Clearing a Stuffy Nose

Here's a simple technique for clearing a stuffy nose, so before you rush out to the drugstore and spend wasted dollars try this simple procedure.

Most commonly, a blocked or runny nose is due to, an allergy, an infection, a virus or an out of balance breathing system.

stuffy nose The standard medical protocol for treating nasal congestion on the first visit to the doctor is to do nothing1. The medical world accepts that antibiotics are ineffectual in treating a runny nose. A stuffy nose is rarely caused by a bacterial infection2 and when there is colored discharge only 20% of those cases are successfully treated with antibiotics. Also the precautionary prescription of antibiotics is frowned upon as it can lead to resistance in the general population, making that antibiotic less useful. Nonetheless over 80% of doctors in Europe and over 90% of doctors in the USA still prescribe antibiotics for a stuffy nose.

If your nasal passages became blocked after a serious infection or due to a physical change, like a heavy knock on the nose, then by all means try the following procedure, but if you still have a stuffy nose then you may have to seek professional help from your health specialist.

To clear your Stuffy Nose

This procedure has its basis in the Buteyko method. When you have a stuffy nose the natural reaction is to start breathing through your mouth. It’s just easier than trying to fight to get the air through the nose. The down side is that mouth breathing tends to shift the oxygen / carbon dioxide balance. The body, in trying to rectify this balance, causes the nasal passages to become even more constricted making the situation even worse. Also when your nasal passages become clogged with mucus, the mucus stops the positive effects of nitric oxide that is produced in the sinuses3. Nitric oxide works as an antibacterial agent and like a carbon dioxide is also a nasal dilator and vasodilator. That is it relaxes the smooth muscle tissue making the airways larger and therefore easier to breathe.

When you feel your passages are starting to get blocked or if you have a stuffy nose right now this is what you can do…

Take two or three light breaths (through the nose if you can). After breathing out the third time, hold your breath. You want to hold it as long as possible without creating the urge to gasp for air. When taking your next breath in, breathe through the nose. You must breathe gently. Don’t try and take all the air you need in one big snort. If you try and suck the air in too quickly your nasal passage may collapse making it even harder to breathe.

You will probably feel the urge to take a great gasp of air but resist this and just keep breathing gently, and slowly your nasal passages will clear. Hum as you breathe out. This has two effects. It helps regulate your breathing and the vibrations have been shown to increase the nitric oxide in the nasal passages4 of those with a blocked nose by seven times3. Humming alone as you exhale will help keep your nasal passages clear. You may have to repeat the breath holding exercise five or six times, each time the nasal passages should get clearer.

Once you have cleared the nasal passages, it’s important to keep breathing only through your nose and not through your mouth. Air passing through the nasal passages helps to dry them out and keep them open. Much in the same way as breathing through your mouth leaves your throat dry in the morning.

I find while holding my breath, pinching my nose and shaking my head helps as well.

It sounds a little silly and all too simple to clear a stuffy nose, but it does work. You may have to repeat the procedure four or five times. It is so simple many people discard this technique out of hand, but this basic technique5,6,7 was developed by Russian physician Dr. Buteyko in the 1950’s and 60’s and has been successfully used by thousands of people around the world ever since. It’s free so why not at least give it a good try and leave a comment about how it worked for you, or not below!

By holding your breath you increase your carbon dioxide level. Your brain goes to work telling your body it needs more oxygen. Your brain tells your body to take a breath and also aids breathing by dilating the smooth muscles of the breathing passages. Carbon dioxide and nitric oxide are two very powerful natural vasodilators (dilate the arteries , lowering blood pressure) as well as nasal dilators and holding your breath and humming are easy ways to quickly and effectively get them to work in the body.

It is very easy to slip back to mouth breathing whenever your nose starts to get blocked. To keep breathing through the nose you may want to look at some breathing exercises. A good time to practice breathing through your nose is while you sleep. Unfortunately this is the easiest time to slip in to mouth breathing because you don't have the opportunity to consciously think about how you are breathing. In this instance breathing exercises or a breathing aid like a chin strap or even plain medical tape can be of great benefit in retraining your breathing.

It is important to the long term balance of your breathing system that you do breathe through your nose. It will definitely aid in getting rid of your snoring.

If you tried the above technique leave a comment at the bottom of this page

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1. Bruce Arroll, Tim Kenealy, Antibiotics for the common cold and acute purulent rhinitis, Published Online: 17 FEB 2010, Assessed as up-to-date: 10 AUG 2009, DOI:10.1002/14651858.CD000247.pub2

2. 36. B Arroll, T Kenealy, Are antibiotics effective for acute purulent rhinitis? Systematic review and meta-analysis of placebo controlled randomised trials, BMJ 2006;333:279

3. Jon O. Lundberg, MD, PhD, Mauro Maniscalco, MD, Matteo Sofia, MD, PhD, Lars Lundblad, MD, PhD, Eddie Weitzberg, MD, PhD, Humming, Nitric Oxide, and Paranasal Sinus Obstruction, JAMA.2003;289(3):302-303

4. J.O.N. Lundberg, T. Farkas-Szallasi1, E. Weitzberg, J. Rinder1, J. Lidholm, A. Änggåard, T. Hökfelt, J.M. Lundberg1 & K. Alving, High, nitric oxide production in human paranasal sinuses, Nature, Medicine 1, 370 - 373 (1995)

5. S Cooper, J Oborne, S Newton, V Harrison, J Thompson Coon, S Lewis, A Tattersfield, Effect of two breathing exercises (Buteyko and pranayama) in asthma: a randomised controlled trial, Thorax 2003;58:674-679 doi:10.1136/thorax.58.8.674

6. Patrick McHugh, Fergus Aitcheson, Bruce Duncan and Frank Houghton, Buteyko Breathing Technique for asthma: an effective intervention, Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 12-December-2003, Vol 116 No 1187

7.Patrick McKeown, Close Your Mouth: Buteyko Clinic Handbook for Perfect Health, ISBN 0-9545996-1-6

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