The remedies for a stuffy nose that are not to be sniffed at! We road-test some of the best products


    Whether you have an allergy or a cold, what works best for a stuffy nose? 

    Mandy Francis asked Pavol Surda, a consultant ear, nose and throat surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and London Bridge Hospital, to assess products that promise to bring relief. We then rated them.  

    Vicks Sinus Inhaler VH200E 


    Vicks Sinus Inhaler VH200E

    Vicks Sinus Inhaler VH200E

    Claim: A hairdryer-sized gadget that heats a couple of tablespoons of water to produce steam, which you then inhale via a mask for five to 15 minutes to ‘relieve the symptoms of sinusitis, allergies, cough and colds’.

    Expert verdict: A runny or blocked nose from a cold is caused by a viral infection, while with allergies, the congestion is triggered by histamine — a chemical released by the immune system when it comes into contact with allergy triggers such as pollen or pet hair.

    Steam is a traditional remedy for nasal congestion as it is thought to loosen mucus, making it easier to clear by blowing your nose. But data shows no scientific benefit for using steam to ease congestion.

    Users may find the warmth soothing and adding menthol fragrance may trigger the sensory nerves in the nose, making you feel less congested.

    But steam won’t help to clear a cold or hay fever — you need medication to tackle the root cause. Since steam can scald the delicate lining of your nose, I don’t recommend using it. 


    Nurofen Sinus and Blocked Nose Tablets 

    16 tablets, £5.50, most pharmacies

    Claim: Relief from sinus pain and blocked nose for ‘up to eight hours’ is provided by anti-inflammatory ibuprofen along with the decongestant phenylephrine hydrochloride.

    Expert verdict: One of the main drugs recommended for alleviating cold symptoms, including a blocked nose, is ibuprofen — as it reduces inflammation.

    The decongestant phenylephrine hydrochloride has been added to ease congestion — however, data shows that it’s no more effective than a placebo.

    Ibuprofen can irritate the stomach, so take the smallest possible dose and do not use for more than ten consecutive days. 


    Nurofen sinus and blocked nose tablets

    Nurofen sinus and blocked nose tablets

    Neilmed Sinugator 


    Claim: You fill the bottom of this cordless device with 8 fl oz of saline solution (using the sachets provided) and then insert the soft tip into one of your nostrils.

    A gentle stream of salty water is released, which runs through the nasal cavity and out the opposite nostril to ‘flush out dust or irritants that cause sneezing, itching, and a runny nose’.

    The maker says that it can be used for ‘allergies, stuffiness, nasal symptoms from flu and cold and congestion’.

    Expert verdict: A nasal douche like this — used once or twice a day — is recommended by health professionals for runny noses and congestion caused by colds and allergies. It is one of the few treatments that can improve the symptoms of a cold, as the mixture of salt and water physically flushes away mucus, bacteria and allergens, which will reduce swelling in the nasal cavity.

    However, you could make one yourself, by dissolving a teaspoon of salt and bicarbonate of soda in 500ml of water and inhaling it (in one nostril at a time). This battery-operated machine just makes the process easier. 


    Neilmed Sinugator

    Neilmed Sinugator 

    Strepsils Sore Throat & Blocked Nose Lozenges 

    36 lozenges, £4.79,

    Claim: These contain two antiseptic ingredients (2,4-dichlorobenzyl alcohol and amylmetacresol) to fight bacterial throat infections, and menthol ‘to help unblock the nose’. Suck one lozenge every two to three hours.

    Expert verdict: Menthol has no proven physical effect on blocked noses, but it can make us feel more clear-headed by tricking the sensory nerves in our nasal cavity to register that they feel cold.

    These lozenges won’t actually help to shake off nasal congestion — but they could make it seem more bearable.

    If you notice a cold developing, take a zinc supplement (around 80mg) daily as this has been shown to reduce the duration of a cold by up to 33 per cent. 


    Strepsils blocked nose lozenges

    Strepsils blocked nose lozenges

    Sterimar Cold & Sinusitis Relief 

    20ml, £8.99,

    Sterimar Cold & Sinusitis Relief

    Sterimar Cold & Sinusitis Relief

    Claim: This nasal spray ‘draws and drains even thick mucus, allowing you to breathe more naturally and helping to prevent a secondary infection’.

    It contains sea water [which is hypertonic — a higher salt content than cells in the human body], cooling eucalyptus oil and copper salt, believed to have antiviral properties.

    Use two sprays in each nostril, up to six times a day.

    Expert verdict: Hypertonic products are often recommended for acute and chronic nasal congestion. They have an osmotic effect, which means the high-salt content draws water out of cells, helping to clear nasal passages, reduce swelling and improve symptoms of colds and congestion.

    A nasal douche will offer a stronger effect than a spray such as this, because it covers a bigger area. Hypertonic saline can cause irritation in some people. 6/10 

    Sniff Relief Breathe Easy Mask 


    Sniff Relief Breathe Easy Mask

    Sniff Relief Breathe Easy Mask 

    Claim: A fleece-lined mask that warms the nose and surrounding areas up to 60c ‘to alleviate sinus pressure and symptoms of stuffy nose’. 

    Adjust the Velcro strap to get a snug fit around the head, then plug it into a handheld device to turn it on and adjust the temperature. Use as required.

    Expert verdict: A warm compress applied over the eyes, nose and sinuses [which is what this mask offers] is a traditional way to relieve nasal congestion, but as with steam inhalation, there is no scientific proof that it works. 

    It won’t clear your nasal passages — a saline rinse and relevant medication will do that.

    Warmth could feel soothing for some congestion sufferers, though, and has been shown to help ease some common types of headache. But try using a warm, wrung-out flannel before investing in a pricey gadget like this. 


    Olbas Oil Inhalant Decongestant 

    12ml, £4.99,

    Olbas Oil Inhalant Decongestant

    Olbas Oil Inhalant Decongestant

    Claim: This is a blend of essential oils including eucalyptus, mint and clove and is said to release ‘powerful decongestant vapours for relief from catarrh, colds and blocked sinuses’. Apply a few drops on a tissue and inhale as needed.

    Expert verdict: Eucalyptus oil contains a molecule called sinol, proven to have a significant effect on symptoms of the common cold. It makes the cilia — hair-like structures that line the nose — beat more rapidly, which may help to clear mucus faster. It may also have some anti-microbial properties — but more research is needed to confirm this.

    This product also contains levomenthol — a compound of menthol — which can trigger the sensory nerves in the nose to make you feel less congested. This oil could work as a soothing treatment for most types of nasal congestion, including allergies, but is best used alongside appropriate medication.

    Note, it can interact with some medications and has the potential to irritate the skin, so ask your pharmacist before using. 


    Pirinase Hayfever Relief 0.005 per cent 

    Pirinase Hayfever Relief 0.005 per cent

    Pirinase Hayfever Relief 0.005 per cent

    8.8ml, £7.99,

    Claim: ‘A once-a-day, non-drowsy treatment for all major hay fever symptoms including runny nose, nasal congestion and sneezing.’ 

    This steroid-based nasal spray has an anti-inflammatory action, blocking chemicals that cause hay fever symptoms. Apply two sprays in each nostril once a day.

    Expert verdict: Corticosteroids are the number one treatment for hay fever and prolonged cold symptoms (lasting more than seven days).

    They act as a decongestant by reducing inflammation in the nose and throat lining. However, they take time to start working; so begin taking at least five days before the hay fever season kicks in to get the benefit. 

    Can also be used for nasal congestion from a cold, but again start taking it at the first sign to get the benefits.

    Check with a pharmacist before use, as it can interact with medications, and do not take for more than a month. 


    Secrets of an A-list body 

    How to get the enviable physiques of the stars. This week: Mary J. Blige’s biceps

    R&B star Mary J. Blige defied her 50 years revealing toned biceps in the emerald jumpsuit she wore to an awards ceremony. The singer is said to lift weights and does squats, bench presses and four-mile runs.

    What to try: Try the 21s hammer curl routine. Hold a 2kg weight in each hand, with the weights facing forward. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees and curl the weights toward your shoulders without moving your upper arms. Lower and repeat 21 times. 

    Next, bend elbows to 90 degrees and lower weights until your arms are fully extended. Bring them back to the starting point. Repeat 21 times. Finally, do a full hammer curl by raising weights from arms extended up to shoulders. 

    Repeat 21 times. As you get stronger do all three moves for 20 reps, then 19, until you reach one repetition. Do the whole routine twice a week.



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