For most cases of a stuffy or runny nose, symptom relief is the main treatment. Here's how to keep your nose healthy, and how to get relief when it's not:
Use a saline nasal spray or rinse to keep your nose moist. They've been shown to significantly reduce nasal symptoms and may help make your nose more resistant to irritants and bacteria. Read this tip for more on nasal irrigation.
Drink plenty of fluids. Staying well hydrated will help keep the lining of your nose and sinuses moist, in good working order, and less susceptible to infection.
Use a humidifier to keep the air -- and your nose -- moist. But make sure your humidifier stays clean and free of fungus, which can aggravate a stuffy or runny nose.
Avoid irritants or triggers and stop a runny nose before it starts. Smoke, dust, pollen, and animal dander are some of the most common culprits.
Consider using vitamins, minerals, and herbal remedies to help prevent or shorten colds. Find out what works and what doesn't.
Relief for a Stuffy Nose (Congestion)
Steam away stuffiness. For temporary relief of a stuffy nose, take a hot shower, or put the kettle on for an old-fashioned steam inhalation. Steam helps shrink the swollen mucous membrane and promotes drainage. Add menthol or eucalyptus if you like, but the jury's still out on whether they help. Some studies suggest the cooling sensation of menthol creates the feeling of breathing more easily, even if it doesn't reduce congestion.
Get a little exercise if you feel up to it. Exercise acts as a natural decongestant by triggering the release of adrenaline, which narrows swollen blood vessels, including the ones blocking your nose.
Try a decongestant medication. Over-the-counter oral decongestants may help relieve a stuffy nose. Nasal decongestant sprays may also provide temporary relief, but if they're used for 3 days or more, they can actually increase stuffiness, so don't overdo it.
Consider a decongestant/antihistamine combination. Some studies suggest these combo medications may relieve congestion, but other studies report no evidence that the medications are effective. Talk with your doctor about whether a decongestant/antihistamine combination is right for you.
Relief for a Runny Nose (Rhinorrhea)
Blow gently and frequently to help your nose remove excess mucus. If your nostrils get chapped and sore, apply a little petroleum jelly.
Try an antihistamine, but only if your symptoms are caused by allergies. Studies show that antihistamines on their own do little, if anything, to stop a runny nose caused by a cold, nonallergic rhinitis, or sinusitis.
Consider a decongestant/antihistamine combo if your symptoms are making you very uncomfortable. These combination medications tend to be more effective at relieving a runny nose than antihistamines alone, and some are available over the counter. Talk to your doctor about whether a decongestant/antihistamine combination is right for you.
Finally, to avoid spreading or picking up germs, wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, and use tissues instead of a handkerchief.