We all know someone who always seems to have a stuffed nose (or maybe you have one). You can’t breathe comfortably, and the stuffiness gets in the way of activities such as eating (you can’t taste) and exercising (you’re exhausted). It also can lead to pressure around the eyes, headache and difficulty breathing and sleeping.
Nasal congestion may involve a runny nose and mucus production, but the condition actually is due to the inflamed, swollen lining of the nasal passages. If you have nasal congestion, it helps to determine if it’s a flare-up (short-term) or a chronic (long-term) problem and treat it accordingly.
To find out more about treating nasal congestion, I turned to Mark Stengler, NMD, a naturopathic medical doctor who is founder and medical director of the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine in Encinitas, California. He pointed out that treating your nasal congestion based on whether it is a short- or long-term problem will help you feel better sooner…
SHORT-TERM NASAL CONGESTION
Test to confirm: A blood test or skin scratch test.
Treatment: Homeopathy for allergy-related nasal congestion. The idea behind these remedies: A substance similar to the allergen but not the allergen itself is given in minute doses. It causes a healthy person to have symptoms similar to those caused by the allergen. This exposure desensitizes the immune system to the allergen. Allium cepa, for example, can help pollen-related congestion.
Another form of homeopathy is isopathy, in which small amounts of the actual allergen are given in very diluted form. If you know what you are allergic to, you can purchase the associated remedy—or seek the help of a holistic doctor. Homeopathic remedies for common allergens are available from Newton Homeopathics. Also recommended: Using a HEPA filter air purifier and taking the supplement quercetin, a plant derivative with natural antihistamine effects that reduces allergic response. Follow label instructions. Quercetin has mild blood-thinning properties, so speak to a physician if you take blood-thinning medication.
LONG-TERM NASAL CONGESTION
When a patient has nasal congestion that has gone on for months (or even years), there could be several causes, such as…
Food sensitivity. Food sensitivities often are caused by gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley) or by cow’s milk. You can perform a simple food-elimination diet on your own to see if you have a sensitivity to one of these foods. Eliminate gluten, for example, for two weeks to see if your nasal congestion clears up during that time. If it does, then you know you have a sensitivity to gluten and need to stay away from it on an ongoing basis.
Fungal infection. Fungal growth in the sinuses stimulates an inflammatory immune system response—and is a common cause of year-round nasal congestion. People who frequently use antibiotics and/or nasal decongestant sprays or who consume a high-sugar diet are especially prone to these infections.
Treatment: The way to determine a fungal infection is to follow an antifungal regimen for two to four weeks. If nasal congestion clears up, then we know that the patient has a fungal infection. After following the antifungal regimen below, the infection usually clears up and the patient can go back to eating a healthful diet.
Following an antifungal diet involves avoiding all refined sugars, all grains (including bread, pasta, rice and corn), potatoes, legumes (including peas, beans, soy and peanuts) and cheese…and eating lots of vegetables, fruits, berries (naturally occurring sugar is OK to consume), fresh fish and lean poultry. In particular, eat a lot of broccoli, cabbage and garlic, all of which have antifungal properties. Also recommended: Oregano oil supplements, which have antifungal effects. Brand to try: Oreganol, from North American Herb & Spice. Follow label directions. A too-high dose of oregano oil can cause digestive upset. You also can take quercetin (mentioned above) and a daily probiotic containing Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium.
OTHER TREATMENTS FOR NASAL CONGESTION
Anyone with nasal congestion, regardless of the cause, should avoid mucus-producing foods, such as dairy products, refined flour, chocolate, eggs, and fried and processed food. This includes people who have repeated bouts of nasal congestion following a respiratory infection. The following natural approaches also can help…
N-acetylcysteine (NAC). This amino acid works to thin mucus and reduce excessive inflammatory responses of the immune system. Dose: 500 mg, three times daily.
Bromelain. This enzyme reduces inflammation in the nasal passages. Dose: 500 mg, twice daily between meals. Since bromelain has blood-thinning properties, speak to a doctor before taking it if you take blood-thinning medication.
Vitamin C, for its antiallergy and immune-boosting effects. Dose: 1,000 mg, four times daily.
A nasal spray or rinse to relieve nasal passage irritation. Follow label instructions. Choose the one that works best for you…
Grapefruit-seed extract nasal spray has antifungal and antimicrobial properties. Brand to try: NutriBiotic Nasal Spray.
Saline nasal spray containing xylitol. Xylitol is a natural substance that relieves irritation caused by allergies or infection. Brand to try: Xlear Nasal Spray.
Neti pot. Another form of nasal rinse is provided by this small pot, which is designed to flush out nasal passages with a saline solution.