The nose may be the ultimate body part we take for granted, and the first to make itself known when something’s even minorly awry. Dust, allergens, heat, cold, humidity, bacteria, viruses—our noses protect us from a world of onslaughts every day, and sneezing, runniness, congestion, and sinus pain are some of the body’s most urgent alarms. The Remedy asked experts to tell us the best remedies to keep your nose healthy and working as it should, no matter the season, weather, or environment.
“Using over-the-counter nasal saline is a great way keep nasal lining clean and healthy,” says Michael Lerner, MD, a Yale Medicine laryngologist (a.k.a. ear, nose and throat physician). “This rinses away mucus, allergens, and addresses dryness which can sometimes lead to nosebleeds and nasal discomfort.”
“Excessive dryness of the nose is a major issue, especially during the winter months when our indoor heating is turned on,” says Douglas M. Hildrew, MD, a Yale Medicine otolaryngologist. “Whether it be an office or home environment, heating systems inadvertently eliminate humidity within our indoor environments. Restoring this lost humidity is one of the most important things you can do to increase the overall health of your nose and sinuses.”
Choose an ultrasonic humidifier for your bedside. Inexpensive humidity gauges are available on Amazon to keep tabs on the comfort level of your air. “The ideal humidity level for our bedroom is between 40 to 50% humidity,” says Hildrew. “Humidity greater than 50% can be associated with mold growth, so I recommend leaving the bedroom door open to help avoid excessive humidity levels from building up.”
“Avoid or take extra care when trimming nasal hairs,” says Lerner. “Using scissors or razors can create small breaks in the nasal skin or mucosa. This area of the nose is normally colonized with staphylococcus aureus, so when the skin or mucosal barrier is violated, this can result in nasal soft tissue infections such as cellulitis or even abscess.”
“Chronic dehydration is a more common issue than one would otherwise guess,” says Hildrew. “While many of us have heard of the 8×8 rule—which states that we should all drink 8 servings of an 8-ounce glass of water a day—appropriate water intake varies by person and by diet. Suffice it to say, however, that most of us do not drink enough water daily.”
“Natural oils and moisturizers can also be extremely effective in eliminating nasal dryness and improving nasal health,” says Hildrew. “One common home remedy consists of mixing 1/2 teaspoon of almond oil and 1/4 teaspoon of aloe vera gel. Once mixed, it can be gently applied to the inside of your nose with either a clean finger or a clean Q-tip. Similarly, coconut oil is also an excellent way to rehydrate your nose and sinuses. I recommend warming a small amount of coconut oil until soft, then applying it to the inside of the nose with either a clean finger or a clean Q-tip.”
If you’re bothered by dust or have allergies, using an air purifier and a vacuum with HEPA filters could help bring relief. An air purifier with a HEPA filter will remove dust, irritants, microbes, and gases from your surroundings. If you find yourself sneezing and coughing while cleaning, using a vacuum with a HEPA filter will trap dust and allergens, it picks up, preventing them from being expelled in the exhaust and irritating your nose and lungs.
A nasal irrigator, or Neti pot, could help soothe an irritated nose and sinuses. “Saline nasal irrigation is a practice in which saline is used to rinse debris out of the sinuses and nasal cavity,” says Chirag Shah, MD, a board-certified emergency medicine physician and co-founder of Push Health. “Used in Ayurvedic medicine, saline irrigation can help improve symptoms associated with chronic inflammation of the sinuses (rhinosinusitis) and also might help with allergic rhinitis. Saline nasal irrigation is safe for most people and is an inexpensive way to keep one’s nose and respiratory system functioning at a more optimal level.” Other more high-tech solutions include a Naväge Nose Cleaner or SinuPulse.
Does your nose run in cold weather? It’s a natural response, called a cholinergic reflex, which happens as the body tries to warm the nose. But some people’s bodies overreact. If it becomes a nuisance, you can curtail the cholinergic pathway by “taking a prescription anticholinergic medication called ipratropium bromide,” says Alexander Farag, MD, a head-and-neck surgeon and rhinologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Congestion, excess mucus and irritants can be uncomfortable, and you want to get rid of them as quickly as possible. But blowing your nose too hard can cause other problems, like nosebleeds and, more rarely, an ear infection or even a ruptured eardrum. “Since the nasal cavity and ears are connected by the Eustachian tube, the potential exists that you could blow some of the bacteria from the nose into the ear, causing an infection,” says Farag. “Swelling in the nose causes the connection between the ear and nose to shut. Fluid can accumulate in the ear, leading to an infection.” When you’re suffering from a cold, flu, or allergies, take it easy on yourself and your nose.
If you have a sinus infection, topical nasal decongestants can be helpful, “if used for no more than three to four days,” says the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. These medications shrink swollen nasal passages, facilitating the flow of drainage from the sinuses. “Overuse of topical nasal decongestants can result in a dependent condition in which the nasal passages swell shut, called rebound phenomenon,” the ACAAI says.
“These prescription nasal sprays prevent and reverse inflammation and swelling in the nasal passages and sinus openings, addressing the biggest problem associated with a sinus infection,” says the ACAAI. “Topical nasal corticosteroid sprays are also effective in shrinking and preventing the return of nasal polyps. These sprays at the standard dose are not absorbed into the bloodstream and could be used over long periods of time without developing ‘addiction.'”
Launder your bedsheets often advises David Cutler, MD, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. Why? Dust mites—which are attracted to the skin cells we naturally shed—can build up on sheets and comforters, and they can irritate the nose and lungs.
If you frequently snore, see your doctor. You might have sleep apnea, a condition in which your airway is obstructed during sleep, reducing airflow. That can raise your risk of heart disease and other severe conditions. Devices that advance the jaw and mouth (a.k.a. mandibular advancement devices) or a CPAP machine may help if you’re diagnosed with sleep apnea, says Cutler. And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don’t miss these Cures for Every Cold Symptom, According to Doctors.