You’ll be surprised which turns out the winner between humidity and dry air when it comes to nasal congestion relief, and why.

The kind of air you breathe, in terms of how dry it is or humid it is, can significantly impact the perception of nasal congestion. This finding comes from research from the Monell Center.

The feeling that you have congestion, or a stuffed-up nose, is not necessarily related to actual mucus buildup in the sinuses.

Rather, the sensation of a stuffy nose can originate from the airflow through the nasal passages.

This can explain why your nose feels stuffed or blocked, yet no matter what you do, nothing comes out, even after irrigating the nose.

The Monell researchers found that the sensation of nasal congestion relates to air temperature and the level of humidity.

So if you’re one of the 33 million people in the U.S. with a nose that feels blocked up, keep reading.

Perhaps you’ve seen a doctor and he couldn’t find any physical cause of your sinus congestion. You may actually have a sensory-related issue.

“By establishing that feelings of nasal congestion can be sensory-related, we open doors for more targeted treatment,” explains lead author Kai Zhao, Ph.D., a Monell bioengineer, in the paper.

“For example,” adds Dr. Zhao, “effective treatments may need to include a focus on restoring optimal humidity and temperature in the patient’s nasal airflow.”

The study had 44 healthy participants breathe air from three boxes and then rate any symptoms of a nasal congestion.

One box contained cold air; the second box contained room temperature dry air; and the third offered room air that was at normal humidity.

Which box produced the lowest report of sinus congestion? The cold air box.

Reduced nasal congestion was also perceived when the participants inhaled from the dry air box.

The room air, normal humidity box did not result in these perceptions.

In short, lower humidity was found to be associated with reduced sensations of nasal congestion.

Nasal cooling is influenced by the interaction of humidity and air temperature as air moves through the nose’s cavities, say the researchers.

“Cool sensors” in the nose detect the nasal cooling, and the detection can feel like easy breathing or obstructed.

“Someone in the desert, all other things being equal, should feel less congested than someone in the jungle,” says Monell sensory scientist Bruce Bryant, Ph.D., the study co-author, in the report.

“In the low humidity of the desert,” he adds, “there is more evaporative cooling inside of the nose, such that the temperature of the nasal passages is lower.” The result is a sensation of a greater airflow.

Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.