Sinusitis is common. But many people who have it use treatments that aren't likely to help. So before you run to the drugstore, you’ll want to be sure you know how to handle this condition.
The sinuses are small cavities in the skull that are normally filled with air. They make mucus, which helps keep the nasal passages clear of allergens and pollutants.
Sinusitis is an inflammation of the tissue that lines these cavities. In some cases, this swelling blocks off the sinuses, trapping mucus and air inside them. This can cause pain and pressure. Sometimes, it can lead to a bacterial infection.
Do you know the two types of sinusitis?
Acute vs. Chronic
Acute sinusitis lasts up to 4 weeks.
Chronic sinusitis lasts at least several weeks and can linger for years. Its cause can be hard to pin down -- and hard to treat.
Sinusitis might start because of a cold or allergies. Fungus can cause it for people who have weak immune systems.
Sometimes, chronic sinusitis is due to problems with the structure of the nasal passages, or a growth such as a nasal polyp that keeps the sinuses from draining normally.
Acute and chronic sinusitis have similar symptoms:
- Facial pressure and pain
- Thick discolored mucus
If you have symptoms for more than a couple of days, check in with your doctor. With a good exam -- and sometimes imaging tests, like X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs -- you may be able to figure out exactly what's causing the problem.
Often, the best sinusitis treatment is a combination of different approaches -- typically medication plus self-care.
Antibiotics . If your doctor thinks a bacterial infection is to blame, he may prescribe antibiotics. For acute sinusitis, you typically take them for 10-14 days. For chronic sinusitis, it might be longer.
Antibiotics only help with bacterial infections. They won’t help if your sinusitis is caused by viruses or other problems. Some studies suggest that bacteria cause very few cases of the condition and that antibiotics are widely overused.
Painkillers. Many people with sinusitis take over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to ease discomfort. Follow the instructions on the label, and don't take them for more than 10 days. Check with your doctor to see which one is right for you.
Decongestants . These meds lower the amount of mucus in the sinuses. Some are available as nasal sprays. Others are pills. If you use decongestant nasal sprays for more than 3 days, they may actually make you more congested. Follow the instructions on the label.
Allergy medicines. Many cases of sinusitis are due to 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, medication (like antihistamines) and avoiding your triggers will help. Another option is to get allergy shots, a long-term treatment that gradually makes you less sensitive to the things that set off your symptoms.
Surgery. Occasionally, if you have chronic sinusitis or acute sinusitis that keeps coming back, an operation may be the best choice. The surgeon can remove blockages and enlarge the sinus passages, which makes it easier for them to drain.
While medicines can help, many cases of sinusitis go away on their own without any medical treatment. If you often get the condition, many of these same approaches will help you prevent it, too.
Humidify. Use a humidifier in rooms where you spend a lot of time. Follow the instructions for regular cleaning.
Breathe in steam vapors. You can either run the shower and sit in the bathroom, or breathe in steam from a bowl of warm (but not too hot) water. The steam vapors ease congested and swollen nasal passages.
Use warm heat. Put a warm, wet towel on your face. It can take off some of the pressure.
Try a nasal saline solution. While they don't contain medicine (saline is salt water), 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. You can use bulb syringes or neti pots, for example. Use distilled, sterile, or previously boiled water to make up the irrigation solution. Rinse the device after each use and let it air dry.
Drink lots of fluids. They'll help thin the mucus, which reduces the blockage in your sinuses. Cut down on alcohol, which makes the swelling worse.
Rest. When you've got a sinus infection, take it easier than normal. Get plenty of sleep and give your body a chance to recover.
Home treatments may do the trick for some people. But call your doctor if you've had sinus symptoms for more than a few days or if they're really bad. The sooner you start the right treatment, the sooner you'll feel better again.