7 Home Remedies for Sinus Infections That Actually Work
Don't deal with sinus pressure any longer than you need to.
Fall doesn't just bring sweater weather and pumpkin spice everything, it brings the perfect conditions for sniffles, sneezes, and—the worst—sinus infections. (See also: How to Relieve Sinus Pressure Once and for All)
"Sinus infections occur when bacteria, allergens, or other irritants cause the lining of the sinuses and nasal cavity to become inflamed, which can obstruct the drainage pathway for the mucus that's naturally produced in the sinuses," says Abbas Anwar, M.D., an otolaryngologist (ENT) at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. "As that mucus builds up, it can become infected."
Typical symptoms of a sinus infection include facial pressure and pain around your nose and eyes, post-nasal drip, and nasal congestion/stuffiness—basically, the perfect recipe to make you miserable.
In most cases, sinus infections are viral, says Dr. Anwar. Treatment typically includes over-the-counter products like Flonase, a nasal steroid, Sudafed, an oral decongestant, and pain relievers like Tylenol, he adds, and most symptoms usually resolve in about one to two weeks.
But you may have a bacterial infection if your symptoms don't improve after around seven days. "At this point, I suggest visiting a doctor as you may need an antibiotic to help fight off the sinus infection," Dr. Anwar says.
In the meantime, try one of these at-home remedies for sinus infections to relieve the worst of the symptoms.
1. Stay Hydrated
The most important thing you can do when you're sick? Stay hydrated—and that's especially relevant with a sinus infection. "Drinking fluids will keep your mucous membranes moist and allow them to function properly," says Anthony Kouri, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Toledo Medical Center. It also thins out mucus and helps the sinuses drain properly to relieve the pressure from a build-up.
You've probably heard the "eight cups of water a day" rule, and the Institute of Medicine actually recommends that women get about 11 cups of water per day. Everyone is different, and your hydration level depends on things like your sex, activity level, and diet. Pay attention to signs of dehydration—like the color of your pee—to make sure you're drinking enough.
2. Try a Nasal Rinse
The easiest way to find sinus relief at home is with a nasal rinse. "Nasal rinses help loosen up and dislodge mucus and bacteria in your sinuses," says Dr. Anwar. You know what a neti pot is, right? It looks like a little teapot, but that long spout is actually used to push liquid through and out your nasal passages.
"This helps the cilia (hair-like structures in the nasal passage) work more efficiently to remove irritants from the nasal passage," says Dr. Kouri. As the liquid flows through your sinuses, it flushes any allergens, bacteria, and mucus blocking the passage.
You can get a neti pot online or over the counter at drug stores, and it's super simple to use: Mix about 16 ounces of lukewarm water with 1 teaspoon of salt and pour it into the pot. Tilt your head over the sink at about a 45-degree angle, place the spout into your top nostril, and slowly pour the saline solution into that nostril; it will flow through your sinuses and out the other nostril. (Buy it, $17, amazon.com)
3. Take a Steamy Shower
Remember, with a sinus infection, it's crucial to keep the nasal passages moist—if they dry out, your symptoms could feel even worse. "The steam from a long, hot shower moistens nasal passages," says Lindsey Elmore, a board-certified pharmacist. Not for nothing, standing under that hot water "may also help you to relax," she adds—which can certainly make you feel better after dealing with sinus symptoms.
You can get the same effect by breathing in steam from a hot bowl, Elmore adds. Boil half a gallon of water and add three spoons of sea salt to it, then let it cool a bit. Drape a towel around your head, then lean over the bowl and inhale as long as there's steam. (Make sure to let it cool; you don't want to add facial burns to the symptoms you're struggling with.)
4. Use a Warm Compress
When you're suffering from the agonizing sinus pressure that can come with a sinus infection, a more direct way of delivering steam and heat to your face might be a better option. "The moisture and heat that come with using a warm compress on your face will help to soothe your sinus inflammation and can help to open the sinus outflow tracts," says Dr. Anwar. It's essentially the same mechanism as a hot shower or inhaling steam from a bowl, you just might feel relief a bit faster.
5. Turn On a Humidifier
Because it's impossible to spend the entire time you're sick in a hot shower or with your head over a steaming bowl, invest in a good humidifier. "Dry air tends to dry out the mucus in your nasal passages, and that drying out of the mucus makes it difficult for the sinuses to drain out," says Arti Madhaven, M.D., of Detroit Medical Center Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital—and that can totally exacerbate your symptoms. "Humidifiers assist in keeping the mucus membrane moist and prevent the secretions from becoming thick" and blocking up the sinus passages, he adds. And the faster the mucus can move through those passages, the less time there is for bacteria to grow. (Buy Kendall Jenner's favorite humidifier on Amazon for $57 or this slightly cheaper option for $40.)
6. Try Aromatherapy
There isn't a lot of research out there about how essential oils help sinus infections, but research has shown that they help reduce inflammation and relieve pain, says Dr. Kouri. "Peppermint oil contains menthol, which has a cooling effect when inhaled, and it may also affect the mucus receptors in the nose and help open the airways," he adds. "And eucalyptus oil contains a compound called cineole, which may help improve headaches, nasal obstruction, and a runny nose."
"Thyme essential oil has been shown to kill bacteria that can cause sinus pressure and infection, and it's also anti-inflammatory," says Elmore. Meanwhile, "lavender and eucalyptus may also increase ciliary beat frequency, which may help the tiny hairs in your nose clear mucus from nasal passages." Try adding an essential oil to your humidifier or a bowl of steaming water, or add a few drops to your hot compress. (Or buy one of these aromatherapy diffusers that double as tasteful decor and stock up on the best essential oils you can buy on Amazon.)
7. Elevate Your Head at Night
Your end goal with a sinus infection is to get your sinuses back to flowing properly. But "sleeping in a flat position will allow your mucus to build up and block your passages," explains Jocelyn Nadua, a registered practical nurse and care coordinator at C-Care Health Services. On top of that, at night, air tends to be drier, and—yep, repeating this again—any decrease in moisture can be aggravating to the airways. Prop your head up on a couple pillows to create an angle that makes it easier for everything in your sinuses and nasal passageways to keep moving.