Nasal Congestion and Peppermint

  • Jasmine AbdyBSc, Medical Microbiology with a Year in Industry, University of Bristol

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Struggling with a stuffy nose? Nasal congestion is a common annoyance that many of us experience, and it can disrupt our daily routine, making normal tasks like work, sleep and exercise much more difficult. The relief of breathing freely can seem far-fetched when battling this ailment, but a natural remedy can be found in peppermint. This humble herb isn’t just for your toothpaste, but it could be the secret weapon to reclaim that unappreciated joy of effortless breathing.

Nasal congestion

Nasal congestion, the perception of reduced airflow through the nose and a sense of facial fullness is a common symptom encountered in a range of disorders such as the common cold, flu, allergies, sinusitis and asthma.1 It is typically experienced alongside sneezing, an itchy nose and a reduction in your sense of smell and can disrupt your daily life by worsening your breathing, which can affect work and productivity, sleep, exercise and your mood due to exhaustion.2 The blocking of airways within your nose is typically due to irritation, for example by an allergen such as pollen in hay fever, or a virus such as the common cold or flu. This irritation leads to inflammation and swelling within the nasal passage, and the membranes which line your nose overproduce mucus, a sticky substance which can obstruct airflow and make it difficult to breathe.

Treatment of nasal congestion

Decongestants, available over the counter from pharmacies, are medicines that can provide short-term relief from nasal congestion by reducing the swelling of blood vessels in your nose and opening airways.3 In most cases of nasal congestion there isn’t a need to consult your doctor, and a common cold or hay fever can be managed at home using decongestants and other home remedies. However, if nasal congestion does not get better after 2 weeks, there is no obvious cause, there is blood in your nasal discharge, only one side of your nose is blocked, or if a baby is struggling to breathe or feed due to nasal congestion, consultation with a healthcare professional may be necessary.

The power of peppermint

Peppermint is a widely grown species of mint that is mainly cultivated for flavouring chewing gum and toothpaste, however, it is also under research for its potential to treat a range of health conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, muscle and nerve pain, headaches, skin irritation and nasal congestion.4,5,6 Peppermint contains menthol, which activates receptors within the mucus lining of the nasal passage. These receptors detect the menthol and respond by triggering a cooling sensation which soothes the characteristic irritation and discomfort of nasal congestion. The mild numbing effect reduces the perception of congestion, giving the sensation of increased airflow through the nasal passage.7 This can make the mucus seem thinner and easier to expel from the nose, so it doesn’t block the airways. Menthol may also have anti-inflammatory properties, reducing swelling and inflammation and further contributing to the relief of congestion.8

How to use peppermint for nasal congestion

Peppermint can be consumed in various forms to relieve nasal congestion. The most effective method is using peppermint essential oil as aromatherapy since inhaling the steam of peppermint essential oil allows the peppermint to directly enter the nasal passage to have a targeted effect.9 Add a few drops of peppermint essential oil to a bowl of hot water and, with a towel over your head to prevent the steam from escaping, take deep breaths through your nose to inhale the peppermint-infused steam and experience relief from nasal congestion.

Peppermint tea can also be consumed to relieve nasal congestion by passively inhaling the vapours, and the consumption of a warm beverage may also make you feel better generally.10 Simply brew a peppermint tea bag in a mug of boiling water for 3-5 minutes, add a little cold water if necessary, and enjoy your warm mug of tea.

Safety considerations

When using peppermint essential oil in aromatherapy, it is important that the correct concentration of peppermint essential oil is used to prevent adverse side effects such as skin irritation. Ensure that the peppermint essential oil is at a dilution of less than 2% - this means that if you were using 1 litre of boiling water for aromatherapy, around 2 ml of peppermint oil should be added, or if using 500ml of water, 1 ml of peppermint oil should be added. If ingested, peppermint oil can have adverse side effects such as heartburn, nausea, abdominal pain, and dry mouth. Rarely, peppermint oil can cause allergic reactions, therefore if you have a known allergy to peppermint or a history of allergies to herbs or essential oils, exercise caution and consult a healthcare professional. Peppermint oil should not be applied to the face of young children and may be more likely to be susceptible to sensitivities from essential oils, so consult a healthcare professional before introducing peppermint oil to young children.11

If you have any underlying medications or are currently taking medication, consult with a healthcare professional before using peppermint for nasal congestion.

Peppermint vs over-the-counter decongestants

Peppermint offers a natural alternative to over-the-counter decongestants to relieve nasal congestion. It is a versatile therapy option, as peppermint can be used in steam inhalation and aromatherapy or by brewing as tea bags in hot water to make a warming cup of tea, and may offer a wider range of benefits than decongestants do, helping you to feel soothed and more energised. Decongestant overuse can lead to rebound congestion, where the nasal passages become congested when the medication is discontinued, which can lead to dependence on these medications.12 Peppermint does not pose this same risk and has a more gradual relief on congestion. However, peppermint does not have as much scientific evidence to back up its use in nasal congestion, and the extent of its benefit can vary between individuals. Furthermore, the impact on nasal congestion is likely to not be as significant and fast-acting as over-the-counter decongestants, but peppermint could be used as a first-line therapy when nasal congestion arises to prevent the need for more expensive and harsher decongestants 

Other ways of relieving nasal congestion

Decongestants and peppermint are not the only ways to relieve nasal congestion, there are many other ways of reducing congestion that are recommended. Using a saline nasal rinse can thin and loosen the mucus in the nasal passage, allowing the mucus to be expelled and irritants and allergens to be flushed out, reducing inflammation and recurrence of congestion.13 Additionally, keeping hydrated by drinking enough water can help to thin the mucus and make it easier to clear congestion. Adequate hydration also supports normal immune function, allowing viral infections to be cleared faster. Using a humidifier can also prevent nasal passages from drying out, reducing congestion.14 You could also try to sleep with an elevated head, for example by using an extra pillow to prop your head up, when suffering from nasal congestion, to prevent mucus pooling.


How does peppermint help with nasal congestion?

Peppermint contains menthol which can act as a natural decongestant and can reduce inflammation and open up the nasal passages, giving the sensation of airway clearance and providing relief from congestion.7

What form of peppermint should I use for nasal congestion?

Peppermint essential oil can be inhaled by adding a few drops to hot water and breathing in the steam, or peppermint tea may be consumed. 

Is peppermint safe for everyone?

Pregnant or breastfeeding individuals, young children and those with underlying medical conditions should consult with a healthcare professional before using peppermint. Some individuals may be sensitive to essential oils, and it is important to properly dilute peppermint essential oil to avoid adverse reactions such as skin irritation.11

Can I use peppermint alongside my over-the-counter decongestants?

Relief from congestion may be enhanced by combining peppermint with other remedies such as saline nasal rinses, humidifiers and over-the-counter decongestants, however, it is best to consult with a healthcare professional before combining different medications.


Peppermint can act as a natural decongestant to relieve nasal congestion, through aromatherapy/steam inhalation or consumption in peppermint tea. Whilst it may not have the intense effects of over-the-counter decongestants, peppermint offers a natural alternative or first-line option before these therapies which can have negative consequences with long-term use. It offers a versatile solution to nasal congestion and can improve overall mood when suffering from a cold or flu. However, there are some safety considerations to its use, for example using the appropriate amount of peppermint essential oil to prevent irritation and avoiding its use on young children. Furthermore, there are several other recommended methods to reduce nasal congestion such as saline nasal rinse and adequate hydration, and peppermint should not be solely relied on as a cure for nasal congestion, but rather incorporated into a holistic approach to recovery.


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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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