TikTok Garlic Nose Challenge: Does This Relieve Nasal Congestion?

When it comes to cooking, garlic is a popular ingredient because it has a powerful, delightful smell and flavor.

Key takeaways:
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    Placing any foreign body in the nose, particularly garlic, which may cause irritation, burning, or infection of the nasal lining is never a good method of opening up the nose or sinuses.
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    Nasal foreign bodies such as garlic can dislodge or break apart causing a choking risk.
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    The reduced nasal congestion of garlic may cause temporary decongestion, but it may also cause a rebound effect of increased congestion like other topical nasal medications.
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    The sulfur-containing components and enzymes of garlic may be detrimental to the nasal lining.
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    The temporary release of mucus after placing the garlic foreign body in the nose is likely due to obstruction rather than a beneficial release of mucus.

It is even thought to boost the immune system. It's also trending on TikTok, where videos show people putting cloves of garlic into their nostrils to clear out mucus associated with nasal congestion. However, is this a good practice?

Using decongestants to unblock sinuses

One of the most significant aspects of the head and neck region of our body is that any change, even minor ones, can be particularly troublesome. Think about having a minor irritation from a cold sore around or in your mouth and how monumental it may seem.

Likewise, anything that has to do with breathing through our nose catches our attention. A simple cold that causes nasal congestion and drainage can be some of the worst symptoms that make us feel unwell.

Taking the logic further, breathing through our nose affects much of our daily lives. We rely on our clear passageways to breathe, smell, and taste. Our noses and our sinuses give us a real sense of our environment and well-being.

It is no surprise that nasal and sinus blockage makes us feel uncomfortable. Striving to open the nose and sinuses has been a goal for centuries not just during illness, but in good health, too.

Many have learned that humidification, drinking lots of fluids, sleeping upright, and using nasal sprays and irrigations may have a beneficial effect in helping clear our nasal passageways. It is also noticeable that certain spices and odorants can open the nose and sinuses. This is because of the natural response of vasoconstriction. Nasal vasoconstriction means the blood vessels shrink in the lining of the nasal passageways. Vasoconstriction reduces nasal congestion, making it easier to breathe. Decongestants are used to unblock the nose and sinuses and they can be natural ones or medications. The strong, pungent smells of garlic can act as a decongestant.

It didn’t take long for people to use spices or other odorants to purposefully use them as decongestants. Everyone is familiar with hot soup as a good means to clear the nose. When spices are added to the soup, the effect is greatly enhanced.

Garlic is part of the Allium genus or onion family of plants. It is a popular ingredient used in cooking, and it's thought to boost your immune system.

It is no surprise that people have tried to be creative in its use, with viral videos on TikTok showing people placing garlic into their nostrils to alleviate nasal congestion. This gets everyone’s attention.

Does garlic work to drain sinuses?

The short answer is no. It may cause immediate flushing of mucus from your nose and a temporary feeling of the nose opening up, but those effects are often short-lived.

Garlic is a type of onion that is used in flavoring foods. In crushed form, garlic contains many sulfur-containing compounds such as allicin, ajoene, diallyl polysulfides, and others, which can act as enzymes. These enzymes can harm the lining of the nose with direct contact.

It is the phytochemicals of crushed garlic that produce a sharp flavor and pungent smell. There is a well-known lasting effect of garlic odor which produces "garlic breath" because it is so strong.

In folk medicine, garlic has been used for traditional medicinal purposes. It has been used for the treatment of arthritis, insect, and snake bites, as an antibiotic, and to prevent cough. It may be the prevention of cough may have been aligned with the reduced nasal congestion of garlic in the throat and airways.

Garlic can harm your nose

Placing anything in the nose or nasal cavity is probably not a good idea, especially something like garlic which can have harsh effects on the mucosal lining of the nose. The substances from garlic exposure can irritate the nasal lining, causing inflammation and eventually causing infection. In effect, garlic can elicit dermatitis, which means the skin can redden, swell and get sore, to the point of blistering.

Your nasal cavity expands greatly beyond the nostrils and is separated by a bony and cartilaginous septum. Placing the garlic inside your nasal cavity obstructs the natural flow of mucus. Upon removal, there can be a rush of pent-up mucus released when the garlic is removed.

The trauma to the nasal lining can cause swelling, and more congestion, and ironically increase your runny nose, opposite to the desired effect. Another potential problem is that the garlic may disintegrate and leave behind fragments of the garlic clove which can act as a nasal foreign body.

Leaving a corrosive foreign body inside your nose can lead to foul smells, infection, and even damage to the nose. Some of these fragments may require medical attention to have them removed. Another possibility is that the garlic fragments may dislodge and fall back into your throat. These can be swallowed safely, but in some cases, they can become a choking risk.

The reduced nasal congestion from the pungent garlic may provide a temporary feeling of the nasal cavity being more open. That benefit is far outweighed by the potential risks. Long-term use of over-the-counter topical nasal medications such as oxymetazoline, phenylephrine, and pseudoephedrine may cause a rebound effect of worsening nasal congestion. It is unclear whether that would happen with repeated use of garlic, but it is possible. The reduced nasal congestion from the pungent garlic may provide a temporary feeling of the nasal cavity being more open

The garlic can cause physical burning of the nasal lining which may take some time to heal. Some believe garlic may have antibacterial characteristics, but disruption of the natural bacterial balance or flora of the nose can cause more problems, such as sinus infections. Despite what's shown on TikTok, putting garlic into your nose is not recommended.


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