Sinus infections, also called sinusitis, are one of the most common reasons for visits to medical professionals. They are also a common reason antibiotics are prescribed, although many are viral in nature.
They can happen anytime there is fluid build-up in your sinuses which allows viruses and bacteria to grow.
There are some things you can do at home to help remedy your sinus infection without seeking medical attention.
In this article, I’ll go over what a sinus infection is and potential causes. I’ll also cover what you can do at home to treat your sinus infection. Lastly, I’ll discuss when it’s time to see a medical professional about your sinus infection.
What Is a Sinus Infection?
Behind your cheekbones, eyes, and forehead, you have six small sacks that fill with air when you breathe called your sinuses. Your sinuses are responsible for filtering the air you breathe before it enters your lungs.
Healthy sinuses have no viruses or bacteria in them. They can drain mucus easily, and air can flow freely through them.
A sinus infection is when mucus builds up in the sinuses creating an environment where viruses and bacteria thrive. As a result, the lining of the sinuses become inflamed and swollen.
Common symptoms of a sinus infection include:
- Stuffy nose
- Runny nose
- Loss of smell and sometimes taste
- Facial pressure
- A general feeling of unwell and fatigue
- Post-nasal drip (mucus dripping down the throat)
- Cough, sometimes worse at night
- Sore throat
- Bad breath
There are several causes of sinus infections:
- Allergies or a cold may cause too much mucus in the sinuses
- The tiny hairs (cilia) in the sinuses fail to move mucus out properly
- A nasal bone spur, nasal polyp, or deviated septum may block proper mucus and air flow
When your sinuses aren’t draining correctly, it is common for viruses to cause an infection.
To diagnose your sinus infection, your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and how long you’ve had them. Then, they will perform a physical exam and check your ears, nose, and throat.
For recurring sinus infections, your medical provider may refer you for more testing, such as a nasal endoscopy to view the inside of the sinuses.
In addition, imaging tests such as CT scans and MRI can check the internal structure of the sinuses and see any problems with bones or other surrounding tissues.
Home Remedies for Sinus Infections
With natural remedies, starting treatment early is always best to avoid letting the sickness get stronger.
Drinking plenty of water and other liquids such as hot herbal teas and broths helps your mucus stay thin.
When the mucus is thicker, it becomes more sticky and difficult to drain. Thinner mucus is not as sticky and can drain more easily.
Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages as these can have a dehydrating effect on you.
Eat foods with antibacterial properties
There are several spices, herbs, and foods that have antimicrobial properties, which can help fight off sickness. Try eating dishes that incorporate these items:
Fruits and vegetables
- Brussels sprouts
- Citrus fruits
One option to thin your mucus is inhaling steam. To set up a steam treatment, add hot water to a bowl; then, lean over the bowl with a towel covering your head, trapping the steam inside.
Add peppermint, chamomile, or menthol to the water if desired. Do a steam treatment two to four times a day if possible.
Another way to inhale steam is to sit in the bathroom while a hot shower is running. This method is not as concentrated, however.
Humidifiers and vaporizers in your home can help keep your sinus more moist.
Nasal sprays use saline (salt water) to help loosen mucus and reduce swelling in the sinuses. These saline solutions are available at most drug stores in ready-to-use spray bottles.
Be sure to use only one irrigation bottle per person in your home and discard the container according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Use a neti pot
Neti pots look like little teapots with long spouts and are used to rinse the sinuses. Research shows these pots are safe and effective when used correctly.
The Food and Drug Association (FDA) has laid out some safety steps to follow when using them:
- First, only use distilled, sterile water to rinse your sinuses. If you use tap water, boil it for four minutes and allow it to cool to lukewarm before using it.
- Second, follow the instructions of the manufacturer. Not all neti pots are the same. After use, the neti pot should be cleaned correctly and allowed to dry.
- Third, make sure the neti pot is the correct size for the person that is going to be using it.
Warm and cold compresses
Using cold and warm compresses on your face can help your sinuses. Rotate between a warm and cold compress.
For this treatment, lay back with a warm compress resting across your nose, cheeks, and forehead for about three minutes. Then, replace the warm compress with a cold one and leave it in place for about 30 seconds.
Repeat this two to three times each session. You can do about six sessions a day.
Your body works hard fighting off the invading virus when you are sick, so allow your body to have plenty of rest.
Quality sleep is also essential. To get good quality sleep, go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
Some medications can bring relief from symptoms but do not speed up recovery.
The following medications can reduce sinus swelling and make breathing easier, which can help you get to sleep:
- Decongestant nasal sprays and drops
These medications start working fairly quickly, but if used for longer than three days can begin to have the opposite effect.
It should also be noted that some decongestants can cause dizziness. Stop taking them right away if this happens.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Seek medical attention if you have:
- Symptoms that get worse after a short improvement
- Severe symptoms such as facial pain or headache
- Symptoms lasting ten days or more without improvement
- A fever lasting longer than 3-4 days
- Multiple sinus infections in the past year
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Antibacterial and antifungal activities of spices. (2017.)
Food safety through natural antimicrobials. (2019.)
Get plenty of sleep. (2022.)
Is rinsing your sinuses with a neti pot safe? (2021.)
Sinus infection (Sinusitis). (2019.)
Treating acute sinusitis. (2018.)