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Will garlic help your congestion?

This TikTok trend may be more fiction than fact—experts weigh in

TikTok is full of videos featuring health trends like DIY teeth whitening, fasting challenges, and this one, which shows the unpleasant aftermath of using garlic for congestion. With 2.6 million likes, this viral TikTok video might have you believing that putting garlic cloves in your nostrils is the answer to your sinus troubles. 

But before you reach for the nearest head of garlic, consider the source. Social media is often fraught with false health tips and unsafe home remedies. You can add inserting garlic in your nose to relieve sinus pressure and congestion to the list of debunked tales. 

While the free-flowing mucus might seem convincing, physicians say: Please, do not try this at home. “Garlic is not a decongestant, and by putting a garlic clove up your nose, all you likely will accomplish is irritating the lining of your nose, which can make your symptoms worse,” says Vivek Cherian, MD, an internal medicine physician at Amita Health, an affiliate of Ascension. 

The potential hazards of inserting garlic in your nostrils can include:

  • Getting a clove stuck in your sinuses
  • Triggering an allergic reaction
  • Causing anaphylaxis
  • Irritating your nose lining
  • Worsening symptoms

With that in mind, skip this TikTok trend. But what about other forms of garlic for colds, such as pills or eating it raw. Is there any basis in using garlic for colds? 

Does garlic help with a cold, congestion, or sinusitis? 

“Garlic contains a substance called allicin, which has anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory properties,” says Omid Mehdizadeh, MD, otolaryngologist (ENT) and laryngologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. 

While these properties have been well demonstrated outside of the human body and in the lab, Dr. Mehdizadeh says the effects of allicin applied directly into the nasal cavity have not been shown or adequately studied.

What’s more, using garlic for colds or congestion, in any form, is not a common treatment. According to the National Center on Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), the clinical trial evidence supporting the use of garlic as an intervention with the common cold is lacking. More specifically, one research review looked at findings from a trial with 146 participants that suggested garlic may help prevent or treat the common cold, but the evidence regarding the effect is insufficient. More studies are needed. 

The NCCIH also points out that while the amount of garlic in foods is probably safe for most people, taking oral supplements may increase the risk of bleeding. Garlic can also interfere with the effectiveness of some drugs. You can take garlic extract orally, but Dr. Mehdizadeh says there is no clear consensus on the appropriate dosage and its efficacy. The good news is there are other ways to effectively prevent and safely treat congestion, colds, and sinus infections.

Steps for treating congestion, colds, and sinus infections

Congestion can have many causes, including allergies or a viral illness, like the common cold. “When you’re congested, you can have inflammation of the membranes lining the nasal passages and sinuses, which leads to more mucus production and worsening congestion symptoms,” says Dr. Cherian. 

While there’s no single way to get rid of your congestion, Dr. Cherian says there are many things you can do to manage it. “What ultimately gets rid of the problem is if you start recovering from your cold or get control of whatever may be causing your allergies and anything you can do to keep your nasal passages moist, helps clear congestion,” he says. Try these steps:

  • Breathe steam from a hot shower
  • Use a humidifier. Although be mindful of the humidifier cleaning schedule, so you don’t spew mold into your home.
  • Use a saline nasal spray to keep your nasal passages moist
  • Try a nasal irrigator or a neti pot. This clears out dust, mold, pollen, and allergens from your nasal passages 
  • Make sure to drink a lot of fluids to keep the mucus from getting thick and blocking your sinuses.

Most cold and sinus infections last about 10 days. During this time, Dr. Mehdizadeh says symptoms often respond to proven methods like nasal saline irrigation and anti-inflammatory sprays such as Flonase or Nasacort, which help relieve stuffy nose and sinuses associated with allergic rhinitis. 

When to see a doctor

If symptoms persist longer than 10 days, Dr. Mehdizadeh says you may require a trip to the doctor. Also, if symptoms worsen or you experience a high fever, shortness of breath, or a severe headache, don’t wait until the 10 days to see your doctor or another healthcare provider. You may be dealing with a more serious illness that requires medical treatment. 

One final note: TikTok videos are certainly entertaining and a great way to pass the time. And while some of the information shared through social media is based on science, many recommendations leave people with more questions than answers. 

Plus, if taken out of context or not backed by medical experts, the advice can be dangerous. If you’re curious about the latest health trend or tip you view online, make an appointment with your doctor or another healthcare provider. They can separate fact from fiction.