Hate that stuffy-nose feeling you typically get with a cold or allergies? It seems like your nasal passages are clogged, yet no matter how hard you blow your nose, you can't seem to clear them. The next time this symptom hits, try heading outside into the cold, dry air. This may provide some unexpected relief.

The Causes of Nasal Congestion

Until recently, it was believed that excess mucus in the nasal passages was the main cause of congestion. But now scientists have discovered that inflammation of the nasal lining due to swollen blood vessels can also be to blame for a stuffy nose and this can be triggered by the air you breathe.

The Link Between Air Quality, Moisture, and Stuffy Nose

Researchers from Monell Chemical Senses Center (a private non-profit research facility) in Philadelphia recently explored the connection between nasal congestion, air temperature, and humidity, and discovered a surprising link. They followed 44 people to see how different air conditions affected how they felt. They found that people reported more congestion indoors in warmer, moisture air, while participants' perception of their symptoms eased up when they went outdoors in cooler and drier conditions. These findings, which were included online in PLoS ONE, are quite telling since they seem to indicate that coolness can make people feel like their nasal passages are clearer even though their actual clinical condition or level of nasal obstruction doesn't appear to be changed in any way.

Finding Relief for Stuffy Nose Symptoms

While more research needs to be done on this topic, the scientists hope these findings will help guide them on developing more effective treatments for nasal and allergy symptoms in the future. In the meantime, if you experience frequent stuffiness, particularly in the winter, you'll need to experiment with temperature and humidity in your air, since air that's too dry can irritate nasal passages, while air that's too moist seems to increase nasal congestion. In addition, too-moist conditions can also breed many allergens, which can make the problem much worse.

How to Prevent Nasal Congestion

The best way to get around the problem is to find that perfect balance. Here are some things you can do to help prevent nasal congestion:

  • Keep your room temperatures on the cool side, since overheating your rooms can dry out your nasal membranes, which can worsen nasal congestion. While there's no specific temperature that's the "magic" number to minimize your nasal problems, the experts suggest keeping it cool enough that you'll want to wear a sweater to be comfortable. This strategy will not only help you to feel better, but will also lower your heating bills, which is an added bonus.
  • Strive for a humidity level of about 35 percent, since at higher levels dust mites and mold can thrive and worsen your allergy symptoms.
  • Fix any leaks or wet areas in your kitchen and bathrooms. Wetness also breeds mold and this can worsen your allergy symptoms.
  • Run a humidifier near your bed. Just be sure to limit the amount of time it's on. Some experts believe that about 10 minutes at a time is enough to give you the benefits. Clean out the humidifier after each use to prevent bacteria from building up inside.
  • Reduce humidity in your basement with an electric dehumidifier. This needs to be cleaned and drained regularly for best results.

Flush Out Other Causes of Nasal Congestion

Many people also rely on a neti pot or a similar form of nasal irrigation to flush out germs and mucus in their nasal passages. You can find the supplies you'll need to try this method in most drug stores. In addition to helping you breathe better, some studies have found that this method can reduce the odds that your congestion will progress into a sinus infection.




Aubrey, Allison. "Got a Runny Nose? Flush It Out!" National Public Radio. NPR.org, 22 Feb. 2007. Web. 10 Dec. 2011.
"Mold Allergy." Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. AAFA, 2005. Web. 10 Dec. 2011.

"Nasal Congestion." Medline Plus. US National Library of Medicine, 2 Aug. 2011. Web. 10 Dec. 2011.

Zhao K, et al "Perceiving Nasal Patency Through Mucosal Cooling Rather than Air Temperature or Nasal Resistance" PLoS ONE (13 Aug. 2011). Web. 12 Dec. 2011.