A handful of products available at your local pharmacy—and online—can help you manage the misery.
Most sinus infections only last seven to 10 days—though it may seem longer while you're in it!
There aren't really sinus infection medicines that shorten the length of the illness, but you can salve the symptoms with easily available over-the-counter products.
“Most sinus infections are viral, so supportive measures are hugely important,” Christie Barnes, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, tells Health. “The typical symptoms that you would expect are congestion, stuffiness, facial pain or pressure, and lots of drainage. You want to look for over-the-counter products that combat these symptoms.”
Bacterial sinus infections are much less common and may need antibiotics. But the same OTC medicines can help you suffer through your sinus symptoms until the prescription meds start to work.
Here are some of the best over-the-counter medicines for acute sinusitis.
These are nasal sprays like Flonase, Veramyst, Rhinocort, and Nasonex. Once available only by prescription, many are now stocked liberally on store shelves. They work by targeting the inflammatory cells that are causing you to produce so much mucus.
But make sure you use the products correctly. “A common misconception is that you just spray them in your nose willy-nilly, [but] that’s how people get nosebleeds,” says Dr. Barnes.
The correct way to use these OTC meds? “Aim the tip of the bottle to the far corner of your eye or your ear,” Dr. Barnes explains. Otherwise all the medication will end up on your septum (the cartilage that separates your nostrils), which is what can cause the nose to bleed.
And be patient: “It takes some time to start having an effect, so patients don’t really notice it for a couple of days,” says Dr. Barnes.
Decongestants are medications that reduce swelling and inflammation by narrowing your blood vessels. They’re available both by prescription and over the counter in liquids, pills, and nasal sprays. Sudafed is a common OTC brand.
Decongestants can ease sinus infection symptoms, but use them sparingly, especially if you have cardiovascular problems, hypertension, or glaucoma, as they can raise blood pressure. They can also have a rebound effect—using them for too long causes your body to need more of the medicine to get the same effect, which can actually lead to more congestion. Read the label carefully and don’t overuse the product.
These are your go-to meds to deal with pain from sinus pressure as well as any headaches you may have. The most common varieties are aspirin, acetaminophen (found in Tylenol), and ibuprofen (found in Advil and Motrin).
Talk to your doctor before taking these medicines if you have high blood pressure, Dr. Barnes cautions. And make sure you're not getting too much of any of the active ingredients. "Be careful about taking pain relievers and combination products at the same time, as you may end up with more than the recommended dose," she says.
Mucolytics—like Mucinex—are products that thin mucus, making it easier for sinuses to drain.
While they can help some people feel better, they can't help you actually kick the bug. “They can be helpful, but there’s no real evidence that they affect the course of the infection,” says Dr. Barnes.
Antihistamines usually aren’t helpful in treating a sinus infection unless the infection somehow has an allergy component. They can even make symptoms worse by thickening mucus and making it harder to clear.
Still, some people take Benadryl to help them rest, since it may make you sleepy.
Getting enough rest—along with plenty of fluids—will definitely ease your misery when you have a sinus infection.