TikTok’s latest trendy health trick is to stick garlic up your nose in an effort to ease sinus congestion. And if you’ve ever experienced that kind of clogging, then you can probably relate to the desire to try anything to get relief. But the new social media trend has some people taking that I’ll-try-anything attitude to new—possibly dangerous—heights.
The video evidence is as gross as it is compelling: There are many, many videos that have been shared thousands of times in which TikTok users put whole raw cloves of garlic up their nostrils, wait a while, and then show off waterfalls of snot coming out of their nostrils after removing the cloves. But what’s really going on in there? Could such a bizarre trick actually work? And is it worth trying to put garlic up your nose the next time your sinuses are blocked?
“I think it’s a terrible trend,” Anthony Del Signore, M.D., assistant professor of otolaryngology and director of rhinology and endoscopic skull base surgery at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, tells SELF. “It’s just a bad idea all around…And if anything, it’s going to cause more of an issue.”
As a reminder, the sinuses are small, hollow cavities in the facial bones surrounding the nose, the U.S. National Library of Medicine explains. They’re located behind the eyes, cheeks, and forehead. Air and mucus flow normally out of your sinuses through small tubes connected to the nasal passages. Sinusitis is an inflammation of the tissue lining your sinuses, and it’s usually due to an infection or allergy, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine. This swelling causes that familiar (and unpleasant) sensation of sinus pressure. And when your nose is swollen or stuffed up, it can block the sinuses from draining mucus properly, causing even more congestion and pain.
But, no, putting garlic up your nose is not a viable solution to this problem. Dr. Del Signore sees several major issues with putting garlic cloves in your nostrils to clear out your sinuses—the first one being that it simply doesn’t work. All that snot you’re seeing drip out? It’s the lining of your nose having an inflammatory reaction to something that really shouldn’t be there.
Your nasal passages are lined with mucosa, or mucous membranes, that are sensitive to pathogens and irritants like allergens or viruses. Those invaders can trigger swelling and mucus production in an attempt to expel them and protect your body, causing a runny nose. Raw garlic, which contains oils and compounds that are potentially extremely irritating to the mucosa, could also cause them to produce a whole lot of snot, Dr. Del Signore explains.
“You’re not really cleansing the nasal cavity. Essentially what’s happening is it’s causing a caustic irritation in the nasal cavity,” Dr. Del Signore explains. While it might look like the garlic is responsible for the expulsion of mucus and secretions from the nasal passageways and sinuses, “It’s just causing the mucosa that the garlic cloves are in contact with to produce a lot of secretions.”
In other words, you’re not really cleansing anything or reaching your sinus cavities—you’re just making your nasal lining freak out, especially if you leave the garlic up there for a few minutes. “It has no benefit whatsoever,” Dr. Del Signore says.
It’s not just that stuffing garlic gloves up your nostrils isn’t helpful, doing so also presents actual health risks. For one thing, a garlic clove is just the right size and shape to get lodged far up in your nasal cavity. “The problem is if it does get stuck in the nasal cavity, it can cause a fair amount of congestion,” Dr. Del Signore says. You could also experience difficulty breathing from a blocked nasal passage. And you might accidentally inhale the clove into your airway, or push it up even further while trying to get it out, which would be a very dangerous situation requiring urgent medical care.