At some point, most of us have experienced sinus pain and pressure — and know just how unpleasant it can be. Fortunately, there are many natural sinus pain remedies that can offer relief, whether your symptoms are due to the common cold, allergies, or a sinus infection (sinusitis).
The sinuses are hollow pockets within the bones surrounding the nose. They produce mucus, which drains into the nose. If your nose is swollen due to inflammation, it can block the sinuses and cause pain, congestion, cough, post-nasal drip, and sometimes tooth or facial pain. Sinusitis can be acute — lasting up to four weeks usually after a cold — or chronic, lasting for months or even years. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, allergies, nasal problems, and certain conditions, such as cystic fibrosis, can also cause acute and chronic sinusitis.
Try these 10 natural remedies for sinus pain relief to help break the sinus pain cycle:
1. Flush your nasal passages. “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 Spencer C. Payne, MD, an associate professor of rhinology and endoscopic sinus surgery at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. A 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,” says Dr. Payne. 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.
In addition, some evidence suggests that Dead Sea salt irrigations and sprays are as effective as topical nasal steroids for sinusitis. A study in a 2012 issue of the International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology found that Dead Sea salt sprays provide improvement in symptoms and quality of life for people with sinusitis, and appear to be as effective as steroids and other saline solutions.
2. Try bromelain. Sold as a supplement, bromelain is a protein found in pineapple stems and has been used by prize fighters to reduce swelling for years. Some research suggests bromelain can also speed recovery of acute sinusitis. “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. Just be sure to talk to your doctor first, as bromelain may interact with any other medications you’re taking. And be sure to follow exact dosing instructions.
3. Take a steam. Hot water vapor can help moisten the sinuses. “Sprinkle a few drops of eucalyptus or menthol in the shower and steam up your bathroom,” Dr. Graham suggests. “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.
4. Drink up. 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, Graham says. Although recommended fluid intake differs for each person, an easy rule of thumb is to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses a day. How can you tell if you are getting enough fluids? “If the color of your urine is clear, you are hydrated,” says Graham.
5. Spice it up. Spicy foods such as mustard, hot peppers, curry, horseradish, and wasabi may help clear sinuses, says Graham. If you like spice, consider adding some zestiness to your meals to open your nasal passages.
6. Allergy-proof your bedroom. Allergies can make sinus pain worse and tend to flare in the evening hours. Keep allergies out of the bedroom by using dust covers on your pillows and comforter and making sure that your pet doesn’t sleep in the bedroom, says Satish Govindaraj, MD, an assistant professor of otolaryngology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
7. Use a humidifier. A humidifier can keep the air moist, but be sure to keep it clean, especially if you have mold allergies, says Dr. Govindaraj. A dirty humidifier can breed mold. And you should only use a humidifier during dry months, not when it’s humid. In addition, keep an eye on the humidity level in the room, Dr. Payne adds. “Thirty-five to 50 percent humidity is ideal. If you start fogging the windows, the humidity level is too high.”
8. Apply warm compresses. “You can use a warm compress to help keep the nasal tissues moist. Or, fill a deep bowl or pot with boiling water and place your face over it with a towel around your head to breathe the steam in,” says Dr. Rizk. You can also follow up the warm compress with a cold compress, which may help relieve sinus pain.
9. Don’t ask for antibiotics before giving natural remedies a try. Using antibiotics indiscriminately can lead to antibiotic resistance and the development of superbugs, plus they may not be effective in treating most cases of sinusitis. A study in the February 15, 2012 Journal of the American Medical Association showed that when adults with sinusitis were treated with either a 10-day course of the antibiotic amoxicillin or a placebo, both groups fared about the same in terms of recovery by day three. “Less than 2 percent of these infections are bacterial. Most are viral and should be treated without antibiotics,” says Payne.
10. Know when to see the doctor. “If the sinus pain does not improve with over-the-counter help, your doctor can perform a CT scan of the nose and sinuses to look for anatomical blockages that can be treated surgically, such as a deviated nasal septum or nasal polyps,” Rizk says. If sinus pain lasts for a week or more and you have a fever, you should see an ear, nose and throat specialist, because you may need more aggressive treatment than natural remedies provide.