When Jackie Santillan recently experienced a stuffy nose, she was annoyed by her inability to breathe deeply — or even normally. Then she discovered a possible remedy and figured she might as well try it.
“My best friend, as she does, sent me a TikTok immediately with a solution to the problem, which was to stick garlic in your nose. The TikTok that I saw was pretty short. It didn’t have any real instructions,” the 39-year-old stay-at-home mom and parenting consultant from the Houston area, told TODAY. “I had to cut the ends off, so I did that, and yeah I put it in my nose for about eight minutes. It didn’t go well really."
Santillan shared her experience with her TikTok followers.
“I still can’t breathe and now it smells like garlic,” she said in the video.
Though, some folks later explained she needed to blow her nose immediately after to help. She had accidentally inhaled. Still, she doubts she’ll ever try it again.
“It’s not helpful at all. It’s funny, but it did not help me,” Santillan said. “I went to the doctor and got some antibiotics. So I am on the course to feeling better.”
Can garlic actually help to clear your sinuses?
Sticking garlic cloves in one’s nose to help treat congestion is one of TikTok’s latest trends. One TikTok of a woman with garlic in her nose has been viewed nearly 4.4 million times.
The experts agree that garlic cloves inserted into nostrils will not relieve stuffy noses and inflamed sinuses. But doctors do understand why people might think garlic works: After people remove the garlic, their noses run. But that doesn’t happen for the reasons they think.
“Anytime you block the opening of the nose, it’s going to fill with mucous,” Dr. Jay Youngerman, chief of otolaryngology at Northwell Health Plainview Hospital in New York, told TODAY. “That’s just the nose’s response to being blocked.”
And, the injured lining of the nose might also cause a snotty reaction.
“Trauma to the mucosa or irritation to the mucosa actually increases a runny nose,” Dr. Emily Durkin, a pediatric surgeon at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, told TODAY.
The experts suspect that people turn to garlic because they believe it works like other strong smells, such as eucalyptus.
“What they’re trying to do is use the odorants from the garlic itself to cause a vasoconstrictive effect, which causes the nasal mucosa to decongest and which may open up the nasal passages,” Dr. Anthony Del Signore, director of rhinology and endoscopic skull bases surgery at Mount Sinai Union Square in New York, told TODAY. “The vasoconstriction allows for greater airflow.
But garlic in nostrils doesn’t quite work like that. Thanks to its caustic nature, it’s likely that garlic might cause irritation, burning and possibly even bleeding.
“Garlic is a pretty strong substance,” Dr. Dana Crosby, chair of the department of otolaryngology at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, told TODAY. “It’s almost causing a kind of dermatitis type reaction where the mucosa gets really irritated.”
Crosby said she doesn’t think this irritation will lead to long-term problems — unless people do it repeatedly, such as every time they’re congested.
“It actually could cause some permanent damage and some scarring of the mucosa,” she said.
For the most part, burning and irritation is short lived. Still doctors worry that the garlic could become stuck in the nose. In that case, a doctor would need to remove the garlic.
“We typically do not recommend putting anything into the nostril for the obvious fact that it could get dislodged or lodged up into the nasal cavity,” Del Signore said. “You may need to go to the operating room to remove it. But anytime you put an organic product, or even non-organic objects (up the nose) there’s always a risk of super infection within the nasal cavity.”
Bacteria lives in the nose but when something blocks the nasal passages it can cause an overgrowth. This can lead to an infection with some worrisome symptoms.
“You get (pus), you get pain, maybe some bleeding and it becomes a little bit of a mess,” Del Signore explained.
People likely believe that inserting garlic in their nostrils is safe because the seasoning has long been considered healthy. But the experts agree that there’s no evidence that sticking garlic in the nose would do, well, anything.
“Historically, a lot of people think garlic has a lot of medicinal value. So people have used it for things like its antibacterial properties. I’ve seen people use garlic for a perceived immune benefit,” Durkin said. “I am not surprised that this is something that people thought might be helpful. But it’s definitely not helpful.”
Even taking an oral garlic supplement or using it on the skin can be risky. Garlic poultice can cause burning, for example, and supplements can interact with some prescription drugs.
“You have to be careful using it if you’re on blood thinners, if you’re diabetic, if you’re on HIV medication. Garlic (supplements) can interfere with those medications,” Youngerman said.
That’s why it’s wise for people to speak to their doctors before using garlic as anything other than an addition to their favorite foods.
How to relieve a stuffy nose:
For those dreading the return of colds and stuffy noses, there is a remedy that might ease the discomfort of congestion. Doctors recommend either saline nasal sprays or salt water irrigation, using something like a neti pot. While it might not cure the congestion, it will provide relief to swollen, achy sinus cavities.
“Just a gentle saline solution, using a neti pot, probably has some of the best results,” Durkin said. “It cleans, helps soothe the irritated lining of the nose and because it’s what we can an isotonic solution, it doesn’t lead to trauma to the mucosa.”