Sinus pain and nasal congestion are common symptoms during cold and flu season. I’ve gathered together several home remedies for congestion to help relieve your stuffy nose and sinus pressure.
Why Use Home Remedies for Congestion?
I don’t like the side effects of over the counter decongestants (they either make me jittery, knock me out or make my head feel like it’s going to shrivel up like a raisin), so natural decongestants are my option of choice.
Sometimes something as simple as an extra pillow to boost your head up will help, but most of the time I need something a bit more.
#1 – Tomato Tea
From Earth Clinic, the top choice for best natural decongestant is a recipe called “Jean’s Famous Tomato Tea“.
This recipe has received rave reviews for nasal congestion. as well as fighting sinus infection and sore throats.
TOMATO TEA RECIPE
2 cups V8 Juice
2-3 cloves Garlic crushed (use more if you can)
2 T Lemon Juice
Hot Sauce (the more the better, so as much as you can handle)
Mix and heat in a pan or in the microwave. Sip slowly and re-warm as needed to get the full effects of the fumes. Let it sit in the back of your throat to bathe it. Suck the fumes through your sinuses and also down into your lungs.
If you don’t have the exact ingredients – improvise! Below are some substitutes that may not work as well or as fast, but will still help. I’ve listed them by their likely effectiveness:
V8 Juice – tomato juice, vegetable juice, canned or fresh tomatoes crushed, tomato soup (if really desperate, try another kind of fruit juice, vegetable soup or even chicken soup. You’re aiming for high Vitamin C content)
Garlic – garlic in olive oil, dehydrated garlic, garlic salt (aiming for the strong anti-bacterial/fungal effects)
Lemon Juice – Fresh lemons, bottled juice, limes, lime juice, oranges, frozen lemonade
Hot Sauce – ANY kind of hot sauce works, fresh hot peppers, cayenne pepper, dried pepper flakes (if really desperate, try horseradish, black pepper or even mustard. You’re aiming for the highly anti-bacterial/fungal properties of capsaicin which is found in hot peppers, and its effectiveness at clearing out the sinuses.)
#2 – Apple Cider Vinegar
Whether you drink it, inhale it, gargle it or squirt it up your nose, Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) is another popular natural decongestant choice.
For drinking, some folks take a shot of ACV straight up, others add lemon juice and cayenne, or mix it with water and honey.
- 6 ounces of water
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (you could also use thieves vinegar)
- 2 – 4 teaspoons honey
Consume this mix warm, every 6 to 8 hours.
To inhale ACV, boil some ACV on the stove and breathe the fumes, or mix a drop or two in your saline nose spray. (Make sure not to overdo it, and keep things clean.)
#3 – Steam – With or Without Herbs
A hot shower full of steam is a godsend when you’re dealing with nasal congestion, but you can sneak in a little relief in a much smaller area by using a bowl of boiling water tented with a towel over your head.
Take a large bowl and add fresh or dried herbs such as eucalyptus, rosemary, peppermint or New England Aster.
Use a few drops of high quality essential oils if you prefer, or you can skip herbs altogether, but in my experience they do help.
Pour in boiling hot water. Lean over bowl and inhale the steam as best you can, tenting your head with a towel to trap the vapors. You can also use a personal steamer like this one.
#4 – Hot Tea – Herbal or “Regular”
Lemon provides extra vitamin C, and honey is naturally antibacterial, so do include them in your brew.
To make an herbal tea, cover 2 teaspoons dried leaves or 1/4 cup fresh leaves with 1 cup boiling water, steep for five to ten minutes, then strain and enjoy.
For ginger root, use about a 1/2 inch piece of fresh root, or 1/2 tsp-1 tsp of dried root bits.
I like to steep in a tea pot or cover my tea mug to keep the vapors from escaping.
If you have a really stubborn cough or cold, check out the recipes for Cough-Be-Gone and Sore Throat Syrup and Cold and Flu Tea.
#5 – Choose Foods That Clear Congestion
Livestrong.com and personal experience suggests the following foods may help fight sinus congestion:
- Omega 3 Fatty acids (found in cold water fish, walnuts, eggs, fish oil, cod oil and flaxseed)
- Spices and Herbs such as horseradish, hot mustard and cayenne pepper
- Vitamin C
- Apple Cider Vinegar
Back in college, a group of us went out to a Chinese restaurant. One of the guys had a bit of a head cold. Another guy dared him to sniff some Chinese Hot mustard.
Being a young and foolish male, he tried it. After yelping in pain, he did find that his congestion was gone. I’d recommend simply adding spices to your food.
It’s also good to drink lots of water or other non-caffeinated beverages to help you stay hydrated and loosen phlegm.
#6 – Avoid Foods That May Make Congestion Worse
The Holistic Herbal suggests limiting the following foods to reduce mucus:
- Dairy products
- potatoes and other starchy root vegetables
You can see why a paleo/primal diet may be helpful for those suffering with chronic congestion.
#7 – DIY Vapor Rub
Simply take a small amount of coconut oil or palm shortening (about an ounce) and add a good quality essential oil such as eucalyptus oil, mint or wintergreen. Use 7-10 drops and mix well.
Never use essential oil directly on your skin – always use a carrier oil. Spread on the chest area or dab under the nose.
Note: Eucalyptus and Rosemary essential oils should not be used for children under 10. Do not use mint essential oils for children under 6.
Pine, spruce, fir and cypress are safer alternatives for children over 2, but with the younger set I prefer to utilize the other home remedies for congestion. (More info at Food Renegade.)
Many essential oils are also problematic for pets, so it’s best to avoid random exposure for them, too.
#8 – Oil Pulling
Oil pulling also helps to loosen mild congestion.
Simply take a spoonful of good quality oil, such as coconut or sesame, place it in your mouth, and squish for 10-15 minutes.
This can be a little tricky if you’re having difficulty breathing, so it’s not my first choice for severe congestion, but it will help loosen mild congestion.
See Oil Pulling – Fact Versus Fiction for more information.
#9 – Warm Salt Water Gargle
Again, this home remedy for congestion works best for mild stuffiness.
Warm salt water soothes throat tissue irritated by nasal drainage, and the heat, moisture and gargling action helps to move and shift booger build up.
#10 – Nasal Irrigation with a Neti Pot or Nasal Spray
Dry air and pollutants can irritate the sinuses. Nasal irrigation with a neti pot or saline spray may help to flush irritants (and boogers). Some people swear by nasal irrigation, others can’t stand it.
For those with a deviated septum, it doesn’t tend to work well as a home remedy for congestion. The warm water goes in, but doesn’t come back out very well.
If you chose to use a neti pot, make sure to use sterile or distilled water. In rare cases, people have died from Naegleria fowleri (brain eating amoebas) in their neti pot water.
The video below demonstrates how to use a neti pot.
Which Home Remedies for Congestion Works Best for You?
Did I miss any natural nasal congestion remedies? Share what works for you.
Don’t forget to check out the rest of our Home Remedies Series. We have dozens of posts on the site, including:
This post is intended for general information only. Please see a medical professional if pain is severe or sinus problems last for an extended time.
Originally posted in 2012, last updated in 2020.