Sinusitis is a common infection therefore everyone should know at least how to get a basic sinus infection treatment at home before you can reach a doctor. This knowledge could be useful in many situations, including the ones when you are away from home, on an expedition or somewhere else where you cannot get medical help. There are a few basic stuff you should keep in mind when dealing with such an ailment. First of all, let us get a clear view over the sinuses.
A sinus is a cavity filled with air. When saying sinus we refer to those cavities in the skull that are connected to the nasal passages through a narrow hole in the bone marrow (ostium).
People have four sinuses separated in 4 pairs:
- frontal sinus (situated on the forehead)
- maxillary sinus (that can be found under the cheeks)
- ethmoid sinus (that is situated between the eyes).
- sphenoid sinus (that is situated deep behind the ethmoid)
General information on sinusitis
Sinusitis is the infection of the mucous membrane which is lining the nasal passages and sinuses. When the mucous membrane becomes inflamed it swells, blocking the drainage of the fluid from the nose and sinus towards the throat. This leads to sinus aches and a pressure feeling in that area. If the sinuses cannot drain completely it is possible that bacteria and fungi will develop.
The sinuses are blocked during viral infections like a cold, causing sinus inflammation and infection as a result. The difference between colds and sinusitis is that the symptoms which come with the cold, including runny nose, start to improve after 5-7 days. Symptoms attributed to sinusitis last longer and they get worse after 7 days.
We are facing two forms of sinus infection: acute (it appears suddenly) and chronic (it is the result of an acute sinusitis that was not treated properly and it keeps appearing again and again). In chronic sinusitis symptoms do not disappear completely, always keeping the mild symptoms.
Possible causes of sinus infection
Sinus infections usually occur after the body faces an infection with a virus. This leads to the inflammation of the mucous membrane from inside the nose passages.
- Mucous membrane swells when it becomes inflamed, blocking the fluid drainage from the sinuses to the nose or throat
- Mucus and fluid buildup in the sinuses causing pressure and pain
- Environmental bacteria have a foothold in the sinuses that don’t drain properly. Bacterial infection of the sinuses often causes more inflammation than pain.
While colds trigger this condition, any factor that causes inflammation of the mucous membrane can cause sinusitis. Many people with allergic rhinitis (nasal allergies) probably show chronic sinusitis with repeated episodes of acute sinusitis. Nasal polyps, foreign bodies (frequently in children), structural disorders of the nose, deviated septum as well as other diseases can obstruct the nasal passage increasing the risk of developing sinusitis.
Fungal infections can also cause sinusitis. They are more common in children with deficient immune system. Fungal sinusitis tends to become chronic and is more difficult to treat than the bacterial type.
Sinus infection types
Sinusitis can be classified in various ways, depending on how long the problem lasts (acute, sub acute, chronic) and either the type of inflammation is infectious or noninfectious.
- Acute sinusitis is defined as having a duration of less than 30 days.
- Sub acute sinusitis lasts a period from one to three months .
- Chronic sinusitis is defined as having a duration longer than 3 months.
The periods mentioned above are not medically decided and they should be considered more as general information. Usually, the sinuses infection is triggered by common viruses and bacteria (less common) and rarest, fungi. Sub acute and chronic sinusitis is most likely the result of improper or incomplete treatment of the acute form. Sinusitis that is considered to be noninfectious is usually caused by allergies or allergy triggers (irritants) and they may last as long as the acute, sub acute or chronic infections.
The most common symptoms of sinusitis are pain and pressure in the face with the feeling of stuffy nose, filled with secretions. You may see yellow or greenish nasal discharge. Bending or moving your head can often increase facial pain and pressure.
The pain or sensitivity may vary depending on the sinus that is affected:
- Cheeks or incisors’ pain may be caused by inflammation of the maxillary sinus
- Pain in the forehead, above the eyebrows, can be caused by inflammation of the frontal sinus
- Retro ocular pain (behind the eyes), in the head or in both temples can be caused by inflammation of the sphenoid sinus
- Peri orbital pain is determined by the inflammation of the ethmoid sinus.
Other common symptoms of sinusitis include:
- Yellowish or greenish discharge from the nose leaking from the back of the throat
- Bad breath
- Productive cough
- Diminished sensitivity of taste or smell
See our piece on how to treat cough with natural remedies for more information.
How to treat sinusitis
There are two ways you can treat a sinus infection: by home remedies or using allopathic treatment. It is better to start with the first one but you should carefully watch the symptoms. If they get worse or if they last for days, you should consult a doctor.
Generally speaking, common sinusitis can be treated with home remedies. However, if the pain persists for more than a week or in case of repeated sinusitis (more than three per year) go to see your doctor. There are severe cases when sinus infection can spread to the eye or the meninges, leading to serious complications. Call 911 if eye paralysis occurs, if your eyes are very irritated or if you have nausea or if you start vomiting.
Remedies for treating sinusitis on an expedition
Sinus infections may catch you totally unprepared, on an expedition, far away from home or any doctor or people that can provide medical care to you. In this case, you should know that there are few natural remedies you may carry out with you. They are small and light and you may stuff them in one of your backpack’s pockets.
If you face a sinus infection on your trip, you can use either essential oils or homeopathic remedies to relief your pain. Nevertheless if symptoms start to occur you should hurry back home. Also, make sure you have a complete first aid kit with you to stay prepared for anything.
There are a lot of essential oils that can be helpful with sinusitis: Lavender, Menthol, Eucalyptus, Oregano, Tea Tree, Peppermint, Rosemary, Thyme, Geranium, Clove, Sweet Basil, Pine, Chamomile. It is true that you can’t use an inhaler or a humidifier or even take a relaxing bath while out there, but you may use the essential oils in other ways:
- Place a few drops on a clean cloth and inhale. This will help release the congestion from your nose.
- Dilute the oils in some carrier oil (olive, coconut oil or whatever is available – take a small quantity in your bags, about 2 oz, you don’t need very much oil) and use this mixture to massage the pressure points of your face: the temples, across the forehead, the side of each nostril, the inside of the eyebrows. Take care to avoid the eyes area.
- Ingestion of essential oils is a matter of debate amongst the alternative medicine practitioners. The opinions are divided: there are some voices that say essential oils should never be ingested while others recommend great care with them, especially for children, elder or pregnant women. So, if you plan on using the essential oils internally you should seek advice from a specialist.
Homeopathic treatment can help you as well. The remedies are also small and have a long shelf life as they do not deteriorate so you may carry them with you. Depending on the kind of symptoms you develop, you may use:
- Belladonna – you feel like your eyes are heavy and the pain is located in the forehead
- Kali Bichronicum – pain develops at the root of the nose and you have a thick nasal discharge
- Pulsatilla – the pain in your head decreases when standing up or getting fresh air
- Arsenicum – burning pain in the sinuses that is getting worse with high noise, light or movement
- Mercurius – great pain in the head, aggravated by open air, sleeping or eating
- Hepar sulfur – effective with sinusitis developed from cold air
- Spigella – high pain on the left side of the face
Dosage: Use 6th or 30th potency and take a dose every 2 hours in the beginning, when the symptoms occur and they are intense and every 4 hours when you get better.
Home remedies for sinus infection
The benefits of hot steam
- Hot vapors help relieve painful pressure in the sinuses. Take a shower as hot as you can, inhaling the steam and leaving water to run onto your face until you free your sinuses.
- Lie on the bed and apply a compress with hot water on the sinus area. Use a thick towel, soak it in water then squeeze it.
- Take a steam bath adding aromatic pine, peppermint or eucalyptus essential oil. Pour 1-2 liters of boiling water into a medium bowl, add 2-3 drops of one of the essential oils mentioned above then take a steam bath of the face, covering your head with a towel. The steam favors sinus drainage.
Saline solution – an effective method for thinning mucus and reducing inflammation of the sinus mucosa. It consists of irrigation with a saline solution which can be homemade. Mix a quarter teaspoon of salt with a pinch of baking soda in a cup of warm water. Fill a pipette with this liquid, tip your head back and put the solution into one nostril and obstruct the other one. Inhale deeply then blow your nose gently. Repeat the procedure with other nostril.
Neti pot – it is a small ayurvedic container which is found in some pharmacies or online. It resembles a small splash with a goatee. Fill it with saline solution. Place the neti pot in a nostril and bend the head to one side. The warm solution will flow into the nose through one nostril and get out on the other, eliminating mucus. Blow your nose then repeat the procedure.
Horseradish – grate horseradish. Inhale the smell. This vegetable with a strong flavor contains a substance that may make the mucus thinner. Avoid contact with eyes.
Horseradish and lemon juice – mix the two ingredients in equal amounts and take a teaspoon an hour before you eat. You may start crying.
Piper – if you like spicy foods, add a pinch of pepper or chili to your food. They contain capsaicin, a substance which promotes mucus drainage.
Garlic – recent studies have shown that allicin contained in garlic has antibacterial properties. Mix a crushed garlic clove with four teaspoons of water. Then pour 10 drops in each nostril twice a day. The infection should be gone in about three days.
Sleep and relaxation
- Place a pillow under your neck when you lay down. The position of the head at the same level with the shoulders may clog sinuses.
- Lie down in a comfortable position. Apply a cushion with heated salt over the eyes and cheekbones. Leave it until it cools then continue the procedure until you feel a relief in the sinuses.
A minimum of sinus massage will stimulate blood circulation, helping to relieve the pain. Start by pressing the bottom of the nostrils with your fingertips then take the pressure to the nose, under the brow. Press each point for 30 seconds then release it.
Rosemary oil enhances the effect of the massage. Fill a bowl with hot water, pour a few drops of essential oil and inhale the vapors while performing acupressure.
The medical treatment for sinus infection includes 4-5 types of medicine:
Antibiotics – in case of a bacterial infection. Antibiotics are not effective with viral infections, they may even cause more harm. The statistics show that there are very few cases of bacteria sinusitis. This points to the fact that the antibiotics may be overused.
Painkillers – those may include ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Don’t use them for more than 10 days.
Decongestants – they may get the form of pills (Contac or Sudafed) or sprays (Afrin or Dristan)
Allergy medicines – if the sinusitis occurs due to some allergy you doctor may prescribe antihistamines
Steroids – they may reduce the swelling in the membranes. In acute cases or sinusitis that repeats over and over you may even consider surgery so the nasal passages will be enlarged and drain better.
You should only take allopathic treatment when prescribed by a doctor. Do not use medicine by yourself with no previous medical advice. Check out our tips on natural remedies for allergies to help you, as well.
Better to prevent than to cure
Install an air humidifier in the room where you sleep. Let it on during the night so the nasal passages don’t dry. Clean it every week to prevent storing fungi.
Limit your intake of alcoholic beverages. Alcohol causes an inflammation of the mucosa and of the sinuses. Also avoid bathing in pools with chlorinated water! Do not ever jump with your head forward. Chlorine irritates the nasal mucous membranes. The pressure exerted by the jump makes the water reach the sinuses.
Avoid smoking rooms. Cigarette smoke dries the airways and favors the proliferation of bacteria in the sinuses. Limit consumption of milk and dairy products which favor the formation of mucus. If you suffer from sinusitis systematically, contact a dentist. This suffering is often caused by dental problems.
Sinus and altitude
All circumstances related to atmospheric pressure fluctuations are dangerous to the sinuses. They may lead to an aggressive form of sinusitis, called barotraumatic which is manifested by intense and brutal pain, sometimes accompanied by bleeding. It may occur in the case of a sudden take off of a plane or a higher pace mountain climbing, beyond 2000 meters altitude.
The risk is even greater in the case of an aquatic plunge with oxygen tank. When returning to the surface the air pressure accumulated in the sinuses necessarily has to go outside to avoid a serious damage.
Traveling by plane or reaching high altitudes is not recommended in the periods of acute sinusitis.
While sinus infections may lead to some complications, if you pay attention to the symptoms and start the treatment with home remedies on an early stage, you may get rid of this ailment in no time. They are quite effective and have been tested throughout the years.
But pay attention to the way your body feels: if your condition gets worse and nothing seems to relieve your pain seek for medical care. Your doctor will certainly know what to do.