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Acute and Chronic Sinusitis: Treatments and Home Remedies

Medical Treatments for Sinusitis

  • Antibiotics. If your doctor thinks that the cause of your sinusitis is a bacterial infection, he or she may prescribe antibiotics. For acute sinusitis, many people get a course of 10-14 days. For chronic sinusitis, a longer-term antibiotic might be necessary. However, remember that antibiotics only help with bacterial infections; they will not help with sinusitis caused by viruses or other problems. Some studies suggest that very few cases of sinusitis are actually caused by bacteria and that antibiotics are widely overused. 
  • Painkillers. Many people with sinusitis take over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to reduce discomfort. However, make sure to follow the instructions on the label, and don't take them for more than 10 days. 
  • Decongestants. OTC decongestants can help reduce the amount of mucus in the sinuses. Some are available as nasal sprays -- like Afrin and Dristan -- and others as pills -- like Contac and Sudafed. However, if you use nasal sprays for more than three days, they may actually start increasing your congestion. Oral decongestants shouldn't be used for more than a week.
  • Allergy medicines. Many cases of sinusitis are the result of uncontrolled allergies. If you've never been diagnosed with allergies, it might be worth doing some allergy testing to see if you have them. If you do have allergies, medication (like antihistamines) and better environmental control might help. Another option is to get allergy shots, a long-term treatment that gradually reduces your sensitivity to an allergen. 
  • Steroids. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe inhaled steroids to bring down the swelling in the sinus membranes. For tough cases of chronic sinusitis, oral steroids are also a possibility.
  • Surgery. Occasionally, when chronic sinusitis results from a physical blockage -- like a polyp -- surgery is the best choice. The surgeon can remove the blockage and enlarge the sinus passages, making it easier for them to drain.

Home Remedies: Treating and Preventing Sinusitis

While medicines can help, many cases of sinusitis -- perhaps as many as two out of three -- resolve on their own without any medical treatment. Here are some things that you can do on your own to relieve your discomfort. If you're prone to sinusitis, many of these same approaches will help you prevent it, too.

  • Humidify. Start using a humidifier in rooms where you spent a lot of time. Just make sure to follow the instructions for regular cleaning. If you use a dirty filter, you might be spraying mold into the air.
  • Breathe in steam vapors. You can either run the shower and sit in the bathroom or breathe deeply. The steam vapors may help reduce congested and swollen nasal passages.
  • Apply warm heat. Put a warm, wet towel on your face. It might help relieve some of the pressure.
  • Use a nasal saline solution. While they don't contain medicine, they can help keep your nasal passages moist.
  • Flush out your sinuses. Nasal irrigation -- with salt water -- can clear out mucus (and other debris) and keep your sinuses moist. There are a number of ways to do it, ranging from bulb syringes and neti pots to pricey irrigation systems. Use distilled, sterile, or previously boiled water to make up the irrigation solution. It’s also important to rinse the irrigation device after each use and leave open to air dry.
  • Drink lots of fluids. They'll help thin the mucus, reducing the blockage in your sinuses. However, cut down on your alcohol -- it can actually worsen the swelling.
  • Rest. When you've got a sinus infection, try not to overdo it. Get plenty of sleep and give your body a chance to recover. 
  • Don't overuse OTC medicines. Decongestants and painkillers can help up to a point. Just remember that overusing some of these medicines can actually make your symptoms worse.

While home treatments may be enough for some people with sinusitis, they won't work in all cases. So if you've had sinus symptoms for more than a few days -- or they're particularly severe -- go see your doctor. Remember that the sooner you start the right treatment for your sinus problems, the sooner you'll feel better again.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on August 04, 2012

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