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Sinus drainage

You know the feeling. Your nose is either plugged or like a leaky faucet, and your head feels like it’s in a vise. It feels better to keep your eyes closed because they’re puffy and sore. And your throat feels like you swallowed nails.

Sinus problems can be uncomfortable. However, there are effective remedies, from chicken soup to compresses, that you can use to alleviate the pain and discomfort of sinus issues.

Drink fluids and run a humidifier or vaporizer. Why is this important? Fluids and humidification help to thin mucous and drain your sinuses. They also lubricate your sinuses and keep your skin hydrated.

Find humidifiers and vaporizers on Amazon.com.

Nasal irrigation is very effective at relieving nasal congestion and irritation. Saline irrigation simply means gently flushing out your nasal passages with a saline solution. You can do this with special squeeze bottles, bulb syringes, or a neti pot.

A neti pot is an inexpensive apparatus that looks like Aladdin’s lamp. The saline mixture is available prepackaged. You can also make your own by following these steps:

  • Dissolve 1 teaspoon of sea salt or pickling salt in 1 pint of distilled, sterilized, or filtered water. Don’t use table salt, which usually contains additives.
  • Add a pinch of baking soda to the mixture.

You will want to irrigate your sinuses while standing over a sink or basin to capture the liquid. Pour, spray, or squirt a liberal amount of the solution into one nostril while tilting your head so it flows out the other nostril. Do this with each nostril. It also flushes away bacteria and irritants.

Be sure to thoroughly clean your neti pot after each use as bacteria can build up inside. In addition, never use straight tap water as this may contain bacteria that can infect your sinuses. If you do use tap water, be sure to boil it beforehand.

Learn more: Nasal irrigation and neti pots »

Steam helps relieve congestion by loosening mucus. Give yourself a steam treatment using a bowl of hot water and a large towel. Add menthol, camphor, or eucalyptus oils to the water, if you like. You can find a variety of eucalyptus oils on Amazon.com. Place the towel over your head so it falls along the sides of the bowl, trapping the steam inside. Most people do this until the steam dissipates. The steam from a hot shower can also work but is a less concentrated experience.

It’s not an old wives’ tale. A number of studies support the benefits of chicken soup in helping ease congestion. One 2000 study found that chicken soup reduces inflammation associated with sinus congestion and colds.

So what’s the secret? Scientists haven’t identified the active ingredient in chicken soup, but they speculate that the steam combined with the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of the soup’s ingredients are what help clear the sinuses.

Rotating warm and cold compresses on your sinuses should also help.

  1. Lay back with a warm compress draped across your nose, cheeks, and forehead for three minutes.
  2. Remove the warm compress and replace it with a cold compress for 30 seconds.
  3. Do this two to three times.

You can repeat this process two to six times each day.

Your sinus trouble can be caused by a number of things, including sinusitis and rhinitis.

Sinusitis is an infection that causes inflammation and swelling of your sinuses. The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) states that 90-98 percent of sinusitis cases are caused by viruses, which can’t be treated with antibiotics. Sinus infections are one of the leading reasons antibiotics are prescribed, but they’re only effective in treating 2 to 10 percent of these infections.

Chronic sinusitis is an inflammatory condition that normally lasts more than three months. Nasal polyps, which are noncancerous growths, often accompany chronic sinusitis.

If you have allergic rhinitis, your immune system triggers the release of histamines that irritate your nasal membranes. This leads to congestion and sneezing. Allergic rhinitis can lead to sinusitis.

It’s time to see your doctor if you experience:

  • symptoms that last longer than 10 days
  • a fever of 102°F (38.9°C) or higher
  • symptoms that get worse, including a spike in your fever or increased greenish nasal discharge
  • changes in vision

You should also see a doctor if you have asthma or emphysema or you take medications that suppress your immune system.

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS), around 12.5 percent of Americans have at least one bout of sinusitis each year. But these easy home remedies can help relieve your symptoms and have you breathing easier sooner.


What medications are available to help people with chronic sinusitis?

Anonymous patient


For chronic sinusitis you should consult your physician as to recommended treatment. Commonly, they will prescribe a nasal corticosteroid (such as Flonase) and also recommend some of the home remedies mentioned above (specifically saline nasal irrigation). It’s possible that what is causing your sinusitis is a persistent infection that could be remedied by antibiotics, but it could also be caused by allergies or a virus. A physician will need to be seen for proper diagnosis.

Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.