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Anyone who’s ever had a sinus infection and felt the miserable pain it causes typically has one thought in mind: sinus pressure relief.
Fortunately, there are medications as well as simple home remedies that can ease the inflammation and infection of the sinuses associated with sinusitis. These solutions can be effective whether your sinus pain is caused by a sinus infection, nasal allergies, or just a common cold.
How Your Sinuses Work
Your sinuses are four mostly empty cavities in the skull, all connected to your nasal passages. They’re located below and above each eye and behind your nose.
The inner walls of the sinuses are lined with mucus to help keep the inside of your nose and your nasal passages moist. When you’re healthy, the mucus lining is fairly thin. But when your sinuses are inflamed due to an infection or allergies, they produce more mucus. The thicker, stickier mucus builds up, blocking the nasal passages. The result can be sinus headache symptoms and other reactions—a runny nose, for example.
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Sinues Pressure Relief: Home Treatments
A sinus headache is sometimes misdiagnosed as a migraine or a tension headache. (See also our post “What’s the Difference Between a Sinus Headache and a Migraine Headache?“)
If your problem is truly a sinus headache, symptoms may also include fever. Moving your head quickly from side to side or up and down may make the feeling worse. This is also a sign that the headache and discomfort are due to sinus pressure. Relief can be found with some simple, non-medication remedies designed to loosen that additional mucus.
One of the quickest ways to start to loosen the mucus blocking your nasal passages is with a saline spray. You can buy saline spray at most drug stores or grocery stores.
A warm, damp washcloth placed over your face may also provide some sinus pressure relief. Taking a hot shower and letting the water fall on your face may help, too. Just being in a steamy bathroom can sometimes loosen the mucus clogging your sinuses.
A similar approach includes the use of a humidifier or vaporizer that releases a mist to help loosen a congested sinus system.
If the non-medication treatments aren’t doing the job, you may want to consider the short-term use of over-the-counter or prescription decongestants. They’re designed to treat sinus headache symptoms in adults and older children only. Unless otherwise directed by a pediatrician, these medicines made with pseudoephidrine should not be given to children age 3 and under. They may be dangerous (and also ineffective) in young children.
Be careful taking an oral decongestant if you’re also taking a painkiller that contains a medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Check the labels so you don’t unknowingly overdo it on the pain relievers.
Treat the Cause
Decongestants should be used only for short-term purposes. If you’re using medicine or trying saline spray or other home remedies and you’re not getting any real sinus pressure relief after several days, it’s time to see your doctor. This is especially important if you have other symptoms—a fever, for example, or thick, yellow mucus, which could signal a bacterial infection.
The bottom line for any sinusitis treatment is to make sure you’re treating the underlying cause of the problem. It does no good to treat symptoms only. If a bacterial infection is causing your sinus congestion, for instance, you may need to take antibiotics to knock out the infection. If allergies are to blame, your doctor may prescribe allergy medicines, including corticosteroids.
In many cases, sinus headache symptoms are caused by a cold virus that will run its course without medicines. But if you’re unsure about the cause of your sinus symptoms, particularly if they persist for more than a few days, see your health care provider.
Originally published in 2016 and updated.