When we're feeling good, most of us probably give about as much thought to our sinuses as we do our toenails. But when these empty pockets in our heads get inflamed, the pain can be a terrible wake-up call. Chances are, if you've had a sinus headache and congestion for more than a week, it's sinusitis -- an inflammation of the sinuses.
The key to treating sinusitis is to speak with your doctor to determine what's causing the inflammation. Most of the time, it's an infection, but sinusitis can also be caused by allergies or abnormalities in the sinuses and nasal passage.
Your physician should be able to recommend ways to deal with your sinusitis and prevent it from coming back. Depending on the cause, you might need antibiotics and other medications or methods for controlling allergies. But with the right treatment, you'll be headache and congestion-free in a few days.
U.S. & World
Medications are the most common way to treat sinusitis, and you'll find that most of your symptoms can be relieved with a combination of anti-inflammatory painkillers and nasal decongestants.
Decongestants come in many shapes and sizes -- from 4-, 12- or 24-hour pills to nasal sprays. Listen to your doctor and be careful when it comes to using painkillers and decongestants. Some of the active ingredients can be duplicated in over-the-counter drugs and prescription medications, and it can be easy to take too much.
If your sinusitis is the result of a bacterial infection that doesn't clear up after a week or so, your physician may recommend antibiotics. Be patient, though -- many strains of bacteria that can cause sinus infections have become resistant to the most commonly used antibiotics. You may have to try two or more types to treat the infection.
People with chronic sinusitis -- sinuses that are constantly inflamed -- may benefit from taking corticosteroids to reduce the inflammation. Corticosteroids are available in pill or nasal spray form, although most physicians prescribe the nasal spray because it targets the sinuses more efficiently. But don't use steroids for longer than your doctor prescribes them. Overuse of steroid sprays can make sinusitis worse and can cause other problems with your immune system.
If your sinusitis is caused or aggravated by allergies, your physician may recommend allergy shots to reduce them. Being in constant contact with allergens can cause the sinuses to swell, bringing on the symptoms of sinusitis. This can feel like an annoying, vicious circle. Allergy shots introduce a small amount of the allergen to your system, which then fights off the allergen and builds some immunity to it.
If you suffer from chronic sinusitis, there are two major benefits of allergy shots. They reduce the number of sinus flare-ups, while also addressing your other allergy symptoms, such as watering eyes and itchy nose.
Alternatives to Medications
Multiple medications can be overwhelming, not to mention expensive, especially for what seems to be a small problem like sinusitis. Many home remedies and interventions can also help your symptoms.
To relieve the headache and tenderness in the face, place a hot towel or compress onto your head and face. The heat lessens the swelling in your sinuses and also causes the mucus to thin and drain more easily, reducing the pressure in your sinuses.
You could also treat your sinuses to a Turkish bath by breathing in steam. Drape a towel over your head and hold it over a bowl of boiling water, breathing in the steam. It's relaxing and good for your skin, and will also moisturize your sinuses and thin your mucus.
Sprays, Rinse Kits and Neti Pots
Yes, there is a way to relieve the symptoms of sinusitis and to possibly avoid the headache of future infections. For many people, rinsing their sinuses has become as routine as brushing their teeth. Neti pots and sinus rinse kits are the hot new bathroom accessory.
Used in India and South-east Asia for centuries, neti pots (which look like mini-teapots) allow you to pour warm salt water in one nostril and let it stream out the other, pulling out bacteria, irritants and excess mucus with it. A sinus rinse kit does a similar job but in the form of a squeeze bottle you fill with salt water and then squeeze up your nose. Luckily, this ritual isn't as uncomfortable as it sounds. While it takes a bit of getting used to, some enthusiasts have described sinus cleansing as soothing and refreshing -- and your sinuses will certainly thank you for it.
Another option to clean your sinuses is by using a saline solution nasal spray. Unlike steroid or decongestant nasal sprays, saline solution sprays moisten and clean your sinuses. And you can use them several times a day for as long as you need them
Check back with your physician after a week or so of treatment. Sinusitis that lasts more than a couple of weeks could be a sign of more complex problems that may need to be treated differently.