Soothe your sore winter nose

Is it dry, red, drippy, or stuffy? Read on for the smartest ways to breathe easier fast

Published: December 2013

Your nose is under constant assault from the viruses passed around this time of year amid dry, indoor heat. Here’s how to alleviate the most common nasal nightmares.

Cold virus

The culprit behind most colds is one of the many rhinoviruses in the environment. You catch a cold when a virus is deposited directly in your nose or eyes (tears drain into the nasal cavity) and begin to multiply in the lining of your nasal passages. Most often, rubbing your nose or eyes after touching something the virus has been left on is the gateway in. That’s why frequent hand washing is the No. 1 tip to prevent colds; rhinoviruses can last up to 3 hours on your skin or on objects such as door handles. Once the virus takes hold, your immune system attacks, and it’s a side effect of that process that causes swelling, congestion, and mucus.

What to do

Drinking fluids helps thin mucus and unstuff your nose. Also, try a saline nose spray; it’s safe to use as often as you need it.

Need stronger measures? Congestion is often caused by engorged blood vessels, so a decongestant is in order. Experts recommend spray decongestants over pills because they attack the problem locally rather than affect your entire system. Pick one with oxy­met­azoline, such as Afrin, Vicks Sinex, or a generic. Be sure to use them as directed; the sprays can cause rebound swelling if used longer than three days. If you prefer pills, try pseudoephedrine (Sudafed or generic), which is nonprescription but is kept behind pharmacy counters. If you have hypertension or glaucoma, talk to your doctor before using it.

One thing to avoid: antibiotics. They don't work against viruses, only bacteria, so there's no reason to take them for the common cold. (Read more about how to prevent and treat colds.)


This inflammation of the lining of the sinuses is caused by allergies, irritation, or an infection. You’ll feel as if your head is stuffed up, not just your nose, and you might have tenderness in your cheeks, upper jaw, or around your eyes.

What to do

Doctors usually encourage sufferers to try home or over-the-counter remedies—say, a painkiller and a decongestant. Most cases are viral, not bacterial, so as with colds, antibiotics won’t help. Sinusitis usually clears up in about 10 days. If symptoms last longer, see your doctor. (Read more about how to treat sinsusitis.)

Need tissues? Try these

The differences among facial tissues are nothing to sneeze at. Overall scores in Consumer Reports’ tests, based on strength (tested by a machine) and softness (judged by human hands), ranged from Excellent to Fair. Here are five products we think are worth trying:

Puffs Ultra Soft & Strong, $1.69

Kleenex Lotion, Aloe & E, $1.36 (CR Best Buy)

Puffs Plus Lotion, $2.52

Kleenex Ultra Soft, $1.39

Puffs Basic, $1.21


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