fresh lemon or lemon juice, while optional, can help thin mucus thanks to its acidic properties[4. The Best Herbal Teas for Sinus Trouble – http://www.nysinuscenter.com/2011/12/the-best-herbal-teas-for-sinus-trouble/] and can add some fresh, citrusy flavor to the mix. Stir ingredients to combine and sip while warm to naturally relieve congestion and sore throat.
4. Eat Something With a Kick to It
Eating spicy foods is perhaps one of the less obvious natural remedies for congestion, but it can be one of the most effective, even if only temporary. Even if you have never gotten out the hot pepper for natural congestion-relief, you probably have already experienced its effects. Many people report temporary running nose and a feeling of clear airways immediately following a spicy meal. This is the body’s natural reaction to spicy foods and you can use it your advantage when it comes to fighting congestion. Spicy foods directly thin out mucus in the nasal passage and relieve congestion.4 Consider adding these ingredients to your chicken soup or other comfort food for a some temporary help with congestion:
- Habanero Pepper
- Serrano Pepper
- Jalapeno peppers
- Any other spicy pepper or spice
5. Menthol Vapor Rub
A list of natural remedies for congestion could never be complete without a menthol chest rub. Menthol is a great natural way to help relieve congestion when inhaled.5 When rubbed on the chest or upper lip, it will begin to relieve congestion quickly. This process has been used for generations to help with all types of congestion naturally. You have the option of buying a pre-made organic menthol rub or you could make your own using oil (olive, coconut, or almond), beeswax, eucalyptus oil, peppermint oil, and rosemary oil. A great recipe for homemade rub can be found here.
Other Tips for Natural Congestion Relief
In addition to trying natural home remedies for congestion, it’s also best to avoid those activities and foods that can worsen congestion. While sick, it’s best to avoid alcohol and it is known to suppressing the immune system, but it is particularly important to heed this advice when congestion is a complaint as alcohol can make congestion worse. One of our favorite books, Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, also suggests avoiding dairy, grains, and sugar when suffering from congestion.
Dehydration can also aggravate congestion, so be sure to drink lots of water and maybe try tip #3 above. Lastly, avoid laying flat if your symptoms are worsened. Elevating your head can help promote natural mucus drainage.
What natural remedies do you use to treat congestion? Share your story in the comments below!
- Help for Sinus Pain and Pressure – WebMD – http://www.webmd.com/allergies/sinus-pain-pressure-11/sinus-congestion ↩
- Nasal/Sinus Irrigation – American Rhinologic Society- http://care.american-rhinologic.org/irrigation ↩
- Effects of drinking hot water, cold water, and chicken soup on nasal mucus velocity and nasal airflow resistance – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19145994?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum ↩
- Uses and ability of chilies in reducing mucus congestion – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23894924 ↩
- Menthol opening your congested nasal airway? – http://www.mudphudder.com/2009/12/menthol-opening-your-congested-nasal-airway/ ↩