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. 

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.

“It’s very common for the nose to feel congested or blocked without mucus,” says Inna Husain, MD, an ear, nose and throat specialist with Community Healthcare System of Indiana.

“The lining and tissue of the nose can congest and decongest in response to inhalant allergies, but what most people don’t know is that it is also affected by non-allergic stimuli such as temperature.”

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 Chemical Senses Center

Monell Center 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.

When the feelings of nasal congestion are sensory-related, says the research, this opens doors for more targeted treatment.

One example of a targeted treatment is that of focusing on restoring the optimal humidity and temperature in a patient’s nasal airflow.

The Monell 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.

The researchers point out that if someone is in a desert, with all other things being equal, they should feel less congested than if in a jungle.

That’s becauuse a desert has low humidity. This means more evaporative cooling inside their nose, making the temperature of their nasal passages lower.

This creates the sensation of a greater airflow.

Additiona Reasons for a Blocked Feeling in Both Nostrils


“There is also a process known as the nasal cycle which is the spontaneous congestion and decongestion of nasal mucosa that cycles side to side,” says Dr. Husain.

“Also, nasal congestion or obstruction can occur due to structural reasons in the nose — for example, a septal deviation.”

Dr. Husain is an otolaryngologist affiliated with Community Hospital, Munster, IN, Community Stroke and Rehabilitation Center, Crown Point, IN, and St. Catherine Hospital, East Chicago, IN. She received her medical degree from Southwestern Medical School at Dallas. Follow her on Instagram and TikTok
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.
Top image: ©Lorra Garrick