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How do I treat my sinus infection?

Understanding Sinusitis Symptoms

Infection of the sinuses causes inflammation of the delicate membranes that surround the nose, eyes and cheeks. These membranes are responsible for producing mucus that, when functioning properly, work to moisten the air you breathe and filter out any germs or bacteria. When these membranes become inflamed, the mucus fails to drain normally, and instead, accumulates to the point of infection. The pain and discomfort felt from sinus infection can cause major disruptions in your life.

highlighting pain areas of sinus infection
While some cases of sinusitis eventually resolve without treatment, there are several steps you can take to speed up your recovery, and prevent the onset of future sinus infections. Fortunately, there are a number of home remedies that can help loosen the mucus inside the sinus cavities and facilitate drainage, lifting the veil of congestion and soreness.

Medical vs. Home Remedies

At the onset of sinusitis symptoms, some of us are too swift to turn to treatment via antibiotics. But, the infection and symptoms may go away by attempting to first use natural remedies. In fact, antibiotics are greatly overprescribed and given to between 70-80% of acute and chronic sinusitis patients. While they can certainly be a “quick fix” in many instances, medical research shows that antibiotics are often an ineffective treatment regime for sinus sufferers. Whether your sinus infection is diagnosed as acute or chronic, understanding the cause of sinus inflammation is the key to deciding which form of treatment is best. Many people suffer from sinusitis as a result of outdoor or indoor allergies to mold, pollen or dog dander. At the initial onset of infection, natural remedies may be preferable to antibiotics or other medication. Natural remedies can be used in tandem as well with over-the-counter medications such as decongestants. Dr. Bennett recommends speaking to your doctor to determine the underlying cause of your sinus infection and reminds patients that combining both home and medical treatments is often the best solution to breathing easier.

Medical Treatments for Sinusitis

sinus nasal spray   There are a number of medical treatments that can help reduce sinus pain and inflammation. Antibiotics, ibuprofen, decongestants, allergy medications, steroids and in some cases, sinus surgery may be the best and most  effective and lasting course of treatment.

What types of home remedies are available to treat and prevent sinusitis?

Home Remedy #1: Inhale Steam

One of the most common symptoms of a sinus infection is a swollen nasal passage, causing congestion and difficulty breathing. A safe and natural way to break up excess mucus and reduce inflammation is to inhale steam. You can create steam from going into your bathroom, shutting the door, running the hot water in the bath or shower, and then breathing in the hot vapors for 10-15 minutes. Sometimes air quality and temperature levels may be out your control; awareness of temperature and humidity levels can defend against infection.

Home Remedy #2: Buy an Air Purifier

An air purifier is a device that filters air by removing tiny particles of dirt and bacteria.The most effective type of air purifier is a HEPA (“High Efficiency Particulate Air”) purifier. Exposing yourself to clean, purified air will reduce your chances of contracting a sinus infection. Make sure to put your air purifier in the room that you spend the most time in – such as your living room or bedroom. HEPA air purifiers can be purchased at any home goods store. Don’t forget to change the filter regularly, as an unclean purifier can have the opposite effect – releasing once-filtered bacteria and dust back into the air.

bacteria causes a sinus infection

Home Remedy #3: Irrigate your sinuses

Nasal irrigation is the process of flushing out the sinus cavities to remove stale, infected mucus and other bacteria. First, make sure you have sterile (distilled or boiled) water on hand. Most drug stores have pre-made salt packets that you can pour directly into the water. Likewise you can dissolve one tablespoon of kosher salt and one teaspoon of baking soda in one liter or distilled water. After creating your mixture, properly rinse your sinuses by using a neti pot or bulb syringe. A neti pot is a small, inexpensive, plastic or ceramic teapot-like device. It is easy to use. Simply lean your head to one side, place the spout of the pot against the nostril facing away from the floor, and then pour roughly half of the solution into the nostril so that it flushes out the sinus cavity and trickles out the opposite nostril. Once the nostril has been fully flushed, turn your head to the other side and pour the remainder of the solution into the opposite nostril. You should feel a sense of immediate relief within minutes and will notice that you are able to breathe again from your nose. Do not forget to always wash the pot after each use, or else you risk having trace amounts of bacteria and other debris in your next rinse. A bulb syringe is another natural way to break up mucus lodged inside your sinuses, causing your stuffed-up nose. A bulb syringe is a small, rubber or plastic apparatus a bulb-like end that tapers into a long, slender tube with an opening at the opposite end. Using the same warm salt-water solution used for a neti pot, draw the mixture up into the syringe by squeezing the bulb-like end of the syringe and slowly releasing it.

Tip: Make sure you have first removed all of the air from the syringe before placing it into the solution. The key is to create a vacuum so that you are able to fully fill the bulb with the saline mixture.

Neti potOnce filled, lay back in a comfortable position and tilt your head back slightly. Insert the slender tip of the syringe into one nostril. Press lightly on the bulb to squirt the mixture into the nasal cavity. Repeat this step with the opposite nostril. The saline solution will break-up the mucus in the nose so that it can be washed away. After the saline solution has been squirted into both nostrils, empty the bulb of any excess solution and squeeze it so that it is completely flat. Insert the slender tip into the nostril and slowly release the bulb, suctioning out the mucus and debris from your sinus cavity. Squirt the contents into your sink, rinse the syringe, and then repeat with the opposite nostril.

Tip: Just as with the neti pot, make sure to properly clean the syringe before each use, to get rid of any lingering bacteria. A simple soap and water mixture will do the trick. Dry the syringe upside down.   Tip: Remember to be extremely gentle when using the bulb syringe. Drawing out the mucus into the nose too forcefully may cause further inflammation, creating a reverse effect and causing even more congestion. If irrigation of your nose irritates your sinuses then it should be discontinued.

Home Remedy #4: Warm Washcloths

One of the easiest home remedies to clear congestion from a sinus infection is a warm washcloth. Lay back on your couch or bed in a comfortable position, preferably in a low-lit and quiet setting, and place the washcloth over your forehead and nose. After five or ten minutes, flip the washcloth over and place it back over your face. The washcloth doubles as a warm compress and the heat from the cloth will seep into your pores and break up the dried mucus inside your sinus cavities. It will also have a soothing effect and release sinus pressure. Try using this technique before bed, and again in the morning, when congestion is most noticeable.

Home Remedy #5: Drink Fluids

Sinus infections occur when the nasal cavities are inflamed due to thick, infected mucus inside the nose. One easy and natural remedy to help thin-out the mucus and clear any stuffiness is to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water, and avoid caffeine and alcohol. Drinking liquids full of electrolytes will also help combat dehydration and add moisture to the dried out mucus membranes in your sinus cavities. Gatorade, and other sports drinks have a high amount of electrolytes, so be sure to pick up a few bottles the next time you make a trip to the grocery store.

Home Remedy #6: Rest and relaxation

relaxing candles

Always get a proper amount of sleep each night. The average adult needs approximately 6-8 hours of sleep per night to stay healthy. Taking extra time to rest may seem like common sense when it comes to treatment of a sinus infection; however, allowing your immune system extra time to bounce back is critical when dealing with the uncomfortable symptoms of sinusitis. Dr. Bennett recommends sleeping the recommended hours and also strongly discourages engaging in any overly-strenuous activity or exercise while recovering from a sinus infection.

Home Remedy #7: Revamp your Diet

Designing a healthy diet is perhaps one of the most important natural remedies in combating a sinus infection. This means nixing foods that inhibit sinus healing, and introducing a healthy mix of foods that help foster a strong immune system. Dairy products are the biggest culprits that prevent your sinus cavities from healing properly, as they contribute to excess mucus in the nose. Eliminate cheeses in addition to yogurt, milk and ice cream from your diet and you will reduce the severity of sinus infection symptoms. Besides dairy, eggs, fried foods, sweets and food with a high sugar content can also speed up the mucus production in the nose, leading to inflammation and congestion. Learn to replace these foods with a assortment of other healthy and “sinus-friendly” alternatives: like whole grain or wheat bread and pasta and chicken-noodle or lentil soup. Vegetables are also great at keeping your immune system strong and reducing your chances of a sinus infection. Find ways to incorporate veggies like broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, sugar snap pea, bean sprouts, mushrooms and asparagus in your next meal. You can also opt to chop up some garlic and onion and include it in your next stir fry dish. Not only can you cut out foods that increase the mucus in your nasal cavities, you can add foods that aid in breaking up and thinning out the mucus. Herbs and spices are widely believed to be the most effective. Try sprinkling some crushed red or cayenne pepper on foods like rice, couscous or pasta. Turmeric, a popular spice is linked to several different health benefits. Studies show that the curcumin compound found within this spice can not only heal an infected sinus cavity, by reducing inflammation, but also speed up mucus drainage, allowing you to breathe easier. Certain condiments are also known to help drain the sinuses, like horseradish sauce, typically eaten alongside meat dishes like steak and porkchops. For a more intense remedy, try mixing together and eating two tablespoons of horseradish and a teaspoon of lemon juice. Your nose will start draining almost immediately due to the powerful effects that the ingredients have on clearing the nasal passages. Enjoy Japanese food? Wasabi paste is considered the Asian form of horseradish, so eating some plain, or alongside sushi will quickly give you the sinus relief you seek. Another popular home remedy in clearing sinus blockages is creating an apple cider vinegar mixture. At the onset of a stuffed-up nose, mix a few teaspoons of the vinegar with 6 parts water, and drink 3-5 glasses per day. If the blend is too sour for your taste, try adding a little honey or artificial sweetener. The mixture works to clear blockages and reduce inflammation, the same effects as any over-the-counter antibiotic.

Home Remedy #8: Incorporate Extracts into your Diet

Extracts can serve as fantastic natural antibiotics. Grapefruit seed extract, in particular, is known to eliminate bacteria, viruses and other germs in your nasal cavities. Some health food stores or vitamin shops carry GSE in the form of a nasal spray, making it an easy alternative to medical treatment. Oregano oil is another type of extract that is said to have powerful sinus-healing effects. You can either opt to eat a spoonful or two of the oil, or place it in a small saucepot over medium heat while and inhaling the steam. As a plus, both grapefruit seed extract and oregano oil have additional health benefits. They both resolve digestion issues, fight general infections, and improve the health of your liver and colon.

Home Remedy #9: Vitamin C

high vitamin c oranges
Vitamin C is another natural remedy that does more than merely prevent the onset of sinusitis symptoms. It boosts your immune system and acts as a natural antihistamine and antioxidant. Dr. Bennett recommends buying chewable Vitamin C capsules from your local vitamin store and taking 1000 mg one to three times per day. Drinking a glass or two of orange juice each day can be beneficial as well.

Home Remedy #10: At-Home Changes

Making a few, easy adjustments to your apartment or house is another remedy to fight sinus infections. Before you go to bed, prop up a few extra pillows behind your head so that you are in an elevated position throughout the night. This will help your sinuses to drain properly, and reduce the chance that you will wake up feeling congested. Cleanliness is very important and may reduce your chance of sinusitis. Make sure your living quarters, particularly your bedroom, are neat and tidy. A clean space will keep out infection-causing germs and bacteria. Consider also investing in a HEPA air filter to remove dust and other debris.

When are home remedies not enough?

If you have tried several of the home remedy techniques listed above, and still do not see any signs of improvement, or your symptoms seem to be worsening, perhaps it is time to visit your doctor to discuss more aggressive treatment options. So if your congestion and discomfort show no signs of subsiding after 5-7 days,and you have tried numerous natural remedies, make an appointment to see your doctor.