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Sinus anatomy

The sinuses are the first line of defense for protecting your airways from harmful elements. Over a lifetime, the sinuses can become damaged by exposure to dust, pollution, changes in temperature, and infections. A deviated nasal septum can negatively affect sinus health by limiting breathing through one side of the nose while drying out the other side of the nose. This can cause more congestion on the deviated side and nosebleeds on the other side. Almost half of the population either has snoring or chronic sinus symptoms. Prevention and simple environmental precautions can help improve symptoms and keep you from progressing to a poor state of sinus health.

Environmental Precautions

Your sinuses may become irritated by dust or pollution even if you have no allergies. Even in urban environments , the air outside is two to five times cleaner than the air inside your home. Think about it: when was the last time you saw a ‘dust bunny’ outside? Some simple home allergy precautions like using an air purifier, washing bedding and curtains, using a mattress pad, changing pillows regularly, removing carpeting, and airing out the home on a regular basis will create a healthier environment for everyone in your household.

Dry Air

If you have steam heat or forced air, the nose may become irritated and dried out. Like many people, if you have a blocked nose from a deviated nasal septum or turbinate hypertrophy, then you may wake up with a sore throat, dry mouth, or bad breath (from nighttime mouth breathing). Increasing the moisture content in the air can keep the nose and mouth surfaces from drying out. Bacteria are more likely to stick to dry nasal mucosa than moist mucosa.  Humidity levels between 40%-50% are the healthiest for your skin and sinuses. Maintaining a conducive breathing environment  by avoiding dry air is pivotal to your sinus health.

Humidifiers versus Vaporizers

Humidifiers and vaporizers both add moisture to the air. The terms are generally used interchangeably although historically a humidifier adds cool moisture into the air by evaporating water, while a steam vaporizer adds warm moisture into the air by boiling water. The one that you use depends entirely on personal preference, as they are both effective.  Bacteria, dust mites and mold thrive in high-humidity environments, so you may want to leave the device off when you are not home to lower the humidity. Following the cleaning and safety directions for your individual machine will promote safer, more efficient device function.


An airplane has a humidity level of less than 10 percent, which is one of the main reasons your sinuses get dried out during flights, leaving you more susceptible to colds. Keeping your sinuses moist during flight can be the difference between a smooth trip and getting sick (or even having a nosebleed). For some in-flight sinus relief, order a hot beverage and breathe in the steam. Alternatively, try a nasal saline spray or gel.  When placed inside the nostrils, a saline gel forms a coating that keeps your sinuses moist. Click here to read more about airplane sinus health.

Rinsing the Sinuses

Saline rinse bottle (left) and Neti Pot (right)

The mucus in the sinus passages will trap debris and allergens, causing it to thicken which can block the sinuses. Using a Neti Pot or saline sinus rinse to wash away the impurities and mucus inside the nose may help your sinuses feel and function better. Some people with very small nasal passages may have mucosal irritation with rinsing that can close the tiny channels of the sinuses and actually cause infection. See what is right for you. Whether you mix your own saline or buy a premixed solution, try to use non-chlorinated or distilled water. Click here to read more about the Neti Pot and sinus rinsing.

Nasal Congestion

Anything that makes your nose stuffy can contribute to sinus pressure and nasal obstruction. Airborne or food allergies are common variables that can be tested for by an allergist or internist.  The side-effects of some medications can cause nasal congestion, while nasal decongestant sprays like oxymetazoline can cause a rebound congestion after as few as three days of continuous use. Pregnancy or hormonal changes are also a major cause of nasal congestion. A deviated nasal septum can also cause nasal congestion.

The Healthy Sinus

There are many factors that make up healthy sinuses. Likewise, there is no reason to live with a sinus disease that may be easily treatable. Contact your ENT for a complete evaluation.