University Health Service (UHS)
Health Promotion Office
There are two main causes for nasal congestion. When you have a cold, flu, or other infection, your body uses it as a mechanism to help fight against viral or bacterial infections. You can help alleviate the discomfort of nasal congestion. Self-care for nasal congestion due to a cold is important not only because it relieves your discomfort, but also because it helps prevent the spread of infection to other people.
When you have an allergy to food, chemicals, or other substances like pollen or dust, your body is producing too much histamine. This substance causes your nose to run and your eyes to water. If your nasal congestion is caused by an allergen, the best way to clear up congestion is to avoid the allergen. If allergy symptoms persist for a couple of weeks, you may want to see a health care provider. Otherwise, nasal congestion may clear up on its own.
Self care for nasal congestion
- Stay away from places where people smoke. If you smoke, stop smoking.
- Drink at least six glasses (8 oz.) of fluid per day. Water, hot tea with honey and/or lemon, soup, and juice are all good choices.
- Get extra rest.
- You may want to avoid caffeinated products while taking decongestants, since they are both stimulants.
- Breathe in moist heat in the shower or from a vaporizer to break up congestion.
- Saline nasal sprays may help clear your nose and sinuses.
- Decongestants, which contain an active ingredient such as pseudoephrine (e.g. Sudafed®), can dry up mucus in the head, chest, and nose. Decongestants shrink mucus membranes and open nasal passages.
- If you have a cold, it may be contagious. Cover your mouth when sneezing to prevent the spread of infection.
Seek medical care if...
- The fever is 101° or higher that persists for more than two days.
- The congestion does not clear up within two to three weeks.
- You cough up or sneeze mucus that is green, brown, or bloody.
- Your sinuses are tender and painful.
- You have allergy symptoms that persist for more than three weeks. Fatigue and muscle aches are more severe with the flu. For more information about the flu.