If you’re having symptoms of a sinus infection – headache, nasal congestion, nasal discharge, ears feeling plugged, even tooth or gum pain – there are a lot of things you can do at home to treat this infection yourself before thinking about seeing a doctor or discussing the use of antibiotics.
I recommend you go down to your local pharmacy and buy the following items:
A nasal decongestant which will help stop the mucus production. There are two types of non-prescription nasal decongestants, phenylephrine (Sudafed PE) and pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) that are typically taken every 4 – 6 hours. Although both are over-the-counter medications, you will need to provide a license at the pharmacy to purchase pseudoephedrine. If you have poorly controlled high blood pressure, you should avoid taking these decongestants as they work by narrowing the blood vessels to reduce swelling in the nose. This narrowing can affect other blood vessels as well, which can increase blood pressure.
A saline nasal spray, such as Ocean, which will help keep your nasal passageways moist and prevent bloody noses. Saline nasal spray can be used as often as needed.
A steroid nasal spray which will decrease the inflammation in your nose, open up the passageway from your sinuses, and help the mucus drain out. These sprays, fluticasone (Flonase), triamcinolone (Nasacort) and budesonide (Rhinocort), were formerly only available by prescription but are now available over-the-counter.
A saltwater sinus lavage kit, such as a Neti pot or NeilMed® Sinus Rinse solution. These kits work by flushing the mucus out of the sinuses where the bacteria is growing and therefore the bacteria has no place to live. They can take some getting used to as you need to pour water mixed with a saline solution into one nostril and out the other, but they can be very effective. Research has found that nasal irrigation kits are generally safe to use, but you must follow the manufacturer’s instructions and only use distilled, sterile or previously boiled and cooled water with these kits. Also be sure to properly clean and dry your Neti pot after each use.
If you’re using all these over-the-counter medicines at home for six or seven days and you’re still having nasal congestion, headache, and nasal discharge, that’s the time to make an appointment to see your doctor and find out if you need an antibiotic to treat your infection.
About Dr. Christine Harrington
Dr. Christine Harrington joined Atrius Health in 2016 and practices internal medicine at our Harvard Vanguard Needham location. She received her medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and completed her internship and residency at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.