Five Steps to Fight Sinus Infections
Cutaway Diagram of Sinuses
My Sinus Infection Battle Plan
Sinus infections are no joke. If you've got one, consult your doctor.
Sometimes, I can tell when my sinuses are getting irritated and take these steps to fend off an infection. (For example, during California fire seasons.)
Other times, the infection catches up with me, and my doctor puts me on antiobiotics. These steps can help speed up the recovery process and, usually, make sure I don't have to take several rounds of antibiotics.
I'll include both natural remedies and a few mild, old-fashioned OTC medications.
Disclaimer: I am NOT a doctor. I believe these methods help me, but I make no guarantees. Please, see your doctor for professional advice on how to treat sinus infections. Home remedies alone may not be enough.
#1: Learn To Use and Love a Neti Pot
Buy and learn to use a Neti Pot (see demo video below). This is the number one home remedy for treating sinuses. Warm saltwater rinses the sinus passages around your nose, although it can't usually do much for the sinus passages between/above the eyes. Many Neti Pot companies offer powdered saline mixtures, but I just use a pinch of non-iodized salt, enough to make the water as salty as tears. Don't use too much salt, or it will irritate your nose.
Note: The blue plastic neti pot found in most drug stores which is shaped more like a potbellied teapot is harder to use. Its spout is stubby and points up. A long spout with a shallower slope, like this one, is much easier to pour gently and smoothly; you don't have to tip it as far.
Video: Using a Neti Pot
How to Use a Neti Pot
WARNING! DO NOT USE WATER STRAIGHT FORM THE TAP! Boil it first, then let it cool. Or use distilled water.
Health officials warn that two people have died using tap water for their Neti Pots due to an extremely rare but lethal amoeba that enters through the nose.
Yes, I know, it looks a little gross, but no one's going to see. Looks are not as important as breathing.
I recommend using a neti pot in the shower so you don't have to worry about leaning over the sink.
#2 Hot Showers - Cook the Bacteria to Death!
Take a hot shower 2-3 times a day. Hot steam opens congested lungs.
Run hot water right on your face -- careful, don't get it too hot, but as hot as you can stand it! -- to COOK the bacteria and kill them, just like a fever does. A nurse prescribed hot wet cloths and heating pad to help my father fight an infection following an emergency appendectomy, and we've used that method ever since. Hot water alone can't usually kill all the bacteria, but killing off some will give your body a head start.
Also, take a hot shower before bed even when you don't have a sinus infection. It's a known allergy remedy: wash at night so you're not bringing allergens into your bed and sleeping on them for 8 hours.
#3 Use a Cold Compress on Your Sinuses
First you cook the bacteria, then you freeze them! I use the Elasto-Gel Sinus Mask. This is a good idea after the hot shower, shrinking tissues that may have swollen from the heat, so that the nasal passages open up for drainage. The mask also helps you fall asleep, since it blocks light. For a home remedy alternative, try a bag of frozen peas!
Tip: I bought two gel packs so one can be cooling in the freezer while I'm using the other.
BIggest Mistake in Treating Sinus Infections: Stopping Too Soon
Yes, I've done it too!
I feel great, I think it's gone, and I stop doing my full aggressive sinus infection treatment. Whoops, it's back!
Keep it up with the Neti Pot. If you've got antibiotics, keep going until they're gone.
You don't want to breed the next Superbug. If you kill off 90% of them, the surviving 10% are liable to be the toughest, and they'll reproduce and make more hard-to-kill bacteria.
#4 Open Sinuses & Lungs With Old-Fashioned Remedies
There are various home remedies which work by encouraging the sacs of your lungs and/or sinus passages to open wider: menthol, mint, and even wasabi may help. I use Vicks Vapo-Rub Ointment for chest congestion, Altoids ("Curiously Strong Mints") when I'm wheezing,* Menthol Cough Drops, and/or sushi with Wasabi.
*I'm hesitant to suggest Altoids for asthma, because asthma can kill you. Treat it seriously. Manage it in consultation with your doctor. Nonetheless, when I forgot my inhaler on a camping trip, Altoids got me through until I could call in a prescription. I'm not keen on the taste, but I like breathing.
#5 Boost Your Immune System
Boost your immune system with home remedies. Vitamin C and Chewable Zinc Tablets are fairly well-proven to help your immune system, although I find Zinc sometimes irritates my stomach. Several studies have shown that standard doses of echinacea don't really help a cold much, but I still use Ricola Honey-Lemon Echinacea Throat Drops just in case. Chicken Noodle Soup is known to help the immune system as well. Give your body plenty of rest and good food to help it fight back!
Grapefruit Seed Extract?
My doctor keeps track of alternative medicine, and had seen enough positive studies to recommend that I try Grapefruit Seed Extract. I couldn't tell much difference with the capsules of dried extract I tried, but I see many people on the web recommend putting drops of liquid grapefruit seed extract into a Neti Pot rinse. Have you tried it, and does it work?
Grapefruit Seed Extract: Helpful or Placebo? - I really don't know on this one...
Have you had any luck treating sinus infections with grapefruit seed extract?
Did I Mention That I'm NOT a Doctor?
I'm just a person who suffers from chronic sinus infections. I've tried many methods for fighting them. The above five steps are the ones that seem to be most effective in knocking the infection out quickly. Sometimes, I still need antibiotics, but the above methods raise my chances of avoiding multiple courses of antibiotics.
CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR.
A Mild Medication For Loosening the Goo
Mucinex is listed as an expectorant (something to help you cough up phlegm), but it works by loosening mucus, which may help sinuses drain. My doctor advised me to try the non-decongestant version to me as something with fewer side effects than regular antihistamines and decongestants. (The decongestant version is labeled "DM".)
Note: I will err on the side of caution in accepting tips or suggestions in this guestbook, especially if they come with links that appear to be self-promotions. If it works for you, great, but I want to be sure I'm not recommending bogus (or even dangerous) remedies.