If you have the stuffiness and throbbing pain in the cheeks, forehead, and around the eyes; exhaustion; and headaches, you probably have acute sinusitus. While doctors advise holding off on antibiotics, you need some relief now!
These are the proven, powerful, natural treatments and remedies you can to begin today, to relieve your sinus symptoms fast.
Acute sinusitis, also called acute rhinosinusitis, is a short-term inflammation of the membranes that line your nose and surrounding sinuses. This impedes your ability to drain mucus from your nose and sinuses.
Sinus pain is usually due to a cold-causing viral infection, but it can be due to noninfectious causes as well.
According to the American Rhinologic Society, more than 30 million people in the United States are diagnosed with sinusitis each year, and chronic sinusitis effects approximately 15% of the U.S. population and is one of the most common chronic illnesses in America.
Usually the infection develops quickly over a few days, and lasts a short time. Acute sinusitis often last a week or so but it is not unusual for it to last 2-3 weeks or longer.
How Did You Get Sinusitis?
In most people, acute sinusitis develops after a cold or flu-like illness. Colds and flu are caused by germs called viruses which may spread to the sinuses. The infection usually remains viral before clearing, causing a viral sinus infection. In a small number of cases, germs called bacteria add on to an infection that started with a virus. This can cause a bacterial sinus infection which can make the infection worse and last longer.
In some people, one or more factors are present that may cause the sinuses to be more prone to infection, including:
- Nasal allergy (allergic rhinitis). The allergy may cause swelling of the tissues on the inside lining of the nose and block the sinus drainage channels. This makes the sinuses more susceptible to infection. See separate leaflets that discuss allergic rhinitis, called Hay Fever and Persistent Rhinitis, for more details.
- Other causes of a blockage to the sinus drainage channels, such as:
- Growths (nasal polyps).
- Objects pushed into the nose (especially in children, such as peas or plastic beads).
- Facial injury or surgery.
- Certain congenital abnormalities in children. (‘Congenital’ means they are present from birth).
- Cystic fibrosis.
- A poor immune system – for example, people with HIV, people on chemotherapy, etc.
- Inflammatory disorders such as Wegener’s granulomatosis or sarcoidosis.
- Pregnancy, which makes you more prone to nasal inflammation (rhinitis).
- Rare tumors of the nose.
- Previous injuries to the nose or cheeks.
- Medical procedures such as ventilation or the insertion of a tube through the nose into the stomach (nasogastric tube).
Wait on the Antibiotics
According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA in 2012, for acute cases of sinusitis, antibiotics did little to reduce symptoms at three days of treatment and only provided small benefits at day seven. Quality of life improved over the 10-day treatment in patients receiving both placebo and the antibiotic;
… so don’t ask for antibiotics right away.
Antibiotics may not be effective in treating most cases of sinusitis. According to Spencer C. Payne, MD, an associate professor of otolaryngology – head and neck surgery at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, “Less than two percent of these infections are bacterial,” Payne says. “Most are viral and should be treated without antibiotics.”
Plus, as you probably know, using antibiotics indiscriminately can lead to antibiotic resistance and the development of superbugs.
Even if you do head to the doctor at the first sign of sinus pain, he or she may suggest a seven-day waiting period without antibiotics to see if you get better on your own.
The recently published guidelines in the National Institute For Health and Care Excellence (NICE) provide clear advice on managing people with sinusitis in different situations:
“People presenting with symptoms for around 10 days or fewer should not be offered an antibiotic prescription”.
The clinician should advise about –
- the usual course of acute sinusitis (2 to 3 weeks)
- an antibiotic not being needed;
- managing symptoms, including fever, with self-care
- seeking medical help if symptoms worsen rapidly or significantly, do not improve after three weeks, or they become systemically very unwell.
Do-It-Yourself Sinus Relief
You do not need normally need to use antibiotics, steroids, or anti-inflammatory medication for a simple sinus infection.
Several natural remedies are effective in treating the symptoms while boosting your immune system and protecting you from future infections.
Here Are the Most Effective Things You Can Do
Use a Neti Pot – It’s an Old Remedy That Works!
“There is a lot of debate about which sinus pain remedies work and what has been proven, but saline spray and washes like the neti pot are indisputable,” says Dr. Payne.
The process is needed only once per day at first. Lean over to one side while standing over the kitchen or bathroom sink. Pour the solution into the nostril facing upward; the water will then flow out the other side. Once you’re done with that side, repeat the same procedure for the other nostril.
While people often cringe at the thought, flushing the nasal passages is highly effective at relieving congestion, and it clears out germs, allergens, and debris. It can prevent infection as well.
Try This Neti Pot Method
A recommended method is to boil distilled water. Once it cools off, add ¼ teaspoon of sea salt and let it dissolve. You are then ready to use the neti pot, which can be found at most drug and health food stores.
This saline wash thins mucus and helps flush it out of the nasal passages. “Saline washes have been studied and proven to be effective, and should be the first line of defense against sinusitis,” Dr. Payne says. If you have sinus problems, Payne recommends daily use of a saline solution via the neti pot or other device to keep the sinuses moist, and to double up when you are fighting a cold or allergies.
Using a neti pot with a salt solution can eliminate some symptoms of chronic sinusitis, new research found. In fact, the study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal showed patients who used this old-school neti pot technique were able to maintain positive results over a six month period.
“In addition to improving sinus symptoms, headaches were reduced, there was less use of over-the-counter remedies, and people also said they were less likely to contact the doctor again for a future attack of sinusitis,” says Dr. Paul Little, lead author and a professor of medicine at the University of Southampton.
Bromelain Reduces Nasal Swelling
A study published in the U.S. Library of Medicine found that bromelain is a known supplement for relieving sinusitis symptoms, and is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent.
Sold as a supplement, bromelain is a protein found in pineapple stems. For years, it’s been used by prize fighters to reduce swelling.
“Bromelain appears to be beneficial and helps reduce swelling in the nasal passages,” says Robert Graham, MD, MPH, an internist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and assistant professor at the Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine.
A study by Penn State Medical Center found that bromelain can be used to treat a number of conditions, but it is particularly effective in reducing inflammation from infection and injuries, and may help reduce cough and nasal mucus associated with sinusitis.
Take a Ginger Supplement
A University of Miami study concluded that ginger extract could one day be a substitute to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The study compared the effects of a highly concentrated ginger extract to placebo in 247 patients with osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. The ginger reduced pain and stiffness in knee joints by 40 percent over the placebo.
What does this have to do with your sinus pain?
Much of that ache you feel is simply due to swelling and inflammation; by decreasing inflammation, you’ll notice a significant improvement in your pain and improved drainage.
“Research shows that ginger affects certain inflammatory processes at a cellular level,” says the study’s lead author, Roy Altman, MD, now at the University of California, Los Angeles.
What makes ginger so helpful? “Ginger has anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer and antioxidant activities, as well as a small amount of analgesic property,” says Roberta Lee, MD, vice chair of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.
Ginger – So Many Choices!
Choosing the most effective form of ginger may be the biggest challenge to reaping its rewards. Ginger comes in capsules, tinctures, teas, powders, oils and foods made from the dried or fresh root of the ginger plant.
While many forms of ginger boast health benefits, Dr. Lee says ginger capsules provide better benefits than other forms.
Although ginger tea smells wonderful and can certainly be soothing, ginger tea may not contain enough ginger to have an effect, says Dr. Altman.
Use a Humidifier
Dry air irritates the nasal passages and aggravates existing conditions like sinusitis.
The mucus discharge is also increased when the air is dry, which spells bad news for asthmatic people. Often, we do not realize that our increasing congestion or more frequent bouts of sinus headaches and facial aches is a result of being in an environment where humidity is very low or the air is dry.
One of the most common ways in which our environment loses necessary humidity is when we use heating systems within the home. Heaters suck the humidity from the air and make it dry, leading to irritated sinuses and resultant problems.
“Humidified air is good for sinusitis, especially in the winter,” agrees Amber Luong, MD, PhD, assistant professor of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. “Think of the mucus in your nose and sinuses as being like tears. If your tears were thick and sticky, they would not be able to flow from your eyes.”
A humidifier adds essential humidity to the air we breathe. This humid air is far healthier for those with chronic respiratory ailments such as asthma, allergies and sinus problems.
“Humidifiers can help nasal congestion in that they provide for more moisture and humidity within the nose,” says Mark A. Zacharek, MD, residency program director for the department of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. “The nose is supposed to provide humidity and warmth and and clean the air that passes through it. Forced heating systems in homes and workplaces often over-dry the nasal passages, aggravating allergies and sinusitis.”
Zacharek adds that the ideal level of humidity in a home is 35 to 40 percent — and you can measure humidity with a humidity gauge, which can be purchased at a hardware store or pharmacy. “Used correctly, vaporizers and humidifiers are equally effective,” he says.
Both humidifiers and vaporizers can get moisture into your nose and sinuses when they get dried out. The key to using humidity as part of your sinus treatment is to use your equipment properly and keep it safe and clean.
Hot water vapor can help moisten the sinuses. Sprinkle a few drops of eucalyptus or menthol in the shower and steam up your bathroom. A hot, steamy shower or bath can also help to loosen up mucus and debris that is stuck inside your nose,” says Sam S. Rizk, MD, a New York City-based ear, nose, and throat doctor and facial plastic surgeon.
Don’t Get Dehydrated
Staying hydrated helps your body in many ways, including keeping your sinuses moist. Drink water throughout the day, and make sure to steer clear of caffeinated or alcoholic drinks, which can cause dehydration.
Although recommended fluid intake differs from person to person, an easy guideline is to drink at around 8 8-ounce glasses a day. How can you tell if you are getting enough fluids? If the color of your urine is pale yellow or clear, you’re hydrated.
Use Spices With Heat
Consider adding some “hot” spices to your meals to open your nasal passages and clear your sinuses.
Some hot and spicy foods can relieve sinus congestion because they help to keep your mucous thin.
Pungent food compounds, like capsaicin in hot peppers, he finds, perform like conventional “mucokinetic” pharmaceuticals in breaking up phlegm, cleaning the lungs and opening up air passages; that is, they thin, regulate and propel mucus out of the lungs, much the way the expectorant drug guaifenesin does. Such hot foods are “nature’s Robitussin,” says Dr. Irwin Ziment, a professor of pulmonary medicine at the University of California School of Medicine at Los Angeles. “If you can’t accept these as foods, think of them as drugs.”
Foods with mucokinetic, or mucous-thinning activity, include chili peppers, garlic, horseradish, black pepper and curry spices. Other foods not normally considered spicy include mustard, onion and thyme.
Cayenne Chili Pepper Capsaicin is Potent and Proven
As the most potent member of a group of chemicals called capsaicinoids, capsaicin from cayenne chili peppers is an odorless, flavorless substance that is responsible for the burning sensation caused by chili peppers. Chili peppers are the fruits of plants belonging to the Capsicum genus.
According to Dr. Nicholas Perricone, M.D., chili peppers are “superfoods,” and capsaicin can relieve and prevent headaches as well as chronic sinus infections.
“Substance P (a neuopeptide) is the key transmitter of pain to the brain,” says Dr. Perricone. “In fact, Substance P is the body’s main mechanism for producing swelling and pain throughout the trigeminal nerve, which runs through the head, temple, and sinus cavity. When the nerve fibers come in contact with Substance P, they react by swelling – an effect that yields headaches and sinus symptoms. Clinical studies have shown that capsaicin, a compound in hot peppers, is extremely effective for relieving and preventing cluster headaches, migraine headaches, and sinus headaches.”
Capsaicin based sprays desensitize the mucous membranes in the nose, making them less irritated by airborne particles and quickly relieving symptoms of allergies and sinus congestion. By stimulating secretions to help clear mucus, these sprays prevent allergy triggers while keeping your nasal passages moist, clean, and free of bacteria.
According to Dr. Perricone:
“Capsaicin also possesses powerful antibacterial properties, and is very effective in fighting and preventing chronic sinus infections (sinusitis). This purely natural chemical will also clear out congested nasal passages like nothing else, and is helpful in treating sinus-related allergy symptoms. Small daily doses of capsaicin have even been shown to prevent chronic nasal congestion.”
Minimize Allergens in Your Home
Allergies can make sinus pain worse.
The latest guidelines from the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery call for controlling your home environment by getting rid of dust mites, installing an air filter system, using bedding with allergen-barriers, and keeping any pets out of the bedroom to help curb nasal allergies.
I have written a series of helpful articles in my other blog, Life Support, which provide detailed, practical information on making your home less allergenic:
- Is Your Indoor Air Making Your Allergies Worse?
- Signs That You Need to Check Your Indoor Air Quality
- Simple Steps to Ease Your Allergies at Home
- How to Safely Clean Away Mold in Your Home
It’s True –
Chicken Soup Has an Anti-Inflammatory Effect!
A 2000 study published in CHEST Journal, The Official Publication of the American College of Chest Physicians, states that:
Chicken soup may contain a number of substances with beneficial medicinal activity. A mild anti-inflammatory effect could be one mechanism by which the soup could result in the mitigation of symptomatic upper respiratory tract infections.
If you feel up to making it yourself, Martha Stewart has a terrific simple recipe for basic chicken soup.
Diagnosing Your Sinusitis
When to See Your Doctor
If you are still suffering after 10 days, or have become worse, check with your doctor.
Acute sinusitis can usually be diagnosed by your physician from listening to your typical symptoms. You may also be checked for a temperature, or for tenderness over your sinuses. Your doctor may also examine your nose, as often the lining of the nose is swollen in acute sinusitis.
If appropriate, your doctor will refer you to an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist.).
The otolaryngologist will perform a head and neck examination and may recommend a procedure called nasal endoscopy. Nasal endoscopy is an examination of the nasal cavity that is performed with a small, lighted telescope. It is an office-based procedure that is typically performed after applying a nasal decongestant and anesthetic spray.
Nasal endoscopy provides a detailed and extensive examination of the nasal cavity that may be necessary to identify the objective inflammatory findings needed to make a diagnosis of sinusitis.
Further investigations are not usually needed to diagnose acute sinusitis. Occasionally, blood tests, X-rays or scans are advised if the diagnosis is not clear.
If chronic sinusitis is suspected, but not clearly demonstrated on nasal endoscopy, your otolaryngologist may recommend a CT scan of sinuses to confirm the diagnosis.
Like the common cold, most cases of acute sinusitis are self-limited and will resolve in time. While you wait for it to clear up, make use of the treatments in this article that can make you more comfortable, which are available without a prescription.
The goals of self care are to manage pain, improve sinus drainage, and decrease congestion.
If you are still suffering after 10 days, or have become worse, check with your doctor.