Natural Remedies for Congestion
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Originally written in 2010 and updated in Sept 2020
When we’re dealing with congestion here at home, I have two goals in mind. One is to make it easier to breathe through the congestion (if it’s nasal/sinus) and the other is to relieve the congestion by making coughs more productive.
Keep reading to learn what I do to prevent getting sick and the natural remedies I rely on for quick healing.
How to Prevent Congestion and Sinus Pain
While I love having natural remedies, I must more love not having to use them! So, I take steps to prevent getting sick.
With four kids, I have a robust immune system, but there was a time that I would get a severe sinus infection every single year.
After making changes to my lifestyle, I can say that I haven’t had congestion or sinus infections in years.
The number one cause of congestion and sinus pain is allergies. Remove them, and you’ll remove your ailments.
Allergies can come from your environment, but also your food. Congestion can easily be a result of either one, so don’t rule out food just because the symptom is happening on your chest and nasal passages.
One of the quickest ways to determine your food allergies is to do a food sensitivities test. A test is easy to do and will uncover food allergies in your body. You can do these yourself, as there's the option of Food Sensitivity Test Kits at EverlyWell.com, which I've personally used.
The second way to determine food allergies is by doing an elimination diet. Doing an elimination diet will take longer, but it’ll help pinpoint what is causing you congestion or sinus pain.
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How to do an elimination diet
Ask yourself what food you think it is. Write down (without questioning yourself) the first foods that come to mine. The chances are that you are on point about the potential problem foods.
Then to the foods you suspect, also add these common food allergens and intolerance.
A list of common food allergens and intolerance include:
- Tree nuts
Eliminate these foods for a minimum of four weeks before introducing any back to your diet.
A note about “cheating” during the elimination diet: you’ll want to eat the foods you’re supposed to be eliminating. But, if you do, you need to begin the four-week countdown all over them again. So, it’s better to commit to eliminating them and not cheat during that time (as hard as that can be!).
Make sure to keep a journal where you can write down what foods you eliminated, your feelings and processing during this time, and anything else that will help you to determine how to proceed once your done with the four weeks.
After four weeks, bring one food item at a time, waiting four days before getting the next food item. You’ll want to track your reactions to these foods very carefully. It’s this stage where you determine specifically what the problem food is.
During the four weeks, you may notice some positive changes in your wellness, but it does take a full four weeks to see full changes.
Discover any environmental allergies
For environmental allergies, I would recommend visiting an allergist or a Naturopathic Doctor and getting blood work to determine what in the environment is causing your congestion or sinus pain.
Protect Yourself Against Common Colds
The second most common cause of congestion and sinus pain is the common cold. Sure, it only lasts a few days to three weeks, but it can make you miserable.
Take these steps to protect yourself from the common cold:
- Wash your hands frequently
- Avoid touching your face with your unwashed hands
- Move your body (research shows that exercising can increase your immune system)
- Increase your immune system (tips on doing so are next)
Increase Your Immune System
Increasing your immune system is the sweet spot. Boosting your immune system is your power step to preventing sicknesses.
Eat a Balanced Diet
Think of food as fuel. It’s the excellent fuel that keeps you going strong. I recommend taking a look at the foods that you eat regularly and making sure that you have a healthy variety and immune building foods on your diet.
Immune building foods:
- Sweet potato
- Citrus fruits
- Red bell pepper
Clear Your Nasal Passages
I love using a neti pot. And believe me that it’s especially helpful when you have environmental allergies or are dealing with congestion.
I use mine once a week, but some find it helpful to use daily.
Sure, you may be able to survive on 4-6 hours of sleep, but the restorative, immune building sleep happens when you sleep 7-9 hours a night. And taking naps that aren’t longer than 30 minutes is also beneficial to your immune system (hello siesta!)
Research shows that sleep and the circadian system are vital regulators of immunological processes. While you are sleeping, you produce cytokines, a type of protein that fights infection and inflammation. The less sleep you get, the less of these infection-fighting soldiers you receive.
Commit to getting more sleep to give your body the ability to fight off sickness and infections.
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Drink Your Herbs
I drink herbal teas not just because I like the taste of it, but also to help keep my immune system healthy.
These herbs help to fight off infections and to increase your immune system:
(I buy all my loose teas here.)
To make herbal teas:
Use a teabag or strainer and place pour hot boiled water in your cup. Let it infuse for 3-5 minutes (longer if you want a stronger tea, though it’ll be a very strong taste).
Sweeten with honey if needed or become used to drinking unsweetened tea (my preference)
And as always, please check with your care provider before starting any herbs, since some herbs do affect other medicines or supplements you may be taking.
Here are the ways that we treat congestion at home for myself and my family.
Eucalyptus-Niaouli-Lavender Essential Oil Blend
I carefully dilute (essential oils should be properly diluted) eucalyptus, niaouli and lavender essential oils in a carrier oil like grapeseed or sweet almond oil. For children over 1 years old, the dilution should be 1% (learn more about diluting essential oils).
For children under 1 yrs old you’d dilute even more than the 1%. However, be very careful about using essential oils on babies under 6 mos (will do a future blog soon on babies and essential oils).
Respiratory Essential Oil Blend
This blend is already diluted for a child, but for an adult you’d double the amount of essential oil drops.
- 1 oz sweet almond oil
- 3 drops of eucalyptus essential oil
- 2 drops lavender essential oil
- 1 drop of niaouli essential oil
Mix well and rub a few drops on the chest and back for congestion as well as the bottom of feet.
Essential Oil Nebulizer
A essential oil nebulizer (different than a typical diffuser, so be sure to get an actual nebulizer) releases atomized microscopic oil particles into the air making easier for your body to absorb the medicinal benefits of the essential oil. It is a more clinical use and so should be used with care.
If one of my children (or myself) has congestion I keep one running in the room for a couple of hours they are sleeping (usually mine since I keep them close with me while they are sick) with just a few drops in the nebulizer and have noticed a huge difference in how they are able to sleep that night.
I like to use eucalyptus essential oil and peppermint in my nebulizer for when I'm personally congestion. If you don't have these at home, NYR Organics and also Plant Therapy have a good selection of essential oils.
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For a young child you can use instead a diffuser with the essential oils as well as a warm or cold mist humidifier.
I use herbal syrups to increase my children’s (and my own) immune system. I make a herbal syrup for congestion that has nettle, elderflowers, echinacea, slippery elm and yarrow.
- Nettle adds a source of nutrition with lots of minerals much needed when my little ones are sick.
- Elder flowers and echinacea fight off both viral and bacterial infections and build immunity
- Slippery elm is an expectorant and helps loosen the congestion mucus to make coughs more productive while coating the membranes to protect them from irritations.
- Yarrow is anti-inflammatory and helps fight off infections.
(I purchase my herbs from Starwest Botanicals)
Basic Herbal Syrup Recipe
Make a decoction by simmering 2 oz of herbs in 1 quart of water until it’s reduced by half. Once it’s made and well strained, add to a clean pan and pour honey (1 cup of honey to every 1 pint of decoction). For children under 1 yrs old you can use maple syrup instead. Mix and heat until it’s well blended. Store in refrigerator in glass jars/bottles.
While this does not work well for children since it’s hard for them to keep their eyes closed in tented steam, it does work well for adults. In a large bowl of boiled water, add eucalyptus and peppermint herbs (or use a few drops of essential oils).
Lean your face over the bowl and cover your head and bowl with a towel so that you are tented with the steam of the herbs (or essential oils). Breathe deeply and keep your eyes closed as the steam can irritate your eyes, especially when using essential oils.
In addition to the above, I also make sure to avoid dairy and red meat while sick as it can make inflammations worse and create extra mucus to our already congested respiratory system.
I increase the amount of liquids we drink during the day and night as well as eat foods rich in nutrients but also foods that are anti-bacterial like garlic and onion (especially comforting in broths when we’re congested).
Now you know how to prevent getting sick and also natural remedies for should you get sick. Personally, I find focusing on prevention to be key. But, I love having my natural remedies to rely on should I need it.