sinus infection (sinusitis) usually resolves on its own in about a week with home treatment. Flushing your nasal passages, staying hydrated, resting, using steam, eating wholesome foods, and taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications can often help you stay comfortable.
Sometimes, when these treatments don’t work and your sinusitis turns into a bacterial infection, you may need antibiotics.
This article explains the best home sinus infection treatment options for relieving sinus pain and inflammation.
Rinse nasal cavity
Rinsing your nasal passages can relieve sinus infections by loosening thick mucus so it can be blown out more easily. You can flush your sinuses in a variety of ways, including:
- Neti pot (a teapot-like device used to flush the nasal passages with salt water)
- Ball syringe
- squeeze bottle
- Battery powered pulse water device
As long as these devices are kept clean and used as directed, they are generally safe. However, there are some precautions to remember:
- Use only distilled or sterile water. Tap water may contain bacteria.
- Use this device as directed. Most devices use or require salt water, which is less irritating.
- Read the packaging labels on your devices to make sure they are safe and suitable for children.
If in doubt, ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist.
drink lots of fluids
As with any infection, staying hydrated is crucial for your immune system. But with a sinus infection, drinking plenty of fluids (water, juice, herbal teas) can help your body thin the mucus clogging your nasal passages.
However, not all liquids help. Caffeinated drinks act as diuretics, causing your body to eliminate salt and water through extra urination. Drinking too much caffeine can lead to dehydration.
Alcohol can also cause dehydration because it inhibits the release of vasopressin, a hormone that tells the kidneys to retain fluid. Therefore, it increases urination, causing the body to lose water.
Getting enough rest is especially important when you are sick because your immune system needs sleep to function properly. Studies have found that sleep is associated with reduced infection risk and improved infection outcomes.
If you have a sinus infection, lie as low as possible. Nap and lie down during the day and get some extra sleep at night.
Steam inhalation is very effective for sinus infections because the moisture loosens the thick mucus in the nasal passages. Research is inconclusive on the efficacy of steam for sinus congestion and has found no or minimal benefit for respiratory infections.
However, many people say steam helps them feel less clogged. To use steam, follow these steps:
- Bring water to a boil in a kettle, pot or microwave. Then transfer the water to a bowl.
- Place the bowl of steaming water on a safe, stable surface (table or countertop).
- Sit or stand with a towel over your head, about a foot from the bowl.
- Inhale the steam for 10-15 minutes.
Stay away from steam and be especially careful not to splash steam water to avoid steam burns. It’s best to avoid this method with children; instead, have them sit on the bathroom floor with you while you take a steamy shower.
eat more fruits and vegetables
One important substance found in abundance in fruits and vegetables is antioxidants. Antioxidants fight free radicals (unstable molecules that increase the risk of disease), making it easier for your immune system to fight conditions like sinus infections.
Some antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables include:
Add more natural antibacterial foods
Certain foods have antibacterial properties that help strengthen the body’s ability to fight infection. Studies have found that the following substances inhibit the growth of many microorganisms:
- Herbs and spices (garlic, onion, oregano, cinnamon, cloves, rosemary, parsley)
- Vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, radishes, carrots, celery, parsnips, rutabaga)
- Fruit (citrus, apples, grapes, plums, strawberries)
Use a humidifier
A humidifier works by keeping indoor air moist. This is especially important when you have a sinus infection to help loosen thick mucus.
The biggest risk with a humidifier is the buildup of bacteria or mold in the machine, which can be pumped into the air you breathe. Clean equipment thoroughly and regularly according to package instructions. Using filtered water can reduce mineral buildup in your machine.
Evaporators work on the same principle as humidifiers, adding moisture to the air; however, evaporators use steam instead of cold mist. The biggest risk with a vaporizer is burns. If you have children at home, the safest option is a humidifier.
Relieve pain with warm compresses
Placing warm washcloths over your eyes, nose, and forehead can help relieve pressure in your nasal passages and head. Lie on the couch or bed and cover your face with a warm, damp cloth. You can lie like this for as long as you feel comfortable, maybe 15-20 minutes, or until the towel cools.
Eat more vitamin C
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that benefits the immune system and helps the body fight infections.
Vitamin C supplements can prevent and treat respiratory and systemic infections. Researchers say preventive doses are lower than therapeutic doses because infections cause inflammation and place higher demands on the body.
Eat foods rich in vitamin C, such as peppers and strawberries, or drink orange juice. If you want to take a vitamin C supplement, ask your healthcare professional what dosage they recommend. The upper limit (UL) for adults is 2,000 milligrams (mg) and for children the upper limit (UL) is much lower, depending on age.
Many people practice yoga to relieve pain, including headaches. Since sinus infections are often accompanied by inflammation and headaches, these gentle movements may also help reduce pain and cramping.
Moving your head lower than your body may increase pain and pressure in your head. Try to stick to an upright position that doesn’t put pressure on your face or head, such as standing or cobra pose.
Over-the-counter nasal decongestant sprays
Nasal decongestant sprays (such as Afrin) are medications that are sprayed directly into the nostrils to relieve localized congestion. They work by reducing swelling and clearing mucus from the nasal passages.
However, be careful when using these nasal sprays. You should not use these medications for more than three days in a row because doing so may cause rebound congestion when you stop. This can lead to chronic congestion and possibly damage to the nasal passages.
Other over-the-counter drugs
In addition to nasal decongestant sprays, other over-the-counter medications are designed to help treat sinus infections. These include:
Oral decongestants carry the same risk of countercongestion as nasal decongestant sprays. Antihistamines may dry out the nasal passages, but only if allergies are causing the sinusitis. Pain relievers can be effective in relieving sinus pressure and headaches. Be sure to read the instructions carefully and do not overlap different treatments.
Know your triggers
A sinus infection occurs when a cold, allergies, or other upper respiratory tract infection causes bacteria to grow and multiply. Viruses or bacteria can cause sinus infections.
Risk factors for sinus infection include:
Knowing your triggers may help you limit or avoid future sinus infections.
When you need antibiotics
Antibiotics are not always necessary or helpful because viruses often cause sinus infections, and antibiotics only kill bacteria. Most of the time, a sinus infection can clear up without antibiotics.
When considering whether a sinus infection requires antibiotics, a health care provider may take a number of approaches. One option is watchful waiting, which specifies how many days to look for improvement before starting treatment, such as antibiotics.
Or, they may prescribe antibiotics with instructions not to take them unless you don’t improve within two to three days.
Sinus infections can often resolve on their own with at-home self-care strategies. There is no one best home remedy or quick fix for a sinus infection. This is because everyone’s body responds differently to different treatments.
Some effective relief methods include getting enough rest, staying hydrated, nasal irrigation, steam inhalation, eating healthy foods, and using supportive over-the-counter medications to relieve congestion and pain.