There are few worse feelings than waking up with a stuffed-up nose — sniff, sniff, nothing! When we wake up with congestion or sinus pressure, all we hope for is that it’ll clear up once we get up and moving.
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But sadly, that’s snot always the case.
The most merciless part of sinus pressure and congestion is that it can lead to so many other woes, including and not limited to:
- Fatigue or tiredness.
- Sore throat.
Family medicine physician Neha Vyas, MD, breaks down some common ways to clear up your sinuses at home, as well as when to see a doctor.
What are sinus pressure and congestion?
If you’ve experienced bad congestion, you know it can take over your life — both night and day. It can keep you up, make your head feel like a fishbowl and, if you use a sleep apnea machine, it may even interfere with that as well.
Sinusitis — an infection of your sinuses — is when inflammation occurs in different airspaces within your face. When this happens, your sinuses get clogged up and air can’t flow freely. As your sinuses are lined with tissue and constrained by the structure of your bones, this sinus congestion can also cause a fair amount of discomfort.
“When these spaces get clogged up, it can really cause some pain,” says Dr. Vyas. “So, that’s why a lot of people report having pain in their face.”
Sinus congestion doesn’t just affect your nose — it also affects other areas of your face and body, such as:
- Above your eyebrows.
- In your cheeks.
- Between your eyes.
- Even your teeth!
Nasal congestion is no joke and, especially if it’s dragging on, you need to have some go-to remedies in your tool belt. (And before you start to wonder, no, garlic up the nose is not one of them.)
Remedies for sinus pressure and congestion
The first line of defense is grabbing a handy nasal spray, which can target your stuffed-up nasal passages. There are different types — such as steroid nasal sprays and anti-histamine sprays — that target your stuffed-up nose directly up the nostrils.
“Those are actually great to start off with,” says Dr. Vyas. “If you feel a little congestion coming on, you can use a saline nasal spray to get yourself unclogged.”
You can find these sprays at the drugstore and buy them over the counter. Just remember that nasal sprays aren’t communal — meaning, don’t share them with anyone else.
No, not a teapot (although we’ll get to that in a second).
Dr. Vyas recommends a tool that many people turn to for clearing up their sinuses: a neti pot. Essentially, it’s a teapot-shaped device that uses distilled water and saline solution to clean out your nasal passages. You technically can make a saline solution at home by adding salt, but Dr. Vyas recommends using store-bought packets that have everything measured correctly. The neti pot device (or if you prefer the squeeze bottle option) works well because it clears the gunk out of your nasal passages pretty thoroughly.
Just be sure to use distilled, filtered or boiled water at room temperature — never tap water, which may cause infections. And if you have any questions about how to use a neti pot, speak with a healthcare provider.
Another easy way to relieve your sinuses is with some nice steam therapy — that is, jumping in a hot shower.
“The heat and the moisture from the water are a great combination and they help open up all of those clogged areas in your face,” explains Dr. Vyas.
If you don’t have time for a full shower, you can also get the unclogging benefits of steam in other ways. “You can get a washcloth, put some warm water on it and then put it on your face, that will also be very helpful,” she adds.
Humidifier or vaporizer
If a hot shower doesn’t work, another great option is a humidifier or vaporizer (available at most drugstores). These can provide a consistent stream of moisture into the air that could help clear your sinuses. This is especially helpful if your congestion is affecting your sleep schedule.
“Basically, what you’re trying to do is to make the air a little moister,” says Dr. Vyas. “We’ve noticed that drier air tends to inflame your sinuses a lot more than humid or moist air.”
Yep, your grandma was right all along. Sometimes, a steaming cup of tea can go a long way.
“You can warm the outside as well as warm inside with some hot, decaffeinated tea or some other hot beverage of your choice,” Dr. Vyas suggests. This way, the contents of your nose — snot, boogers, what have you — can get loosened up and help you breathe (and feel) better.
Take a note from koalas — eucalyptus could work as a great soothing treatment for your clogged sinuses (and help you get some much-needed shut-eye).
But keep in mind that eucalyptus essential oil is quite pungent and may be irritating to the skin. So less is more — make sure to dilute the oil before using it in a diffuser and only use a tiny amount when rubbing it around your temples and near your nose.
If your sinus symptoms are really bothering you, you may need some anti-inflammatories to help as well. Dr. Vyas recommends taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®). “They help reduce the swelling that you feel in your sinuses,” she says. As always, be sure to check with a doctor if you’re not sure which pain relievers are best for you.
When to see a doctor
The key word to remember when trying out all these at-home treatments is “relief.” Ideally, the above treatments will clear your congestion up long enough for the pressure to go away.
“But if you’ve tried a number of these things and it still hasn’t been very helpful, it’s probably time to talk to your doctor,” notes Dr. Vyas. Generally, if your symptoms aren’t improving after a week, that’s when it’s time to call a healthcare provider.
Be sure to see your doctor if you’re experiencing:
- Worsening pain in your face.
- Running a fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.9 degrees Celsius) or higher.
- A headache that isn’t going away.
- If your snot or mucus is changing colors or has blood in it.
And if you’re still telling yourself you can power through it, remember that a clogged nose and sinus pressure can lead to more serious issues down the road. “You could run the risk of it turning into an all-out infection,” cautions Dr. Vyas. “And at that point in time, you might need some stronger prescription medications.”
Sinus congestion can make you feel totally out of it. The stuffed nose, combined with fatigue and headaches can become too much. But the good news is, there are plenty of ways to find relief — including calling your doctor if needed.