How to Treat Nasal Congestion and Sinus Pressure

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on February 15, 2023
4 min read

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.

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.

Keep nasal passages moist

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 water that’s been boiled and cooled to make the irrigation solution. Rinse the irrigation device after each use and let it air dry.
  • Use a bioelectronic sinus device. The device is placed on the face and uses microcurrents to stimulate nerves and help reduce pain and congestion.
  • Place 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.

Blow your nose the right way: Gently into a disposable tissue so you don’t spread germs and you don’t force mucus into your ears or other parts of your sinuses. Block one nostril while you blow through the other. Wash your hands afterward.

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, Nostrilla, Vicks Sinus Nasal Spray), or phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine, Rhinall, Sinex). They also come as pills, such as phenylephrine (Sudafed PE and others) and pseudoephedrine (Sudafed).

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. Also, they can raise your blood pressure, so check with your doctor first if you have any health issues or take other medicines. Never give decongestants or any over-the-counter cold medicine to children under age 4. 

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 some multi-symptom cold medicines, 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 to your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions.

Steroid nasal sprays. These can also help with allergy stuffiness. Ask your doctor if you should use ones that you can buy without a prescription. They can take a couple of days to kick in, so start them before you have symptoms and use them throughout your allergy season. 

Menthol. Medicated ointments that have this or camphor in them can help you breathe better. You can rub them on your chest or upper lip. You can also buy types that you place in warm water and breathe in the vapor, which helps open up your airways.

Pain relievers. Although they 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.

Your sinuses and ears are connected inside your head. So sinus congestion and stuffiness can affect the pressure in your ears. Treating sinus congestion may help. Other tips include: 

No fast movements. Don’t stand up too quickly or shake your head fast. 

Avoid caffeine, salt, alcohol, and tobacco products. These can affect your circulation, and minor changes in blood flow can affect your ears. 

Avoid extreme temperatures. They can make sinus-related ear problems worse. If your ears bother you, it isn’t the time to go jogging on a hot day or build a snow fort with the kids.

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