From nasal lavage to pineapple enzymes, these time-honored home treatments can help ease the misery.
While some ailments are decidedly seasonal, sinus mayhem does not discriminate. Winter flu, spring and fall allergies, summer colds … they all seem to beckon the sinuses into painful states of congestion, inflammation and infection. And honestly, few common maladies are as aggravating as angry sinuses. At their best they’re a nuisance; at their worst, sinus conditions bring painful pressure to the entire face – ice picks in the eyes and oral surgery without Novocain come to mind. Not fun.
Antibiotics may be called upon if you’ve got a bacterial infection, but it’s best to avoid the indiscriminate use of antibiotics, and they are not all that effective in treating sinus problems anyway. A 2012 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that when adults with sinusitis were given either a 10-day course of amoxicillin or a placebo, both groups felt equal recovery by the third day. Which leaves questionable over-the-counter chemical concoctions and their often-uncomfortable side effects … or the better choice, natural remedies. Here’s what you can try:
1. Leverage lavage (AKA the sinus rinse)
Nasal lavage is the act of rinsing your nasal passages – and as undelicious as that may sound to the uninitiated, it works. You can use a specially designed squeeze bottle or a neti pot with a simple homemade saline solution. The FDA notes that, “nasal rinsing can remove dirt, dust, pollen and other debris, as well as help to loosen thick mucus. It can also help relieve nasal symptoms of allergies, colds and flu.” While different devices may vary slightly, the basic how-to is:
- Lean over a sink with your head tilted sideways (and your forehead and chin roughly level to avoid a mouthful of salt water).
- Breath through your mouth, put the spout of the saline-filled container into your upper nostril and pour, allowing the mixture to drain through the lower nostril.
- Clear your nostrils, then repeat with the other nostril with your head tilted the other way.
Few experts argue the efficacy of nasal lavage. That said, there are some precautions to take. If you make your own rinse, absolutely use water that is distilled, sterile, previously boiled and cooled, or filtered using a filter with an absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller. Do not use straight tap water. And be sure to rinse the device with contaminant-free water and allow it to air dry.
2. Start steamingSteam can go far in moistening the sinuses and loosening the muck that is taking up residence there. “Sprinkle a few drops of eucalyptus or menthol in the shower and steam up your bathroom,” advises Robert Graham MD, MPH, an internist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. If you need relief and it isn’t shower time, fill the sink or a bowl with piping hot water and drape a towel over your head as your breathe in the steam. Steam for 10 minutes, two to four times a day.
3. Send in the cloudsBy way of humidifier, that is. If the air in your living space is dry, adding moisture to it can really help with the sinuses; they don’t like it too dry – but it shouldn’t be moist enough inside to fog up the windows. And be sure to follow instructions for regular cleaning – a fine mist of moist mold is not what you want.
4. Bring on the bromelainBromelain is a proteolytic enzyme (one that breaks down protein) found in pineapple. (It’s the reason you can’t put fresh pineapple in Jell-O; it digests the protein and won’t allow it to set. Impress your friends with that one.) It has been used in Central and South America for centuries for indigestion and reducing inflammation, and was approved by the German Commission E to treat swelling and inflammation after surgery, particularly sinus surgery. As a supplement it is used to treat a variety of conditions, particularly effective in reducing inflammation from infection and injuries, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Bromelain may help reduce cough and nasal mucus associated with sinusitis, and relieve the swelling and inflammation caused by hay fever, the Medical Center notes. If you plan on trying bromelain, check with your health care provider first since it may interact with other medications.
5. Have some herbsThe American Academy of Otolaryngology notes that Chinese herbalists use magnolia flower as a remedy for clogged sinus and nasal passages. “In conjunction with other herbs, such as angelica, mint, and chrysanthemum,” they write, “it is often recommended for upper respiratory tract infections and sinus headaches, although its effectiveness for these problems has not been scientifically confirmed.”
6. Stay hydratedNumber one rule when you’re sick: Drink plenty of fluids. The same goes for when you have sinus trouble. Hydration helps the body in numerous ways, and is good for sore sinuses. The Mayo Clinic recommends drinking a lot of water to, “help dilute mucous secretions and promote drainage.” But they also warn: “Avoid beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol, as they can be dehydrating. Drinking alcohol can also worsen the swelling of the lining of the sinuses and nose.”
7. Sip soupIn this case, grandma was right. According to The New York Times, chicken soup actually does help with congestion. And while they note that the hot steam from the soup may be the reason, studies show that there may be actual anti-inflammatory effects from the ingredients in the soup. But with the steam factor in mind, you can also benefit from other hot beverages – ginger tea or hot tea with honey and lemon are both steamy, soothing options.
8. Go spicyYou know how spicy foods hit the mouth and nose and open everything up? The New York Times notes that foods that contain hot peppers or horseradish may help clear sinuses; others also confirm that spicy foods like mustard, curry, and wasabi may help clear sinuses.
9. Commence compressingA hot compress across your sinuses will help to relieve pain. The American Academy of Otolaryngology recommends alternating a hot compress for three minutes with a cold compress for 30 seconds. Repeat three times per treatment, and do it two to six times a day.
And last but not least, a word to the wise. Get thee to a doctor immediately if you have symptoms that may be a sign of a serious infection, including: Pain or swelling around your eyes: swollen forehead; severe headache; confusion; double vision or other vision changes; stiff neck; or shortness of breath.