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The sinuses are air-filled cavities that surround the nose. The ethmoid sinuses are between the eyes. The sphenoids are in the middle of the head. A sinus infection occurs when excess mucus blocks the sinuses.

When the sinuses are clear, mucus drains easily from the nose, clearing out dirt and bacteria. A sinus infection occurs when excess mucus builds up in the sinuses, allowing viruses, bacteria, or fungi to grow more easily in this moist and stagnant environment.

Sinus infections can cause symptoms such as a runny or stuffy nose, pain or pressure in the face, and a sore throat. People may also refer to a sinus infection as sinusitis.

In this article, learn how to get rid of a sinus infection with home remedies or medical treatment.

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI), people can begin treating symptoms of a sinus infection with home remedies. If it is a viral infection, a sinus infection will usually resolve within 2 weeks.

The ACAAI recommends people only try treating a sinus infection using antibiotics if symptoms persist beyond 7–10 days to help prevent antibiotic resistance. People may find relief from symptoms of a sinus infection with the following home remedies.

Over-the-counter pain relief medications

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication may help to relieve symptoms of a sinus infection. These medications may include:

  • aspirin, only for people over the age of 18 years
  • acetaminophen, such as Tylenol
  • ibuprofen, such as Advil or Motrin

OTC pain relievers may help ease symptoms such as localized pain, fever, and headaches.

Nasal sprays

People can use OTC decongestant nasal sprays on a short-term basis — for no longer than 3–4 days. Some nasal sprays, including steroid nasal sprays and saline, are also available OTC and are suitable for longer-term use. Nasal sprays may help reduce swelling in the nasal passages and allow mucus to drain from the sinuses.

People will need to take care when using nasal decongestant sprays. Overuse of nasal sprays may lead to a condition known as rebound phenomenon, causing the nasal passages to swell and close up.

It is important to follow product advice carefully to avoid any adverse side effects. If a person has an existing medical condition or they is pregnant, it is best to speak with a doctor before using nasal sprays.

Nasal irrigation

Nasal irrigation may help relieve symptoms of a sinus infection. A 2016 study found that people who used nasal irrigation had reduced symptoms, 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, or a rinse bottle for nasal irrigation. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), using a neti pot with the wrong type of water can be dangerous.

It is important not to use water straight from the tap in a neti pot. Tap water is safe to drink because stomach acid kills any bacteria or parasites present. The nasal environment cannot kill these types of germs, so using a neti pot with tap water may cause a serious infection.

To use a neti pot safely, the FDA advises people to take one of the following precautions:

  • boiling tap water for 3–5 minutes and letting it cool before using
  • storing any previously boiled water in a clean, sealed container and using it within 24 hours
  • buying distilled or sterile water to use
  • filtering water through a specialized filter that traps harmful organisms

People can make their own irrigation solution for use with a neti pot, nasal bulb, or syringe. To irrigate the nose, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI) recommends the following solution and procedure:

  • Using a clean, airtight container and spoon, mix 3 teaspoons (tsp) of iodide-free salt with 1 tsp of baking soda.
  • Add 1 tsp of the salt and baking soda mixture to 1 cup, or 8 ounces (oz), of sterile water.
  • If the solution causes any stinging or burning sensation, reduce the dry mixture amount.
  • If people are using the solution for children, use a half teaspoon of the dry mixture and mix with 4 oz of water.
  • Use a small syringe or neti pot to apply the solution.
  • Over a sink, rotate the head to the left and gently squeeze 4 oz of the saline rinse into the right nostril while breathing through the mouth.
  • Once the solution has rinsed out through the left nostril, turn the head to the right and repeat for the other side.
  • 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. A person should replace irrigation bottles after several months to avoid the spread of germs, bacteria, or both.

Steam inhalation

Although there is not enough evidence to show that steam inhalation is an effective treatment for a sinus infection, some people may find that it helps relieve their symptoms.

To use steam inhalation to relieve sinus infection symptoms, a person can lean over a bowl of hot water and place a towel over their head to contain the steam. They can breathe deeply through their nose for 10–15 minutes, repeating these steps 3–4 times each day.

People may want to add one or two drops of essential oil, such as eucalyptus oil or peppermint 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.

Rest

People can try to get plenty of rest 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.

Hydration

Drinking plenty of clear fluids will help the body stay hydrated during a sinus infection. People can aim to drink several glasses of water each day.

Any liquids other than soda or coffee can help. Examples of fluids to drink when a person has a sinus infection include:

  • plain water
  • hot water with lemon, honey, or ginger
  • herbal teas
  • broth

Warm compresses

Applying a warm compress to the face may help ease pain and relieve pressure from the blocked sinuses.

To make a warm compress, people can soak a clean facecloth in hot water, wring it out, and place it on the affected areas of the face, such as the nose and forehead.

Antihistamines

Antihistamines help treat inflammation from an allergic reaction. This means they may be effective in clearing similar symptoms in a sinus infection, such as reducing swelling in the nasal passages and sinuses.

OTC combination drugs

Some OTC medications may combine antihistamines and decongestants. People will need to talk with a pharmacist or doctor before using these, as they may dry out and thicken mucus instead of loosening it.

Medical treatments for sinus infections work to unblock and drain the sinuses if home remedies have not been effective.

Antibiotics

Most sinus infections improve without needing antibiotic treatment.

According to the ACAAI, if a person has had a bacterial sinus infection for over 7–10 days, a doctor may prescribe antibiotic therapy.

Viral sinus infections may resolve within two weeks.

Prescription nasal spray

If OTC treatments are not effective, a prescription nasal spray may help 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. For chronic sinusitis, a doctor may prescribe compounded irrigation solutions with steroids or antibiotics in them.

Oral steroids

In severe or chronic cases of sinusitis, a doctor may prescribe oral steroids. These are strong medications, and people should discuss any possible side effects with their doctor first.

Surgery

If a sinus infection does not respond to medication or other treatments, or if the infection has spread, a person may need a surgical procedure to clear the blocked sinuses and allow normal drainage of mucus.

Antifungal medication

If a fungal infection is causing sinusitis, a doctor may prescribe antifungal medication.

People will usually require surgery alongside the medication to remove fungus from the sinuses.

Symptoms of a sinus infection include:

  • a stuffy nose
  • altered sense of smell
  • extra mucus in throat due to post-nasal drainage
  • headache
  • pain or a feeling of pressure in the face
  • coughing
  • a sore throat
  • a fever
  • bad breath
  • tiredness
  • an aching jaw or teeth

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people should contact their doctor if they have:

  • a sinus infection for more than 10 days
  • symptoms that worsen after a period of improvement
  • several sinus infections in a year
  • any severe symptoms, such as facial pain
  • fever lasting more than 3–4 days

Children will need to see a doctor straight away if they are under 3 months old and have a sinus infection. Any child with a temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or above should also see a doctor.

However, it is rare for a child under 3 months old to develop a sinus infection. People may sometimes mistake an upper respiratory infection (URI) or an adenoid infection for sinusitis.

A person may have chronic sinusitis if the infection lasts for longer than 12 weeks or if they have more than three sinus infections in a year. A doctor can help reduce the symptoms of chronic sinusitis.

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, an ENT, or otolaryngologist, may examine the sinuses in more depth using a nasal endoscope. This is a tube with a light and camera attached to the end. They may also carry out a CT scan to examine the sinuses further. An ENT may take a directed culture of a specific sinus.

People may be able to treat a sinus infection using home remedies, such as OTC medications, nasal irrigation, and warm compresses. Getting plenty of rest and staying hydrated are also essential as the body recovers.

If people have symptoms of a sinus infection for longer than 7–10 days or any severe symptoms, they can see their doctor for further treatment.

Antibiotics and prescription nasal sprays may help treat a sinus infection. In chronic cases, people may need steroid irrigations or surgery.