If you're desperate for relief from sinus congestion—or just enjoy watching mucus get expelled from a person's nose—then a new viral moment on TikTok may appeal to you. The video involves shoving a couple of garlic cloves up your nostrils, a seemingly effective hack for clearing clogged nasal passages. But doctors who specialize in nose and sinus problems say it doesn't really do anything to alleviate congestion. Plus, it's not a safe way to unclog your nostrils.
garlic to clear sinuses
Does putting garlic in your nose get rid of nasal congestion?
So should you try this garlic clove in your nose solution? It's definitely not accomplishing what you might think.
"When you're congested, you do have a lot of mucus," Katie Phillips, MD, assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, tells Health. People feel like they're not getting enough air through their nose, or they're having a lot of drip down the back of their throat or the front of their nose, "and garlic itself is not going to exactly help with that nasal congestion," she says. Instead of clearing your sinuses; you're obstructing them, Dr. Phillips explains.
"If you're blocking the ability of the sinuses to drain, you're going to get a backup of mucus," she says. Once the obstruction is removed—in this instance, a pair of garlic cloves—"that goo is going to come out."
Garlic isn't active topically, so placing it in your nostrils won't break down congestion, says Dr. Phillips. But it might cause some irritation of the mucous membranes in the nose.
Plus, inserting garlic in your nostrils poses several safety hazards. "You're putting something in your nose that has the potential to get stuck there," which could do damage to the nasal cavity, she explains. It could pose a choking hazard if it travels down the back of your throat or a breathing problem if the garlic travels to your trachea (aka windpipe) and you accidentally inhale it.
Whether it's something they've heard about or read about, many people seem to think garlic is the solution to their stuffiness. "I'll say that I've taken garlic out of people's ear canals, and it did not help with congestion," says Dr. Phillips.
TikTokers aren't the first to attempt a quick fix for sinus congestion using garlic. A few years ago, Busy Philipps showed her Instagram followers the burning, eye-watering aftermath of shooting distilled garlic water up her nose.
"People put just about anything in a nasal rinse," Richard Lebowitz, MD, chief of rhinology at NYU Langone Health, previously told Health. "It's not even really a shocking one to be honest with you."
In a review of the science around various health and wellness strategies for dealing with the common cold, the National Center on Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) does not mention sticking cloves of garlic up your nose. As for taking garlic, either as a food or dietary supplement, the evidence is insufficient to demonstrate whether it can really prevent or treat a cold.
On the other hand, NCCIH finds that irrigating your nose with saline, using a neti pot or other rinsing device, may be helpful. Studies suggest that this may ease symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. Just be sure to use and clean your rinsing device properly.
"There's a whole host of reasons why your nose may be congested," says Dr. Phillips. "If over-the-counter fixes are not working for you, then talking to your doctor would be the next step."
In other words, save your garlic for meal prep, not nasal decongestion.
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