How to treat a sinus infection
A sinus infection occurs when mucus is trapped in the sinuses, allowing viruses, bacteria, or fungi to grow more easily in the moist and stagnant environment.
Sinus infections can cause painful and irritating symptoms.
In this article, learn how to get rid of a sinus infection at home or using medical remedies.
People may be able to treat a sinus infection at home by relieving painful symptoms and taking steps to allow the immune system to fight off the infection.
Home remedies for a sinus infection include:
Taking OTC drugs may help relieve painful symptoms.
People can take over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, such as:
People can use OTC nasal sprays to reduce swelling and congestion in the nasal passages.
However, people should take care when using nasal sprays, particularly certain types of decongestant nasal spray. Misusing nasal sprays may cause side effects.
Using a decongestant nasal spray such as oxymetazoline (Afrin) for too long could make congestion levels worse, so people should not use them for longer than the recommended duration outlined on the packaging.
There are also corticosteroid nasal sprays, such as triamcinolone (Nasacort), available over the counter. These sprays help reduce sinus inflammation and swelling and are safe when a person uses them as a doctor directs.
It is important to follow product advice carefully to avoid nosebleeds or other adverse side effects. If a person has an existing medical condition or they are pregnant, it is best to speak to a doctor before using nasal sprays.
People can use a humidifier to add moisture to the air. Extra moisture can help soften dried mucus, allowing it to flow more easily and reduce congestion.
Nasal irrigation may help get rid of a sinus infection. A 2016 study found that people who used nasal irrigation had fewer headaches and were less likely to need OTC medicines than those who did not.
People can use a neti pot, which is a small container with a spout, for nasal irrigation.
It is important not to use water straight from the tap in a neti pot. Tap water is safe to drink because the stomach acid kills off the bacteria or parasites present. The nose environment cannot kill these types of germs, so using a neti pot with tap water may cause or aggravate an infection.
People should make sure to boil the water for a few minutes and let it cool, or they can buy distilled water for use in a neti pot.
It is simple to make an irrigation solution for use with a neti pot or syringe. To irrigate the nose:
- mix half a teaspoon of noniodized salt with half a teaspoon of baking soda
- stir the mixture into 2 cups of sterile water
- use a small syringe or neti pot to apply the solution
- repeat for both nostrils
- clean the neti pot or syringe after use with sterile water and dry thoroughly
People can also buy a nasal irrigation solution from a pharmacy or online.
Although there is not enough evidence to show that steam inhalation is an effective treatment for a sinus infection, many people may find that it helps relieve their symptoms.
To use steam inhalation to relieve sinus infection symptoms, people can lean over a bowl of hot water, place a towel over their head to keep the steam in, and breathe deeply.
People may want to add one or two drops of essential oil, such as eucalyptus oil, to the water. Eucalyptus oil has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that may help fight the infection.
People can purchase eucalyptus essential oil in health food stores and online.
People should try to get as much rest as they can while they have a sinus infection. This will help the body recover and allow it to spend its energy fighting the infection.
Staying at home and resting can also help prevent spreading the infection to other people.
Drinking plenty of clear fluids will help people stay hydrated and can also help loosen mucus and clear congestion.
Good choices for fluids to drink when a person has a sinus infection include:
- plain water
- hot water with lemon, honey, or ginger
- herbal teas
- vegetable broth
Applying a warm compress to the face can help ease pain and relieve pressure from the blocked sinuses.
To make a warm compress, soak a facecloth in hot water, wring it out, and place it on the affected areas of the face.
Using a prescription nasal spray can reduce swelling in the nasal passages.
Treatment for a sinus infection works to unblock and drain the sinuses.
Another option is to use a prescription nasal spray to reduce swelling in the nasal passages. This allows mucus to drain more easily from the sinuses. A doctor may also prescribe a saline solution for flushing excess mucus out of the nose.
If a person has a fungal infection in their sinuses, a doctor will prescribe antifungal medicine. If antifungal medicines do not work, or if a sinus infection is very severe, a doctor may prescribe oral steroids. These are strong medicines and people should discuss any possible side effects with their doctor first.
In very severe cases, such as when the sinus infection does not respond to medication or has spread to other parts of the face, a person may need a surgical procedure to clear the blockages.
Symptoms of a sinus infection include:
- a stuffy nose
- extra mucus in throat
- a feeling of pressure in the face
- a sore throat
- a fever
- bad breath
- an aching jaw or teeth
When to see a doctor
A person should see a doctor if they have a temperature above 100.4°F (38°C).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people should see their doctor if a sinus infection lasts for over 10 days, or if symptoms continue for longer than 10 days after treatment.
A person may have chronic sinusitis if the infection lasts for longer than 8 weeks or if they have more than four sinus infections in a year. A doctor can help reduce the symptoms of chronic sinusitis.
Both children and adults should also see a doctor if they have:
- a sinus infection for more than 10 days
- worsening symptoms
- several sinus infections in a year
- no improvement after taking OTC medications
- a temperature above 100.4°F (38°C)
A doctor will ask about a person's symptoms and examine their nose and throat. They may also take a swab of the inside of the nose for culture testing.
If a sinus infection is not responding to antibiotics, a doctor may examine the sinuses in more depth using a nasal endoscope. This is a flexible tube with a light and camera attached to the end.
They may also carry out a CT scan to examine the sinuses further.
It is often possible to treat a sinus infection using home remedies, such as taking OTC medications, trying nasal irrigation, and applying warm compresses.
Getting plenty of rest and staying hydrated are also essential as the body heals.
If people have symptoms of a sinus infection for longer than 7–10 days, they should see their doctor for treatment.
Antibiotics or nasal sprays and irrigation may help fight a sinus infection. In chronic cases, people may need oral steroids or more complex medical interventions.