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It’s no secret that being congested can make you feel miserable. Having a stuffy nose and a chest filled with mucus can make it hard to go about your daily life as normal. Sometimes, it can even be hard to breathe.

Fortunately, there are ways to free up your airways. Besides over-the-counter (OTC) medications, there are also several natural remedies that may help ease your congestion.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of these natural decongestants and how to use them.

In most cases, these remedies can be used for both children and adults. If a particular remedy isn’t safe for children, we’ll point that out.

A humidifier is a device that adds moisture to the air.

Because cold, dry air may make you feel more congested and interfere with your sinuses draining as they should, a humidifier may help by pumping moisture into the air you breathe. This, in turn, can increase the humidity in your nose and make it easier to breathe.

You can run a humidifier during the day and also at night. Running a humidifier while you’re sleeping can help open up your nasal passages and make sleeping more comfortable. This may allow you to get better quality sleep.

Using a humidifier has few risks. Many people report that humidified air helps improve their cold symptoms.

Steam is a natural way to increases the humidity of the surrounding air. It may also help to thin out and drain the mucus in your nose more easily.

According to a 2008 study, drinking hot beverages can be an effective way to feel less congested. A hot shower can also be a good way to feel better.

Another easy way to use steam to feel less congested is to pour hot water into a large bowl, and then inhale the steam while leaning over the bowl with a towel over your head.

Research has found that steam therapy may increase the risk of severe burns, particularly in children, so be sure to use this method with extreme care.

A saline nasal spray may help thin out the mucus in your nasal passages. This type of spray is available over the counter.

Saline sprays, by definition, contain just salt and water. Other nasal sprays may contain decongestants. It’s important to note that prolonged use of decongestant sprays may cause a rebound effect, or worsen congestion symptoms.

To use a saline nasal spray, follow these steps:

  1. Blow your nose to help clear out your nasal passages before using the spray.
  2. Stand upright — there’s no need to tilt your head back.
  3. Read the product instructions carefully and shake the spray bottle before using it.
  4. Close one of your nostrils by pressing your finger against it. Then position the opening of the spray bottle under the nostril that’s open.
  5. Squeeze the spray bottle gently and inhale the spray with your mouth closed.
  6. Sniff hard a few times to make sure the spray gets all the way up your nasal passages.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), nasal irrigation devices, some of which are commonly called neti pots, can be an effective way of dealing with decongestion when used and cleaned properly.

A neti pot looks like a small teapot with a long spout, and it uses saline to unclog stuffy nasal passages.

According to a 2015 study, nasal irrigation may help reduce congestion and cough, clear out mucus and germs, and improve breathing.

To use a neti pot, the FDA recommends these steps:

  1. Read all instructions before using the neti pot to be sure you’re doing it safely. Use sterile or distilled bottled water or boiled and cooled tap water if you’re preparing your own saline solution.
  2. Lean over a sink and tilt your head sideways. Try to keep your forehead and chin level so that the liquid doesn’t flow into your mouth.
  3. Insert the spout of the saline-filled neti pot into the upper nostril so that the solution drains out of your lower nostril.
  4. Repeat the procedure with your other nostril by tilting your head in the opposite direction.

The FDA doesn’t recommend nasal irrigation for children unless recommended by a pediatrician.

A warm compress may help unclog a stuffy nose by reducing inflammation and opening up the nasal passages from the outside.

To make a warm compress, soak a wash cloth or small towel in warm, not hot, water. Squeeze the excess water from the cloth, then fold it and place it over your upper nose and lower forehead.

The warmth may help relieve the inflammation in your nostrils and sinuses and make it easier to breathe.

Avoid keeping the warm compress on your face for too long to reduce the risk of burning your skin.

Eating spicy foods is a common way to help open up the nasal passages.

Foods such as peppers, ginger, and garlic can trigger a condition called gustatory rhinitis. Spicy foods cause the body to make more mucus and lead to a runny nose.

Also, some spices like turmeric have anti-inflammatory properties.

Consider adding chili pepper, grated ginger, powdered turmeric, and other spices to your meals.

Keeping your head elevated can prevent mucus from pooling in your sinuses at night. It can also relieve sinus pressure.

Lie on your back and use an extra pillow to ensure that your head is at a slightly higher angle than the rest of your body.

Although evidence is limited, it’s believed that some essential oils may help relieve congestion symptoms.

In a 2010 study, an essential oil spray containing peppermint, eucalyptus, oregano, and rosemary was applied to participants five times a day for 3 days.

At the end of the study, the researchers concluded that the essential oil spray was effective at improving upper respiratory symptoms immediately after use, but it did not lessen symptoms overall after 3 days of use.

Essential oils can be combined with a carrier oil, like coconut or jojoba oil, and applied to the skin. Or they can be added to a diffuser and used as aromatherapy.

Keep essential oils away from children and pets. They can be toxic if ingested.

Drinking fluids helps to loosen thick mucus that can block your nasal passages.

When you’re congested, try to aim for a minimum daily fluid intake of about 11.5 cups (for women) to 15.5 cups (for men).

Congestion can make it difficult to breathe, sleep, and even eat. If you’re having trouble functioning even after trying natural remedies, you’ll want to pay a visit to your doctor. It’s also important to see a doctor if you notice other symptoms, such as:

  • congestion that lasts longer than a week
  • trouble breathing
  • chest pain
  • high fever

Congestion is a symptom of colds, flu, allergies, and sinus infections that cause inflamed nasal passages and mucus-filled airways.

Although OTC medications can help to temporarily clear up congestion, there are some natural remedies that can provide relief too. While many natural decongestants are safe for everyone, some do come with risks for both adults and children.

If your congestion doesn’t improve with natural remedies, or if it gets worse, be sure to schedule a visit with your doctor.