Does Sticking Garlic up Your Nose Clear Your Sinuses?

It can't be safe to stick garlic cloves up your nostrils, can it?

If you're desperate for relief from sinus congestion or a cold—or just enjoy watching mucus get expelled from a person's nose—then a 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 healthcare providers who specialize in nose and sinus problems say garlic cloves in your nostrils don't really do anything to alleviate congestion. Plus, this method is not a safe way to unclog your nostrils. Here's why sticking garlic in your nostrils doesn't work, why it isn't safe, and what you should do to clear a stuffy nose instead.

garlic to clear sinuses
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Putting Garlic in Your Nose Doesn't Get Rid of Nasal Congestion

"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, said. And all of that mucus builds up in your nose.

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," Dr. Phillips said. Instead of clearing your sinuses; you're obstructing (blocking) them, Dr. Phillips explained.

"If you're blocking the ability of the sinuses to drain, you're going to get a backup of mucus," Dr. Phillips said. 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, Dr. Phillips said. In other words, garlic won't have a sinus-clearing effect when placed on your skin. But it might cause some irritation of the mucous membranes in the nose.

It's Not Safe to Put Garlic in Your Nose

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, Dr. Phillips explained.

An object like a garlic clove could pose a choking hazard if it travels down the back of your throat. It could also cause a breathing problem if it 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," Dr. Phillips said.

"People put just about anything in a nasal rinse," Richard Lebowitz, MD, chief of the Division of Rhinology at NYU Langone Health, said. "It's not even really a shocking one to be honest with you."

How Should You Treat Your Congestion?

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.

This review from 2014 in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that people who ingested garlic had fewer occurrences of the common cold. However, the evidence is insufficient to determine whether eating garlic can really prevent or treat a cold.

On the other hand, the NCCIH finds that irrigating your nose with saline, using a neti pot or other rinsing device, may be helpful. Studies, such as this one from 2015 in the Cochrane Library, suggested that saline nasal irrigation may ease symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. Just be sure to use and clean your rinsing device properly.

If irrigating your nose doesn't help, there may be something else going on. "There's a whole host of reasons why your nose may be congested," Dr. Phillips said. "If over-the-counter fixes are not working for you, then talking to your doctor would be the next step."

A Quick Review

Stuffing garlic up your nose will not help with your congestion. While removing the clove may cause mucus to come out of your nose, garlic won't treat your symptoms. In addition, you risk choking on the garlic, getting it in your airway, and getting it stuck in your nose. In other words, save your garlic for meal prep, not nasal decongestion.

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