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The right (un)stuff: medicine-free ways to combat nasal congestion
Three techniques for when you’re more congested than the morning commute
Happy I-can’t-breathe-through-my-nose season! Between all the pollen, ragweed, and germs flying around, there are plenty of reasons to be feeling sniffly, congested, and clogged up.
Even if you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t suffer from seasonal allergies and you’ve managed to dodge any back-to-school, return-to-the-office bugs, there are lots of causes of nasal congestion. Anything that irritates or inflames the inner lining of the nasal tissue—spicy food, stress, hormones—can stuff you up.
There are several ways to decongest—though common OTC medicinesare apparently not one of them. Here are three strategies I’m trying:
Neti pots are small, teapot-looking devices used for saline nasal irrigation. You fill a neti pot with a saltwater solution—you can make your own or buy one at most drugstores—tilt your head, pour the solution in one nostril, and watch the liquid drain out the other. Here’s a video with detailed instructions.
Since this Ayurvedic practice was introduced to Western medicine in the early 20th century, research has shown regular rinsing is one of the most effective ways to manage common sinus issues and congestion. Other studies indicate it can help with seasonal and environmental allergy symptoms and upper respiratory infections. Bonus: If puffy, dark eye circles are due to sinus congestion, nasal irrigation can help.
A few notes of ⚠️
Use distilled water or tap water boiled and then cooled to room temp.
Keep your mouth open when you rinse your nose.
Wash your neti pot after each use.
No sharing. You can pass lingering bacteria between people and also, eww.
A few small studies almost 20 years ago showed humming increased the amount of nitric oxide, a compound that works as a vasodilator, opening the blood vessels, increasing circulation, decreasing blood pressure, and improving breathing efficiency. The technique got a little boost when Breath: The New Science of A Lost Art by James Nestor came out in 2020 and during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when nitric oxide was being used as a treatment.
Whether it’s Bumblebee breath or humming a favorite tune, the only risk is potentially annoying whoever’s nearby so, with apologies to my family, I’m giving humming a try.
There are a few theories as to why this exercise from The Oxygen Advantage by Patrick McKeown works, including increasing nitric oxide, and it’s become one of my go-to decongestants.
To do: Sit up straight, gently inhale and exhale through the nose, then pinch both nostrils shut. Shake your head up and down or from side to side until you feel the need to breathe. Take a slow breath in through the nose, or through pursed lips if the nose is still congested. Breathe calmly for 30 seconds to a minute and repeat five more times.
PS: Here’s a not-so-fun fact: When is pollen season over? is usually a trick question. Fall blesses us with grass, ragweed, and an increase in mold. Nature eases up during the colder months, but indoor allergies are more common at this time of year. Spring brings tree pollen—all that yellow stuff coating everything. And grass pollen pops up in summer. But, no, nature doesn’t hate you. 🤧
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