A sinus infection can be extremely disabling for many people. It can cause day to day difficulty in the form of headaches, sore throats, weariness and all round physical distress. Though in theory located in the sinuses, its effects can be whole-body, and you will definitely want to get rid of any sinus infection as quickly as possible to make sure your daily life functions well again.
There are many symptoms of sinus infections – which you may sometimes see referred to as sinusitis – but the good news is there are also a large number of treatments and ways of alleviating the symptoms that come with a sinus infection.
This article will help you work out what is best for you as you fight off the feeling of being blocked up and unwell.
What is a sinus infection?
A sinus infection, or sinusitis, is fundamentally an inflammation of the sinuses that occurs when your nasal passages become blocked or inflamed. This can lead to a variety of symptoms, which we outline below. Its causes can be various, so check out the list below to see what might be causing yours, as this can impact the treatment you need. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, allergens, or many other airborne irritants, including even some forms of air-pollution. In some cases, sinus infections can become chronic and require medical treatment, but most often they are curable by taking some core actions, and they can be made much less severe, or even prevented, by taking steps to adapt diet and lifestyle habits.
This is the most common symptom of sinus infections. You feel breathless, unable to breathe clearly through your nostrils, and you can have real difficulty sleeping. It is an all round uncomfortable and unpleasant feeling. It’s a symptom that’s often caused by allergies, colds, and other upper respiratory problems that can then lead to sinus pressure.
To alleviate the effects, be sure to be hydrated. Increasing hydration is absolutely essential. Hydration works to help thin out the mucus that is causing the congestion. Additionally, many people have found that using a humidifier, or a saline spray, can help alleviate the pressure in your nasal passages. The type of hydration matters, however, so do not just drink fizzy juices. It is important that you opt for lemon drinks, some green teas that are strong in antioxidants, and some drinks with honey and ginger. We discuss more about this later on.
Facial pain and pressure
The pressure in your sinuses caused by the infection is also likely to lead to some facial pain, and it may feel as if you are swelling. In fact, your overall face is unlikely to be swelling, but you may sense a throbbing on parts of your face around the upper nose and eyes, and in some people the eyes may puff a little. The pain comes from the fact that your sinuses are inflamed, which is an effect of your weakened immune system and is a byproduct of the sinus infection itself. The blockages in the sinuses lead to pressure building up as air cannot flow as effectively, and the effect of this is a degree of inflammation.
To redress the effects of this pressure, one remedy is to use a warm compress. Simply applying a warm cloth on the face can be extremely beneficial to the overall feeling of pressure, so long as you do not make the compress too hot. Keep it at a moderate temperature, as it is important the compress is comfortable on your skin. You do not need extreme heat.
The pharmacist will also have a large range of nasal irrigation and decongestant sprays that are tried and tested methods of helping to reduce the pressure and relieve pain. It is wise to act promptly in this regard, as speed can be important in helping to limit the development of a sinus infection.
Headaches are an exceptionally common symptom of any sinus infection. Even people not prone to headaches may find they feel a pain across the skull, usually at the front of the head along the forehead. In some cases, the headaches can be intense, and you need to be very aware that action must be taken to alleviate the pain. Ibuprofen or paracetamol are the most common remedies from a pharmacy, but there are others. As always with medication, check with your pharmacist or doctor to ensure you are not taking a combination of pills that is unhelpful or dangerous.
Many people will also resort to steam inhalation to assist in the lessening of a headache’s potency. Place your head carefully over a bowl of hot water with a towel around your head and gently allow the steam to enter your sinuses. Be careful not to make the steam too intense. It is not necessary. You usually only need a modest rise in temperature to stimulate your sinuses to release mucus. Steams can be repeated a few times a day, and this should help reduce cranial pressure and limit the infection’s painfulness.
There can be many causes of a sinus infection, but the main cause is usually a viral or bacterial infection. These forms of infections then trigger specific sinus reactions. A viral infection will typically affect your respiratory system, causing symptoms like coughing and sneezing, whereas a bacterial infection often results in more intense symptoms like fever and facial pain.
If you have a very notable sinus infection and it is connected to other symptoms, you may be wise to talk to a medical service to check what kind of medication will aid you most, but hopefully what we suggest below will help limit your symptoms and ensure you recover quickly.
Home Remedies for Sinus Infection
Nasal Irrigation and Saline Sprays
For some people, nasal irrigation sounds pretty grim, but in fact it is a helpful way to address issues of sinus blockage and pressure that come from a sinus infection. Ultimately, this treatment involves a simple saline rinse of the nose.
A saline spray is simply a saltwater solution that helps rinse the sinuses. It helps to clear out congestion and decrease inflammation, as the saline thins mucus so that it can be cleared more easily through blowing your nose. Because the saline spray is a natural and gentle solution, it’s safe for regular use. It can be purchased over the counter or you can easily make it yourself at home. To do so, mix a teaspoon of salt with a cup of warm water and use a dropper to scoosh the solution into each nostril. You may need to angle your head to stop the water flowing out, of course, but this is a genuinely useful way of fighting back against any infection. It works well because the salt helps to draw out excess fluid from the congestion in your sinuses, which helps reduce inflammation and ultimately gives you some relief from the pain and pressure of the infection.
This is perhaps the most well-known of all home remedies, and it is often highly effective for mild sinus infections. Steam inhalation helps to loosen the mucus that has built up in your sinuses and ease sinus pressure. You can either use a facial steamer or just boil a pot of water and then lean over the pot breathing in the steam. Make sure to keep your head at least 10-12 inches away from the hot water so you don’t burn yourself, and remember that you do not really need to use very hot water. The nose will be stimulated to release mucus with even a relatively mild heat.
Adding some essential oils, such as eucalyptus, lavender or peppermint, to the water can help make the experience more relaxing. Plus, it can improve your breathing and open up any blocked nasal passages, thus alleviating the infection’s painfulness.
Decongestants is a word we all know, but which we may not understand medically. They work as they do because they are vasoconstrictors, which means they reduce swelling in the nasal cavities. This can therefore help to reduce the pressure caused by the sinus infection and clear your nasal passages. On top of that, some decongestants can also provide relief from itching, sneezing, and other allergy-related symptoms.
There is a huge variety of decongestants on the market, almost all of them available as OTC medicines. Talk to a pharmacist to determine the one that will be the most efficacious for your particular sinus infection.
Hydrate and drink plenty of fluids
There is no doubt that good hydration helps in the fight against any sinus infection. The hydration dilutes the mucus and breaks up the feelings of heaviness in your head.
However, it matters what you drink. Make sure most of what you drink is either water; low sugar teas, such as camomile, hibiscus or lemon; green teas; and modest amounts of fresh fruit juice. If you drink small amounts of caffeinated drinks it will do some good, but not as much as these other options, so to fight the sinus infection move away from coffee, fizzy drinks and high sugar and high caffeine energy drinks. These are not going to optimize your recovery.
The benefit of drinking plenty of fluids when you are unwell is that it helps to thin out the mucus in your sinuses, making it easier to blow your nose or cough out the mucus and sinus gunk. It can therefore reduce the duration and severity of your infection.
Drink herbal teas such as ginger, chamomile, or peppermint
Many herbal teas have anti-inflammatory properties, with ginger, chamomile, and peppermint being some of the most popular. Ginger is great for reducing the nasal congestion caused by a sinus infection, while peppermint can reduce pain in the sinuses. Chamomile can reduce inflammation and can even help you relax after a long day. Be open to including these teas in your armory of tactics to ensure you limit sinus pressure and blockages as early as possible. It is important when we feel unwell that we treat our bodies with good things, and herbal teas are one of nature’s great health-supporters.
You can also add honey or lemon for a soothing effect
Both lemon and honey have antioxidant properties and anti-inflammatory effects, which can help reduce the swelling and irritation caused by sinus infections. They are a superb addition to any diet that is trying to help you recover strength after or during a bout of mild sinus infection.
Lemon juice can also help thin mucus buildup in your sinus cavity, while honey is a natural antiseptic that can keep bacteria away. In addition to this, lemon and honey also have a soothing effect, helping to alleviate the pain associated with sinus pressure.
Eat foods high in Vitamin C and zinc
Eating foods high in Vitamin C and zinc could be the answer to many health matters, and it certainly helps to alleviate sinus infections. Vitamin C is known to reduce inflammation, while zinc has been shown to improve mucosal repair and mucociliary clearance. That means it can help your sinus drainage, improving your symptoms. Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit, strawberries, kiwi, bell peppers, and dark green, leafy vegetables are all great sources of Vitamin C, while oysters, beef, legumes and dairy products are good choices for zinc.
Incorporate these foods both to treat sinus ailments and also potentially prevent future infection.
Avoid dairy products and processed foods
Be aware that, for many people, eating dairy products or processed foods while suffering from a sinus infection will likely exacerbate your condition. This is because dairy products can increase mucus production, resulting in congestion which, in turn, puts more pressure on your sinus passages and exacerbates any existing symptoms. Processed foods also contain lots of preservatives, sodium, and sugar, all of which can lead to dehydration and inflammation of the sinuses.
Medications for Treating Sinus Infections
This form of medication is the ‘go to’ for many of us when we feel unwell. Certainly, antibiotics can help fight off the infection that’s causing sinus suffering, especially if it’s bacterial. Depending on the type of infection you have, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic to take orally or, in some instances, apply directly to your nose as a topical ointment.
But, before you try antibiotics, it’s important to understand that they won’t work for every type of sinus infection. Antibiotics are most effective against bacterial sinus infections, like sinusitis, but won’t do much for viral infections like the common cold. In addition, some sinus pressure can be caused by allergies, in which case antibiotics won’t help either. For those, you may need allergy-specific medication or a straightforward antihistamine.
Studies show that NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can be a useful adjunct to conventional treatments for respiratory infections, such as sinusitis. In addition to reducing pain and inflammation, many NSAIDs can also help reduce the duration and severity of the infection, providing a much-needed relief from congestion, coughing and headaches.
But it’s important to remember that NSAIDs are not a substitute for conventional treatments, such as antibiotics. Instead, they should be used in conjunction with other therapies to help promote healing and symptom relief.
Steroid nasal sprays
As we know, reducing inflammation when you have a sinus infection is important. Corticosteroid nasal sprays do just that and help clear blocked nasal passages and deal with the wide range of sinus infection symptoms. They also reduce thick mucus, making it easier to breathe. Many people find them more effective than decongestants and antihistamines when it comes to relieving a stuffy nose, due to their increased strength.
Generally, corticosteroid sprays are safe for short-term use in treating any nose-based infections. However, prolonged use can have some side effects, as with all steroidal treatments, so make sure to use them only for a short period of time.
These can be an outstanding way to address sinus infection symptoms. They work by interfering with the body’s reactions to allergens and various external stimuli that can cause headaches, sneezing and a general feeling of irritation in your nose. They also work on inflammation and therefore reduce the feeling of blockage in your sinuses and throat, as when you have a sinus infection your sinuses, and often your throat, become inflamed.
Some commonly available types of antihistamines include loratadine, cetirizine and diphenhydramine. Though it can be tempting to think they are all the same, in fact some work better for some people than others, so you may need to try the different types until you find the one that is most effective for you personally. They are also not always the same price, so check that out too.
Reduce exposure to irritants and allergens
There are more common irritants to the sinus than you may realize and some of these can stimulate sinus infections. Common sources of irritants and allergens are smoke in the air, dust, pet food and straw, animals, mold in a damp room, and also chemical fumes from cleaning products. These can all be things we fail to register as possible causes of a sinus irritation, but each of these may be in our day-to-day lives.
Many people lower their household risks and improve the quality of their lives by investing in air filters for their home or workplace. You could also benefit from using damp cloths to clean surfaces instead of chemical-laden sprays and wipes. Doing this can help limit irritation and keep your sinuses freer of what might be potentially infecting agents. Do not underestimate how many chemicals are in the products we use. Keeping your home life as free from these as possible can aid some sinus sufferers and help those who are prone to sinus infections.
Maintain moist sinuses
As we said earlier, keep your sinuses moist. Whether this is with hydration, steaming, a saline spray or drip (outlined above), or with an appropriate ointment or cream during a sinus infection, your nasal passages need to be moist in order to help mucus be released.
It is sometimes down to us. We have to quit smoking to optimize our health. Smoking plays a huge part in many sinus infections, so the quicker you can give it up (Check elsewhere on Healthnile for our advice on How to Quit Smoking and How to Quit Vaping) the more likely it is you will have fewer sinus infections.
Remember that smoking causes inflammation of the sinuses, which can lead to a sinus infection, and it also weakens your body’s natural defenses and makes it notably harder to fight off any infection you may have currently.
Use a humidifier or vaporizer
There is significant evidence that adding moisture to the air can help thin mucus and reduce the potency of any sinus issues you are having. One way is to use a humidifier or vaporizer, and by running it in your bedroom while you sleep you potentially aid your recovery overnight. This is because you are adding extra moisture to the air throughout the night, allowing you to breathe more easily. As it is often drier air that stimulates us to cough, the more gently moist the air we sleep in, the less likely we are to suffer.
Avoiding pollution matters to us all, but it’s especially important when we are ill with a sinus infection. Do what you can to make sure you limit your exposure to irritants like smoke, strong odors, and cold air. This really is important. It is very often our environment that is the problem.
To lessen the risk of a sinus infection taking hold, avoid places where smoking is allowed or where there are strong odors. This could include places like bars, certain restaurants, and certain workplaces. In addition, in cold weather make sure to cover your mouth and nose, especially in crowded cold places where ventilation is poor. Ventilation is necessary, no matter the weather, so be sure to allow some airflow wherever you are. It makes illness much less likely.
Adapt your lifestyle
The onus may fall on you! If you are not living healthily, and not exercising to stay fit, or eating well, then you may need to adapt your lifestyle. It is often we ourselves who can make the most change, not the doctor giving us a pill! Be bold and make sure to look hard at how you are living. If you are not living a healthy lifestyle with enough nutrition, fruit, vegetables, exercise and all round balance, then your body will tell you so. A sinus infection may be a sign you need to adapt your lifestyle to improve your wellbeing.
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