Ease Sinus Congestion with At-Home Treatments

Nasal congestion can be caused by viral infections such as the common cold or influenza as well as from allergies.

When sinuses get blocked, a simple stuffy nose can cause a lot of pain. With a cold or allergies, the membranes lining the nasal passages become inflamed and irritated. They begin to produce excess mucus as a way of flushing out whatever is causing the irritation, such as an allergen. Blocked sinuses can cause pain around the forehead, eyes, cheeks and nose. Moving the head forward, lying down, any jarring movement or touching the face could make the pain worse.

Sinus pain caused by colds will usually get better on its own. Occasionally, if congestion persists for longer than two weeks, it can progress to a bacterial infection that is associated with fever and worsening symptoms. At this time you should see a doctor as you may require further treatment and possibly antibiotics.

Here is how to relieve sinus pain and decrease the risk of progression to bacterial infection:

  • Use a saline nose spray. A health care provider can recommend a proper spray. Saline mist will ease sinus swelling and help break up the mucus that's clogging the nose. It can be used up to six times a day without worrying about side effects.
  • Use nasal saline sinus rinses daily, like a neti pot, to flush out the sinuses
  • Use a humidifier. Stuffy sinuses respond well to moist air. Use a humidifier, especially at bedtime, to help keep sinuses open and relieve the pressure. Also try sitting in a steamy bathroom from a hot shower or inhaling steam from a pan of hot, not boiling, water.
  • Apply a warm compress. Ease swelling and throbbing with a warm, moist washcloth across the forehead, eyes and cheeks.
  • Drink lots of fluids. This will thin out the mucus and may help prevent sinuses from getting blocked up.
  • Use a decongestant nose spray. Over-the-counter nose sprays break up congestion quickly and provide relief, especially early in a cold. Do not use for more than three days because they can actually make stuffiness worse if used too long.
  • Prop yourself up. At night, lie on a couple of pillows. Keeping the head elevated may make breathing more comfortable.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers. Pain relievers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen can relieve sinus pain and reduce inflammation.
  • Take an over-the-counter antihistamine such as diphenhydramine or loratadine to decrease mucus production. Works particularly well if congestion is related to allergies.

If sinus pain from a cold isn’t better after 10 to 14 days, talk to a healthcare provider, who may prescribe antibiotics or a different treatment.

By Kelly Pucillo, MD, ThedaCare Physicians-Waupaca