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Home remedies for sinus problems

If you have sinusitis, you may visit a doctor only to learn there’s not much they can do for you. They usually recommend taking over the counter medications (decongestants, maybe antihistamines) and generally taking good care of yourself.

These are a few home remedies for sinus problems that have helped me over the years. And of course, let’s state right up front that this article is not medical information, and you should consult a doctor if you have any questions.

Defining sinus problems

Sinusitis

Sinusitis is any kind of congestion, post-nasal drip, or runny nose situation that’s bothering you. It can also make your ears feel stopped up.

We need a healthy amount of clear mucus running freely to keep our immune systems functioning. Sinusitis generally means you’re manufacturing too much mucus, or it’s too thick and therefore not flowing well.

You can also have swollen sinus linings – even in your cheekbone (maxillary) sinuses sometimes. Sometimes your only symptom is facial pain.

Glass of orange juice surrounded by oranges

And sometimes it’s not a mucus issue. It’s just an allergy or irritant causing the membrane linings to swell, which blocks air and mucus flow.

In this case, sometimes your best option is to take an anti-inflammatory like Advil or aspirin (consult a doctor to find out what’s the best over-the-counter painkiller for you).

Sniffing salt water (explained below) several times a day can also help to moisturize dry sinus passages and get the mucus flowing again.

Sinus Infection

A sinus infection is more specific: it comes from bacteria or fungus getting into your sinuses and starting an infection. Sinus infections usually require antibiotics from a doctor. 

Once the antibiotics clear out the bacteria or fungus, things get back to normal. In the meantime, some home remedies can help with congestion relief while you wait for the antibiotics to do their thing.

Recommended by doctors

All of these tips came to me from doctors. Sometimes I was advised to do these things in addition to taking antibiotics. Sometimes I was told I didn’t need antibiotics and should just do these home remedies on their own. But consult your own doctor – I’m just passing along what I’ve been told.

  1. Sniff saline nasal mist. I used to recommend using a neti pot, but not since reading about multiple people who got brain-eating amoebas from using them. Now I recommend a saline nasal spray to moisturize and get things flowing again.
  2. Breathing steam. Humidity is helpful both in breaking up the congestion and helping your immune system clean out any bacteria or fungus. You can breathe steam in a shower, or run the hottest possible tap water into a plugged-up bathroom sink, then tent a towel over your head to keep the steam in, and breathe.
  3. Drink lots of water and ditch caffeinated drinks. Dehydration can cause sinusitis. You can get it either by not drinking enough or by drinking too much caffeine which tends to dehydrate. Surprisingly, I’ve found eating too little salt can also lead to dehydration. But don’t increase your salt if you’re on a low-salt diet from a doctor’s advice.
  4. Garlic. Garlic naturally fights both bacteria and fungus, but it’s not as full-on replacement for antibiotics. Take garlic capsules or make hot steamy broths with garlic and drink them. This is my Cold Fighting Broth recipe – it uses hot sauce along with garlic powder and onion powder, which also helps break up congestion.
  5. Echinacea and Goldenseal. Yes, some mainstream MDs recommend this herbal combination. Studies have found mixed results from “helps a small amount” to “doesn’t help at all.” They are generally safe but some people are allergic, so please read the linked article for advice on symptoms to watch out for.
  6. Vitamin C. There is so much debate about this one, too. For years, we’ve heard that Vitamin C can help you fight off colds. More recent studies indicate it doesn’t. In the case of sinusitis, which is not the same as a cold, you’ll have to be the judge of whether it works for you.
  7. Over the counter medicine. The main trick with over the counter sinus meds is getting the right ones at the right time. If you get it wrong, you can go from a terminal runny nose to dried out sinuses or from massive congestion to brutal post-nasal drip. Pay close attention to your symptoms and read the backs of your medicine boxes/bottles to see what they’re supposed to do for you. As your symptoms shift, you may have to switch to a different medication to get the desired results. Remember: if you have an infection, you probably need antibiotics.