Home Remedies for Sinus Congestion and Pain
For over six months, I suffered from a chronic sinus infection caused by a fungus. Because antibiotics did not work and many medications were not very helpful, I had to research and figure out ways to manage my chronic pain, congestion, and discomfort.
Along the way, I've discovered some methods which helped to ease my pain and make me feel better.
Although my acute sinusitis is over, I still suffer from seasonal sinus pressure and pain due to allergies. These techniques not only ease the pain but also have prevented me from getting further infections if I remember to use them at the first sign of congestion.
Heated Moist Towels
- Take a washcloth or similarly sized towel and get it moist but not dripping wet.
- Put the wet washcloth in a plastic Zip-Lock bag but don't close it.
- Place the bag in a microwave and heat for 10-20 seconds (it should be very warm but not so hot you can't touch it).
- Use the hot towel (inside the bag or out) as a hot compress on the areas that are in pain (usually your forehead or underneath your eyes on either side of your nose).
- Re-heat the washcloth in the bag as needed. If it is already warm, you may not need to heat it as much.
- These heated washcloths give instant relief and are the best way I've found to manage pain during severe or chronic infection.
Use Nasal Sprays
Saline Spray: You can buy inexpensive saline sprays over the counter, and I have found these to be very helpful in keeping my sinus areas clear and in helping to drain mucus. These help a bit like the Neti pot flushing, but they can be done at any time of the day, and you can take one along with you when you go out. It is really helpful to be able to spray your sinuses to help you feel better, especially if you are at work and can't get access to warm compresses or a humidifier.
Gel Spray: An even better spray is one the by the maker of the Neti pot which is a bit thicker and tended to last longer. Although it is a bit more expensive, the bottle lasts a long time and really made me feel better, especially on days that I had to work and teach.
How to Use Neti Pot
My husband and I joked that for our 20th wedding anniversary, we forgot about the roses and ended up getting each other matching Neti Pots. "True love," my husband insisted, "is showing your spouse how to rinse out their sinuses."
Not everyone I've met has been able to get the hang of using these pots, but if you are in pain, using a Neti Pot can bring significant relief and it is certainly worth a try.
What do they do? Neti Pots are designed to help you flush out your sinuses by running warm salt water over them.
Why use a Neti Pot? Running moisture over the sinus areas can help to:
- soothe the sinuses by moisturizing them
- wash out the irritants like allergens
- help you get rid of mucus build-up
How to Use a Neti Pot: To do a thorough flushing, you need to use a system like the Neti pot. It takes a bit of getting used to doing this, but in the end, you will be glad. Follow the directions included in the type of flushing pot you get, but the basic technique is that you:
- Put warm water in the pot with a small packet of salt.
- Lean over a sink sideways and put the tip of the pot into one nostril (the water will pour in that nostril, over your sinus cavity and then out the other nostril.
- Start pouring slowly. It will be a bit uncomfortable while the sinus cavity fills but will start feeling better when the water starts draining out your other nostril.
- If you can't get the water to come out, you probably need to lean over more. If you get water in your throat, then lean a bit more forward. It takes a bit of practice, but stay calm and you'll get the hang of it. Even my 79-year-old mother was finally able to do it with practice.
- Pour until you've used about 1/2 the liquid, then switch and do it on the other side.
Breathing hot steaming water was one of the most helpful things in easing both pain and congestion. Here are some of the ways I did this:
Take a Hot Shower: Every day, I'd take a long shower as hot as I could stand it and just enjoy breathing in the hot, moist air. Often my head felt clearer after that shower than they were at any other time of the day.
Make a Steam Tent: You must be careful with this method, but I found it very valuable. I'd put a pot of water on the stove and bring it to a boil. Then I'd carefully drape a towel over the top of the pot and breathe the steam.
Use a Humidifier: For nighttime, you can use a hot or cold humidifier near your bed to help you have moister air to breathe.
Use Head Position
Keep Pillow Propped Up: Often, when you are congested, it can be very painful to lay down flat, or you can get even more stopped up at night time. So try laying down using an extra pillow to help use gravity to drain your sinuses.
Use a Neck Pillow: Sometimes, I found that I really needed to sleep almost upright. A neck pillow helped me to do that without getting a cramp in my neck. You might also try sleeping in a recliner.
Use Decongestants Carefully
Although my mother and grandmother used Sudafed and nasal sprays constantly, I always avoided them because I knew they could cause problems, so I was very surprised when several of the doctors I visited suggested that I try them. Before I did, I read up on a lot of the research and carefully read about the side effects and problems of overuse. Here is what I learned:
Nasal Sprays Like Afrin: These decongestant sprays are the fastest way to clear your nasal passages and are very helpful if you use them for no more than 4 days. If you do use them carefully for a short time, they can sometimes prevent a longer infection.
However, these sprays stop working after a few days and can even backfire because they can cause worse congestion than you had to start with. I was very startled to come across some threads of people who were completely addicted to these sprays and miserable because of it. On the other hand, I've found that if I use just one spray (sometimes just in the most congested nostril) for maybe three days in a row, I can often avoid moving from allergy irritation to something worse.
Sudafed: I always feel like a criminal when I ask for this drug because you have to show your driver's license and sign a document in my state (because the drug is used to make meth). Even so, these red pills can help clear up congestion, especially in the morning. They do have some side effects to be careful about, they can:
- raise your blood pressure, so ask your doctor if you have high blood pressure
- make it hard to sleep, especially if you take one later in the day
- make my scalp tingle sometimes and cause my husband to feel nervous
One of my doctors suggested that you might want to try just taking 1/2 or 1/4 of a pill. Sometimes you don't need a whole dose. You can also try the Sudafed PE, which is a different drug and not as strong but has fewer side effects.
Change Your Diet
Do you suspect foods as causing some of your problems? For some people with allergies to pollens, there are foods which have similar proteins that also trigger allergic reactions. You might try eliminating some of the more common food allergens for a couple of weeks to see if that helps. If you do feel better, then you can try reintroducing some of the foods one at a time to see if you can identify the main cause. Here are some common foods which cause congestion:
- Milk products—cow milk can hide in other products like baked goods or salad dressings, so check labels.
- Ragweed allergy can be triggered by melons or tomatoes.
- Grass allergies can be triggered by celery or peaches.
- Mold allergies can be triggered by eating fruit or bread with mold.
- Refined sugar (white table sugar and high fructose corn syrup) can sometimes contribute to bacteria growth and cause congestion.
- Gluten intolerance is sometimes the source of chronic sinus problems and trying a gluten-free diet of protein, fruits, vegetables and rice can be the answer.
Clean Your Environment
If you are having chronic sinus problems, you might be having trouble with environmental allergies. You can have allergy testing and perhaps consider doing allergy shots, but those are expensive and not always effective. We've done some simple things in our home to try to eliminate the sources of our allergies. You can try to see if these help you:
- Use a HEPA filter in your furnace. HEPA filters get out more of the dust and allergens from the air and keep your home cleaner.
- Change or clean your air filter monthly: No matter what filter you use, you definitely need to change or clean it often to keep your air clean.
- Get rid of rugs and drapes. This was an important part of our home strategy and has made a huge impact on my husband's health. This solution can be expensive and time-consuming but can make a big difference. Tile and wood floors are much easier to clean than carpets and the same goes for blinds vs. curtains. We started with our bedroom, where we spend so many hours sleeping, and gradually replaced the flooring and window treatments throughout our house. We also have made sure we don't overcrowd our shelves so that things are easier to dust well.
- Use unscented cleaning products: Does your nose feel irritated when you smell a cleanser or shampoo? Does it bother you to walk down the cleaning supply aisle at the supermarket? It bothers me and so I realized that living with that scent on my clothes or in my house may not be a good idea either. Try unscented products. They clean just as well but won't irritate your nose.
- Avoid Scented air fresheners: If you use scented candles, scented plug-ins, or perfumes, you may want to avoid those and see if that helps.
One research paper I examined really stood out to me. It said that one particular symptom predicted chronic infection with remarkable accuracy: exhaustion. Patients who had sinus infections felt incredible fatigue and didn't feel better even after a lot of sleep. That was how I felt for six months, and since no matter how much I slept, I didn't feel much better, I just tended to fight through the day in spite of how I felt.
However, I finally just decided to take a whole Thanksgiving weekend and sleep, and that was actually the beginning of my real recovery. So perhaps the best home remedy is just to listen to what your body is telling you and sleep. Take the time to let your body heal.
Do you have a technique that has helped you? Please share in the comments to help us all out!