If you search the Internet, there are literally hundreds of different suggestions on how to get rid of a stuffy nose. Some of the commonly seen options include natural, home remedies such as steam, garlic, onion, essential oils, saline, and ginger.
However, in this article, I’d like to focus on ways to decongest your stuffy nose by describing natural and unnatural ways of changing the status of your nasal autonomic nervous system. Nasal breathing is controlled by the two parts of the autonomic nervous system: sympathetic and parasympathetic.
The sympathetic nervous system controls your “fight or flight” response, causing constriction of your blood vessels. The parasympathetic nervous system activates your relaxation state, such as sleep, digestion, and sex. This is also what explains the nasal cycle, where one side opens up, alternating from side to side every few hours. This article will go over 5 unnatural and 7 natural ways of activating your nose’s sympathetic nervous system to improve your nasal breathing.
5 Unnatural Ways to Breathe Better Through Your Nose
- Nasal decongestants. Over-the-counter nasal decongestants such as phenylephrine or oxymetazoline are probably some of the most commonly used treatments for people with stuffy noses. These medications constrict blood vessels receptors inside your nose. The effects can be relatively quick and dramatic, but the effect lasts shorter and shorter the longer you use it. This is why it’s important not to use these products for more than 3-5 days. Many people become addicted to these sprays, leading to a condition called rhinitis medicamentosa. If you are addicted, you must see an ENT doctor who can help you wean you off this drug.
- Epinephrine (adrenaline). This is a hormone/neurotransmitter that’s normally produced by your adrenal gland during periods of intense stress. It’s one of many medications that constrict blood vessels as well as to stimulate your heart. This will raise your blood pressure and heart rate. It can also reverse severe allergic reactions such as seen with bee-stings or peanut allergies. Nasal decongestants are much weaker versions of epinephrine, with some people experiencing heart racing, palpitations, or a rise in blood pressure.
- Cocaine. This is a powerful decongestant as well as an anesthetic. Use in the nose over time an cause a hole in the septum, not to mention a bad drug addiction. Many famous people were cocaine addicts, including Sigmund Freud, Thomas Edison, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, and Witney Houston.
- Nasal dilator devices. These are devices or gadgets to spread your nostrils apart. The most well-known option is called Breathe Right strips, but there are also dozens of other options that go on the outside of the nose or inside the nostrils.
- Surgery. This option is definitely unnatural, but sometimes needed. There are many different reasons for nasal congestion nasal congestion and only a qualified otolaryngologist (ENT) can tell you what options you have. I’ve talked extensively about nasal surgery in past articles and podcasts.
Note that the first three options above constrict not only your nasal blood vessels, they also constrict your body’s vessels as well. As such, they can raise your blood pressure. Certain medications that lower blood pressure can also cause nasals congestion. Sidafenil, known under the trade name Viagra, relaxes vessels in men’s penises and the nose. These side effects are common and well documented in the medical literature. The nasal turbinates and penis both are made of erectile tissues which swell when blood vessels are relaxed.
7 Natural Ways to Breathe Better Through Your Nose
Without trying to sound flippant, the most natural way to breathe through your nose is without doing anything to improve your natural breathing. In James Nestor’s book, Breath: The Science of a Lost Art, he points out that modern humans have somewhat forgotten how to breathe. We need to be re-taught how to breathe properly. Some of the following methods are mentioned in his book.
- Nasal saline. This option has been around for thousands of years. People swimming in oceans noticed much clearer noses afterward. Ocean water is hypertonic (saltier than your body’s salt concentration). In the process called osmosis, water tends to travel from less saltier areas to more saltier areas. When swimming in the ocean, water from your nasal tissues moves outside into the saltier ocean water. A safer option is to choose isotonic (same concentration as your body’s) saline. There are various different options available over the counter or online. The traditional Indian Neti-Pot is a tea-pot like container where you pour saline through the spout into one nostril, with the liquid coming out the other side. There are also other ways to get salt water into your nose, including a mist producing bottle, squeeze bottle, aerosol cans, and even using a dental irrigation pump.
- Capsaicin. This chemical is naturally found in hot petter plants, and has has been shown to improve nasal breathing. Capsaicin has also been shown to help with migraines.
- Breath-holding. There are many variations of this technique but is more commonly recommended by Buteyko practitioners. Holding your breath will activate your sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system, constricting your body’s blood vessels. This can improve nasal congestion as well as asthma symptoms. Oxymetazoline (mentioned above) constricts nasal blood vessels, whereas albuterol is a beta-sympathetic nerve ending activator, constricting blood vessels and opening up your lungs during an asthma attack. Both of these medications activate your sympathetic nervous system. Breath-holding stimulates your sympathetic nervous system naturally.
- Exercise. There are many studies showing the benefits of exercise on nasal congestion. Your nasal blood vessels are constricted by the sympathetic nervous system.
- Essential oils. Eucalyptus and peppermint oil are two of many different oils that have been proven to help with nasal inflammation. Here’s a good review of the science of essential oils in treating respiratory tract inflammation and infections.
- Humming. Believe it or not, there’s good science on the health benefits of humming. Besides the meditative and relaxing properties of humming, one additional surprising benefit is the extra production of nitric oxide. This is a gas that’s produced by the nose and sinuses that is not only anti-microbial (anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-parasite), it also dilates blood vessels in your lungs allowing up to 18% increase in oxygen uptake.
- Sex. This one is both natural and unnatural. Your nose opens up after having sex naturally. If you have sex just to decongest your nose, it’s unnatural. Here’s how it works: Sexual arousals is activated by the parasympathetic nervous system. Orgasm is activated by the sympathetic nervous system, constricting your nasal blood vessels. One common way of applying this concept is to have the man with difficultly with erections perform deep-breathing relaxation exercises. As a result, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, relaxing the constricting blood vessels that allow blood to enter and enlarge his penis.
I admit that some of the methods mentioned in both categories may overlap. But sometimes you have to try one or more of the unnatural options to be able to breathe naturally without using anything at all.
I can’t stress how important it is to breathe regularly through your nose. Mouth breathing is potentially dangerous to your health. If you have obstructive sleep apnea or upper airway resistance syndrome, having a persistent stuffy nose will prevent treatments from working properly. Even if you undergo braces, there more of a chance of release of your crooked teeth if you have chronic nasal congestion.
If you tried some of the steps mentioned in this article and still can’t breathe well through your nose, then it’s time to see an ENT physician and surgeon.