Winter nose woes.
December 9, 2008 9:36 AM   Subscribe

Runny nose, dry sinuses, nosebleeds--must be December. Humidifiers are expensive and gross. Boiling water on the stove, etc, doesn't help. Could you please give me suggestions of easy, cheap ways to alleviate/eliminate the side effects of dry air?

At least I'm assuming that dry air is the cause of my winter nose problems. From December to March or so, I have a chronically drippy nose coexisting with dry, itchy nasal passages, and minor nosebleeds. I have to have a hankie with me at all times, just to mop up. That chafes my nostrils. Congestion is not typically part of the problem.

Two part question:
1) Any suggestions on how to stop or at least alleviate the runny nose and dry nasal cavities? I think the nosebleeds would take care of themselves if the first two issues were resolved.
2) Why does this common response to dry air happen? Seems to me that it would make more sense if my body held on to the nose moisture instead of letting it drip out.

Humidifiers might be a possibility for #1, but it seems like an overly fussy/expensive/bacteria-filled option. I do try to leave out water to evaporate naturally.
posted by Stewriffic to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Saline nasal spray really helps with the dry, itchy nasal passages, and seems to cut down on my nosebleeds.
If you use a steam humidifier bacteria isn't really a problem; the steam is hot enough to kill yuckies before spraying them into your air. Mine wasn't very expensive either.
I have no suggestions for runny noses, unless they are resulting from the irritated nasal passages... in which case the spray should help.
posted by purpletangerine at 9:45 AM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I can't get by without a humidifier at home, but I also use saline nose spray pretty regularly when I'm out and about. Some people prefer the saline gel, which is probably the most sanitary option if you apply it with a q-tip, but I just do my best not to touch the sprayer to my nose.

I find my nose is intermittently drippy, but this time of year is spent battling an incoming sinus infection and I don't know how much that's causing it rather than the dry air. I do know that the moment I get cold, the dripping starts. Though it seems counter-intuitive, the drippiness eases as I get into a regular routine with the spray.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:46 AM on December 9, 2008

Leaving a thick, wet hand towel over my plug-in radiator heater seems to help a lot with this.

I have no idea about #2.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:46 AM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have you considered visiting a doctor? An ear, nose, and throat specialist might be able to help you and may be able to tell you if your problems are actually due to dry air or not (as opposed to poor indoor air quality, etc.)

You can also purchase a hygrometer for very little money (mine cost $3) to check how dry your air is and to see the effect of using a humidifier or boiling water on the stove.
posted by ssg at 9:53 AM on December 9, 2008

Every morning i turn the shower on full as hot as it'll go, and let it run for a couple minutes so the bathroom gets nice and steamy. I then get dressed and fix up in the steamy bathroom, breathing in the nice hot moist air for five or ten minutes. It's really helped me a lot so far this year. (don't worry, I actually get in the shower and bathe in the evenings.) So I get some humidity in my nose at least twice a day. My Dad also swears by the saline spray.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 9:56 AM on December 9, 2008

As an alternative to the saline spray, you can also dab a little bit of vaseline under each nostril.
posted by ainsley at 10:01 AM on December 9, 2008

Use a Neti pot.

Read more here
posted by pdxpatzer at 10:05 AM on December 9, 2008

Plants! Keep an army of indoor plants, and keep them well-watered (but not overwatered, or they'll rot and die). They'll create a pleasant, slightly moist ecosystem in your home, as well as helping to clean the air.

A former housemate used to put a few drops of tea tree oil in the humidifier reservoir whenever he filled it. He claimed the oil was a natural antifungal agent and, though I have zero scientific data to back this up, the humidifier filter did seem to stay cleaner longer.

In the winter, I hang laundry to dry inside the apartment. I set up a drying rack out of the way, and put clothes on it either straight from the washer or remove them from the drier when they're half-dry, then let 'em dry overnight in the apartment. Gets a little humidity inside, saves energy, saves trouble, and (I believe) the lower wear & tear saves the fabric, too.
posted by Elsa at 10:06 AM on December 9, 2008

I would try using a neti pot once or twice a day and see if that helps.
posted by flod logic at 10:06 AM on December 9, 2008

It's not cheap, but if you own your place, a whole house humidifier connected into your HVAC system works well.
posted by COD at 10:06 AM on December 9, 2008

Wow, can't believe I'm the first one here to pimp the use of a neti pot. You can get one cheap and I can tell you from first hand experience, if you use it everyday (I use it in the shower), any sinus issues you may have are greatly reduced.

Using a neti pot can take a bit of practice, but once you've mastered it, you won't believe more people with sinus problems don't use one.
posted by PsuDab93 at 10:07 AM on December 9, 2008

ok, maybe not the first one, but still....go neti and don't look back.
posted by PsuDab93 at 10:07 AM on December 9, 2008

This sounds like a job for Neti-Pot! It really helps. My son used to get nosebleeds regularly in winter, but hasn't had any problem at all for two winters, since we started using the Neti-Pot.
posted by headnsouth at 10:08 AM on December 9, 2008

Oops, shoulda previewed.
posted by headnsouth at 10:09 AM on December 9, 2008

I looked into a humidifier, but got a vaporizer instead -- it was only twelve bucks at Target and seems to be doing me just fine.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:11 AM on December 9, 2008

Take a hot bath, inhale all the steam, then don't drain the tub when you're done and leave the bathroom door open. If anything this will probably create too much humidity.
posted by HotToddy at 10:13 AM on December 9, 2008

They make anti-bacterial stuff for humidifiers.
posted by desjardins at 10:24 AM on December 9, 2008

Consider revisiting the humidifier option. The ones made by Crane make me smile. Here's the frog -- they're available in other shapes as well. They're small enough that there isn't water sitting around getting gross, but large enough to run for what, 12 hours or so without refilling? They're quiet, too. And super-cute. And about 30 bucks.

Nthing neti pot or any other delivery of salty water to nasal passages (I use a bulb syringe, myself.)
posted by desuetude at 10:33 AM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I also hate high-maintenance gadgets, but I have had good luck with this one.

It is not super expensive as humidifiers go, has features that address the bacteria issue, and is really really easy to clean. I just mix up a solution when it tells me to (about once a week) and let it sit, then rinse it out. It is in its second year of use and works really well.

So, in case you decide that a humidifier is the way to go (it is the only thing that helped me with similar issues), this one has been good to me. It has a long warranty too, I think.
posted by MsElaineous at 10:34 AM on December 9, 2008

Seconding Empress Callipygos. Humidifiers are expensive and gross, as you said, but steam vaporizers are cheap and clean and, in my experience, very safe. I literally can't sleep without one in my bedroom in the winter. Does wonders for the skin, too. As an added bonus, the humidity + steam increases the room temp so much we can usually turn the heat off in the bedroom at night.
posted by ROTFL at 10:34 AM on December 9, 2008

My doc suggested Air saline spray and a day of Vaseline in each nostril.
posted by Silvertree at 10:42 AM on December 9, 2008

I LOOOOVE my neti pot. Here's a video showing how easy it is to use (I like this video because the lady is kind of glassy-eyed and dreamy looking, like an android with moderately distracting sinusitus). I use regular grocery store sea salt ($3/box), and I don't even measure it. I just dump in one big pinch, a small splash of hot water, swirl to dissolve, then fill the rest of the pot with warm water. The whole thing- from mixing the saline to irrigating my head to rinsing out the pot- takes less than 2 minutes and makes my nose feel better all day. You will seriously love this thing- very strong recommend.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:57 AM on December 9, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions, y'all. I did expect the neti to take a starring role in these responses--I've used it before when I've had a more acute sinus issue. Problem is, I'm lazy. I'll check more into the humidifier options.

Anyone have any idea about the second part of the question? It seems counter intuitive to me that my nose would want to get rid of its moisture rather than retain it.
posted by Stewriffic at 11:18 AM on December 9, 2008

Here's my completely unfounded theory: your mucous membranes are all dry so your body tries and over-tries to re-wet them. Thus- ick.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:25 AM on December 9, 2008

I too love the Neti pot (or my low cost solution, the dixie cup) - also try putting a clean, wet washcloth in a plastic bag next to your bed - put it over your face before you get out of bed and just breath in the dampness. You can add a little lavender or peppermint oil to the cloth (not too much peppermint!) and it will wake you up very pleasantly as well as clear the nose gravel.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:30 AM on December 9, 2008

Put aquaphor (like medicated vaseline) in your nose.

This is an extremely popular fix for accutane users who suffer similar problems to yours.

At one point my nose was bleeding often, but after using aquaphor I have never had another nosebleed.
posted by bradly at 11:49 AM on December 9, 2008

Anyone have any idea about the second part of the question? It seems counter intuitive to me that my nose would want to get rid of its moisture rather than retain it.

small ruminant is right about the why:

1. The air is dry.
2. Your sinuses get dried out.
3. They produce goo to moisten up again.
4. They go overboard.
5. Misery ensues.

It's not a matter of your nose trying to get rid of moisture. It's a matter of your nose producing moisture because the air is taking it away, and your nose just is trying too hard.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:20 PM on December 9, 2008

I too get nose bleeds when I get sick in the winter. It happened to me once during finals in high school. Fun! The school nurse told me to use a q-tip to apply Neosporin ointment or Vaseline inside my nose. That keeps everything moisturized so it doesn't crack and bleed. It's really helped me out.
posted by radioamy at 1:40 PM on December 9, 2008

I'm going to nth the 'use a q-tip to smear vaseline inside your nose' crowd.
Once before bed and once before leaving in the morning will help a lot.

con: everything smells vaguely like vaseline.

I am also lazy, and this is much less work than dealing with the constant bloody noses and such.
posted by Acari at 1:51 PM on December 9, 2008

One more vote for the neti pot (or a product like Simply Saline). If you're not sure whether you can handle the neti pot experience, it's worth paying $4-5 for a bottle of Simply Saline. I never get bloody noses, though, and I don't really know if the saline solution would be good or bad for a nose that is prone to bleeding. I assume it would prevent it and heal the raw areas, but I don't have any experience in that area.
posted by Mael Oui at 7:54 PM on December 9, 2008

DO NOT put vaseline or any petroleum jelly product in your nostrils...if any of that gets in your lungs it can cause real health problems.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:16 AM on December 10, 2008

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