Your nose feels full, you can sense some pressure in your face, and you may be coughing. On top of it all, you’re not able to breathe well, or possibly through your nose at all. Yep, you’re congested.
Other than popping a decongestant, how can you break up that mucus to breathe more easily? One option is to make like a Taylor Swift lyric and “breathe in, breathe through, breathe deep, breathe out.” (Sorry, had to.) Yes, according to a respiratory therapist, the power of breathwork can help ease congestion the same way it does for so many other things.
Why use breathing treatments for allergies
How exactly does the process go? First, an allergen—such as pollen, dust, or pet dander—gets into your system. “When an individual with allergies encounters these allergens, their body produces a reaction, including inflammation and mucus production, which can lead to respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing,” explains Mandy De Vries, RRT, respiratory therapist and director of education at the American Association for Respiratory Care.
Certain breathing practices can address the problem in a variety of ways, according to De Vries. This includes reducing your body’s stress response, improving lung function, decreasing inflammation, clearing mucus from airways, lessening the likelihood of allergic reactions, and reducing anxiety.
Three breathwork techniques to try
De Vries lays out the most effective breathing skills for congestion (that will probably feel like a lifesaver amidst all this pollen, amirite?):
Helping you breathe deeply and fully, and also promoting relaxation, De Vries says, this option involves the diaphragm, a large muscle at the bottom of your lungs.
- Sit or lie down with your back straight, shoulders relaxed, and feet flat on the floor.
- Place one hand on your chest and the other below your ribcage.
- Take a slow, deep breath, inhaling for three to five seconds. As you inhale, feel your hand rise on your belly as it expands.
- Hold your breath for a moment, then slowly exhale through your mouth for three to five seconds, noticing your belly deflating.
- Repeat these steps a few times, envisioning stress leaving your body as you do so.
Other tips De Vries notes:
- If you get distracted, gently bring your mind back to your breath.
- Practicing this a few minutes each day is best, gradually increasing the duration as you feel more comfortable.
- Don’t get discouraged if you struggle with this technique at first—it takes time and practice for us all.
Pursed lip breathing
This technique is another great choice when you can’t breathe well. “Pursed lip breathing can help to slow down your breathing rate, improve airway pressure, and promote relaxation, which may help to alleviate congestion and reduce the feeling of breathlessness associated with nasal congestion,” De Vries says.
- Sit comfortably, relaxing your shoulders and neck.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose for two to four seconds.
- Pucker your lips slightly, like you’re going to whistle or blow out a candle. Making a “whoosh” sound, exhale slowly and gently through pursed lips for four to eight seconds.
Repeat these steps for a few minutes, ensuring your breaths are slow, controlled, and relaxed.
The 4-7-8 breathing technique
Feeling anxious? This type of breathwork may be the one for you. “Also known as the ‘relaxing breath,’ [this] is a simple and effective breathing technique that can help to reduce stress and promote relaxation,” De Vries says.
- Sit comfortably, relaxing your neck and shoulders.
- Place the tip of your tongue on the ridge of tissue behind your upper front teeth, keeping it there for the duration of this exercise.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose for four seconds.
- Hold your breath for seven seconds.
- Exhale slowly and completely for eight seconds.
- Repeat for four breaths.
Other notes she mentions:
- The 4-7-8 ratio keeps your breathing slow, controlled, and relaxed.
- This technique may also take some practice, especially with the timing. That’s okay!
When breathwork doesn’t cut it
While these practices can help reduce symptoms and improve your overall respiratory health, know that more serious care may be needed. “Individuals with severe allergies should still seek medical treatment and work with their healthcare provider to manage their symptoms,” De Vries says.