How to Treat Nasal Congestion and Sinus Pressure

Nasal congestion and sinus pressure have many causes: colds, the flu, and allergies to name a few. Whatever your triggers are, the symptoms can get to you.

What’s actually causing that stuffed-up feeling? When you’ve got a cold or allergies, the membranes lining your nasal passages become inflamed and irritated. They begin to make more mucus to flush out whatever causes the irritation, such as an allergen.

Use these tips to feel better and breathe easier.

Home Treatments

When you’re stuffed up, focus on keeping your nasal passages and sinuses moist. Although people sometimes think that dry air might help clear up a runny nose, it actually has the opposite effect. Drying out the membranes will irritate them further.

To keep your nasal passages moist, you can:

  • Use a humidifier or vaporizer.
  • Take long showers or breathe in steam from a pot of warm (but not too hot) water.
  • Drink lots of fluids. This will thin out your mucus, which could help prevent blocked sinuses.
  • Use a nasal saline spray. It’s salt water, and it will help keep your nasal passages from drying out.
  • Try a Neti pot, nasal irrigator, or bulb syringe. Use distilled, sterile water or H2O that’s been boiled to make up the irrigation solution. Rinse the irrigation device after each use and let it air dry.
  • Sit a warm, wet towel on your face. It may relieve discomfort and open your nasal passages.
  • Prop yourself up. At night, lie on a couple of pillows. Keeping your head elevated may make breathing more comfortable.
  • Avoid chlorinated pools. They can irritate your nasal passages.

OTC Medicines

These drugs don’t need a prescription and can help tame your symptoms:

Decongestants . These medicines help reduce the swelling in your nasal passages and ease the stuffiness and sinus pressure. They come as nasal sprays, like naphazoline (Privine), oxymetazoline (Afrin, Dristan, Duramist), or phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine, Sinex, Rhinall). They also come as pills, such as phenylephrine (Lusonal, Sudafed PE, Sudogest PE, and others) and pseudoephedrine (Sudafed, Sudogest).

Follow the directions for using them. Don’t use a decongestant you take by mouth for more than a week without checking with your doctor. You shouldn’t use a decongestant nasal spray for more than 3 days, or it could make your congestion worse. Never give decongestants or any over-the-counter cold medicine to children under age 4.

Continued

Antihistamines . If allergies are behind your nasal congestion and sinus pressure, controlling them will ease your symptoms. Look for allergy medications that have an antihistamine to relieve sniffling and sneezing along with a decongestant for congestion and sinus pressure.

You may also find antihistamines in cold medicine, which can help a runny nose and sneezing. You'll usually find them in nighttime cold medicine, because they can make you sleepy. Read and follow the label, and talk your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions.

Pain relievers. Although they’re won’t clear up congestion, pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen can ease the pain caused by sinus pressure. Follow the dosing instructions on the label.

When to See Your Doctor

Check in with her if you have nasal congestion and sinus pressure for more than 7 days. Make the call sooner if your symptoms are severe.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Luqman Seidu, MD on January 23, 2016

Sources

American Academy of Family Physician’s FamilyDoctor.org web site: “Sinusitis,” “Decongestants: OTC Relief for Congestion.”

American Academy of Otolaryngology web site: “Fact Sheet: Sinus Headaches,” “Fact Sheet: Sinus Pain: Can Over-the-Counter Medications Help?”

FDA web site: “FDA Statement Following CHPA's Announcement on Nonprescription Over-the-Counter Cough and Cold Medicines in Children."

Journal of the American Medical Association web site: “Patient Page: Acute Sinusitis.”

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases web site: “Sinus Infection (Sinusitis): “Prevention.”

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database web site: “Natural Medicines in the Clinical Management of Cold and Flu.”

Natural Standard web site: “Common Cold,” “Influenza.”

WebMD Medical Reference: “Home Remedies for Fast Flu Relief.”

WebMD Medical Reference: “Neti Pots.”

Medline Plus: "Allergy."

CDC. 

© 2016 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Pagination