Allergic to Dogs and Allergies in Dogs Resource

Natural Moisture and Water Decongestants

The series covering Natural Decongestants and Allergies will now look at how the manipulation of moisture and humidity impacts congestion.

Nasal Sprays and Drops

Natural nasal sprays and drops typically make use of salt water (saline) to help thin nasal mucus, clear congestion and improve air flow. So long as one applies sensible hygiene measures e.g. use clean bottles and sterile water for the saline solution/ do not use same saline solution for more than 1 day etc., it is a form of decongesting that is considered generally safe and helpful for all age groups.

Nasal Irrigation

A technique recommended by many ear, nose and throat doctors, namely nasal irrigation, involves the use of moisture to soften encrusted material in the nasal cavity and reduce congestion. Salt water (saline) is considered a natural decongestant and by using a Neti pot, allergens, mucus and other debris can be effectively flushed out helping to relieve congestion, pressure and possible pain. As with nasal sprays or drops, one should not use water straight from a tap for nasal irrigation due to the risk of microbial infection.

Natural Moisture and Water Decongestants


A traditional method to loosen and thin mucus and help clear the airways is to make use of the decongesting properties of steam. One approach is to add chamomile, eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint or tea tree oil to a bowl of very hot water and by covering both head and bowl with a towel, inhale (up to 10 minutes) slowly and deeply the penetrating vapors. Due to health and safety concerns this approach is not recommended for children. Alternatively, by taking a hot shower or sweating it out in a sauna or steam room, the combination of high humidity/moisture and heat can help soften and shift stubborn nasal congestion.


A vaporizer typically produces a hot mist of steam (as opposed to a humidifier that disperses a cool mist) with the aim of humidifying the air to bring symptomatic relief of congestion. A variant of these are warm mist vaporizers/humidifiers that cool the steam prior to releasing it into the room.

The chief advantages of steam vaporizers are firstly, the unit presents less risk of harboring mold and germs and secondly, tap water can be used instead of distilled water which is more convenient and cheaper.

The main disadvantage of them is that if the manufacturer’s instructions are not observed, there is a potential risk of burns from the steam. It is for this reason that many practitioners do not recommend their use with children.

As with humidifiers, users of vaporizers must make sure that the humidity level in their property remains healthy to prevent the proliferation of allergen-causing bacteria, mold and dust mites. Furthermore, vaporizers should be cleaned and maintained properly to ensure correct functioning of the equipment and help prevent the build-up of mold and other germs that can result in a variety of conditions e.g. asthma or ‘humidifier lung or fever’ (Hypersensitivity pneumonitis).

Humidifiers and Dehumidifiers

There is not a consensus of opinion as to whether it is best to use a humidifier (these disperse a cool mist into the air) or dehumidifier (reduces the level of humidity in the air) to treat allergy-related congestion.

Those who advocate using humidifiers believe that the equipment adds beneficial moisture to the air, which when inhaled helps prevent mucus in the nasal cavities from drying out and hardening (especially whilst the person is sleeping). Thinner mucus will drain easier and make breathing more comfortable as the airways will be more open.

Conversely, there are those who feel that increasing the humidity of a room encourages the growth of bacteria, mold and dust mites. These common allergens are the underlying cause of many allergy symptoms that can include congestion. This group will typically recommend either airing the room during the day or using a dehumidifier to achieve an acceptable humidity level of between 30-60%, although 40-50% is preferable.

Humidifier designs differ depending on the way they create the cool mist and may make use of rotating disks, fans or even ultrasonics to achieve this. Ultrasonic humidifiers tend to disperse less bacteria and mold than typical cool mist humidifiers but still risk dispersing minerals if tap water is used. Tap water contains chlorine, minerals and trace chemicals that can not only damage the equipment but if dispersed as an aerosol, they may present a health risk (Highsmith et al. 1992). Therefore, all 3 designs require distilled water to be used. The key point to remember with both humidifiers and dehumidifiers is that they must be cleaned regularly to prevent the build-up and dispersal of mold and other harmful germs.

Some people will find use for both types of machine and develop a routine tailored specifically to their symptoms. For example, they will use a dehumidifier on a regular basis to minimize the risk of mold but switch to using a humidifier on those occasions when they feel congested. However, asthma sufferers would be advised to consult a practitioner before using a humidifier.

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