What Causes Sniffling and How to Stop

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There are a few different conditions that can lead to sniffling, including the common cold and allergies. Identifying the underlying cause can help determine the best treatment options.

Read on to learn what may be causing your sniffles and what you can do to make them stop.

The common cold

The runny nose, persistent stuffiness, and postnasal drip of the sniffles are often self-diagnosed as a cold. The common cold is a viral infection that most people recover from in a week to 10 days.

Cold symptoms vary from person to person. Along with the sniffles, symptoms may include:

  • sore throat
  • cough
  • sneezing
  • low-grade fever

The rhinoviruses that enter your body through your nose, mouth, or eyes are the most common causes of the common cold.

Although your sniffles may indicate that you have a cold, they could be caused by another condition.

10 home remedies for helping to ease a runny nose

1. Drink plenty of fluids

Drinking fluids and staying hydrated when dealing with a runny nose can be helpful if you also have symptoms of nasal congestion.

This ensures that mucus in your sinuses thins out to a runny consistency and is easy for you to expel. Otherwise, it may be thick and sticky, which can make your nose more congested.

Avoid beverages that dehydrate rather than hydrate. This includes drinks like coffee and beverages containing alcohol.

2. Hot teas

On the other hand, hot beverages like tea may sometimes be more helpful than cold ones. This is because of their heat and steam, which help open and decongest airways.

Certain herbal teas contain herbs that are mild decongestants. Look for teas that contain anti-inflammatory and antihistamine herbs, such as chamomile, ginger, mint, or nettle.

Make a cup of hot herbal tea (preferably noncaffeinated) and inhale the steam before drinking. Sore throats often accompany runny noses — drinking hot herbal tea can help soothe a sore throat, too.

3. Humidifier

According to a 2019 study, inhaling warm steam from a humidifier significantly improves mucus buildup caused by allergic rhinitis.

Similarly, a 2015 study of people with the common cold found that using steam inhalation was quite effective. It reduced illness recovery time by about 1 week compared to no steam inhalation at all.

Humidifiers work by transforming water into vapor to moisten otherwise dry air. When you breathe in moisture, it helps to thin and dislodge mucus and soothe irritated sinuses.

If you decide to use a humidifier, it’s important to clean it regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Otherwise, it can become a breeding ground for microorganisms such as mold and bacteria, which can exacerbate sinus problems.

4. Facial steam

Much like a humidifier or a hot cup of tea, a facial steam can help loosen mucus and relieve your runny nose. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Heat water in a clean pot on your stove, just enough so that steam is created — DON’T let it reach a boil.
  2. Place your face about 8 to 12 inches above the steam for about 5 minutes at a time. Don’t let your face touch the water. Close your eyes and take deep breaths through your nose. Take breaks if your face gets too hot.
  3. Blow your nose afterward to get rid of mucus.
  4. Repeat the process 2 or 3 times a day if you still have symptoms.

If desired, add a few drops of decongestant essential oils to your facial steam water. About 2 drops per ounce of water is sufficient.

Eucalyptus, peppermint, pine, rosemary, sage, spearmint, tea tree (melaleuca), and thyme essential oils are great options. Compounds in these plants (like menthol and thymol) are also found in many over-the-counter (OTC) decongestants.

If you don’t have these essential oils, you can use these herbs in dried form instead. Make your facial steam into an herbal tea and inhale the vapors — you’ll get the same benefits.

While research suggests there are health benefits, the FDA doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with a healthcare professional before you begin using essential oils and be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. Always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.

5. Hot shower

Need some quick relief? Try a hot shower. Just like humidifiers and facial steam, a shower’s hot vapors can help alleviate a runny and stuffy nose.

Place your face and sinuses directly in the steam and spray of the shower for best results.

6. Neti pot

Using a neti pot for nasal irrigation (also called nasal lavage) is a common approach to sinus issues. This includes runny nose problems and discomfort.

Neti pots are small teapot-like containers with a spout. You add a warm saline or saltwater solution to the pot and then pour the solution through one nostril and out the other. This rinses out your sinuses quite thoroughly.

You can purchase a neti pot kit at your local pharmacy, store, or online. Make sure to follow directions for your neti pot exactly. Improper use of neti pots can, on rare occasions, make runny noses worseTrusted Source or cause sinus infections.

Make sure to use sterile and distilled water rather than tap water.

7. Nasal spray

Nasal sprays are a common OTC treatment for a runny nose. While medicated nasal sprays are available, saline nasal sprays are a natural treatment to help rinse the nose.

Much like nasal irrigation, they target nasal congestion and mucus using gentle salt water.

According to a 2021 studyTrusted Source of people with upper respiratory infections, the use of a saline nasal spray improved symptoms including a runny nose, nasal congestion, and sleep quality.

You can purchase a saline nasal spray at a neighborhood pharmacy or online.

8. Warm compress

Applying a warm compress or washcloth to your forehead and nose several times per day may help improve your runny nose and soothe sinus pressure.

A warm compress works by boosting blood circulation in your sinus area. A washcloth or wet compress can help break up nasal stuffiness by adding moisture to the air you breathe.

To make your own warm compress at home, soak a clean cloth in hot (not boiling) tap water and place it across your forehead and nose for 15 to 20 minutes. Reapply as needed.

9. Eating spicy foods

Spicy foods can make a runny nose worse. However, if you’re also having symptoms of nasal congestion, eating spicy foods may help.

If you can tolerate a bit of heat in your food, give it a try. If you’re unaccustomed to spiciness, try a small amount of spicy seasoning at first to see if it helps.

Hot spices like cayenne pepper, ghost pepper, habanero, wasabi, horseradish, or ginger are great options. These spices, while also creating a feeling of heat when eaten, dilate passageways in the body and can relieve sinus issues.

10. Capsaicin

Capsaicin is the chemical that makes chili peppers spicy. It’s been used to treat nerve pain and psoriasis, but if you apply it on your nose, it can help with a runny nose caused by congestion.

Several studies have found that capsaicin is more effective at treating runny noses than the OTC medication budesonide.

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