7 Tips for Sinus Pressure Relief

Solutions range from steam to surgery, but staying hydrated is key.

If you've ever had a sinus infection, you know all about the aching, throbbing, stabbing pain of sinus pressure.

Unfortunately, sinus infections aren't the only reason behind nagging sinus pressure—allergies, environmental changes, and even anatomical differences can also leave you feeling pain and pressure, Christopher Thompson, MD, an otolaryngologist at Providence Mission Hospital in Orange County, Calif. told Health.

Regardless of what's causing your sinus pressure and pain, one thing's for sure: You want it gone.

What Causes Sinus Pressure?

Pressure in your sinuses is essentially swelling in response to any of three different causes: a pressure change between the air inside your sinuses and the air outside your sinuses (for example, when flying), when irritants invade your sinuses (through allergies or illnesses), or when you have an anatomical issue (like a deviated septum or nasal polyps), according to Harvard Health.

Unfortunately, you can't cater your sinus pressure treatment to the exact cause, but the good news is that most available remedies can work to reduce sinus inflammation and swelling regardless of what's causing it.

Here's a guide, according to experts, on the best ways to treat sinus pressure so you can start feeling better as soon as possible.

7 Ways To Relieve Sinus Pressure

Steam

Steam—whether from a humidifier or a hot shower—can provide some symptomatic comfort, but isn't really a long-term solution, Mas Takashima, MD, chair of otolaryngology at Houston Methodist Hospital, explained to Health.

"Certain areas are moist anyway and you can cause an overgrowth of mold [which can worsen allergies or swelling]," added Dr. Takashima. But, for people who feel dry air or excessively dry sinuses are contributing to their suffering, steam can be helpful.

Nasal Irrigation

Dr. Takashima described your nose as an air filter for your lungs. It filters out particulates, like allergens and irritants. If you are allergic to the particulates that get trapped in your nose it will always feel irritated (swollen, congested, and uncomfortable).

Nasal irrigation is a quick way to rinse out those irritants and feel some relief, however, some formulas can provide more lasting effects. There are three main methods, according to Dr. Takashima:

  • Saline irrigation works great as a short-term solution for pretty much all sinus problems. It flushes out your nose to eliminate any irritants stuck there. It can also clear nasal blockages of mucus and thin out mucus overall to make breathing much easier.
  • Steroid irrigation mixes saline with a steroid to get deep into your sinuses. This allows the steroid, often budesonide (according to a July 2018 study in JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery), to get to the root of the problem and reduce swelling in harder-to-reach sinus cavities. Steroid sprays are the best medication to treat allergies, according to an article appearing in the Baylor College of Medicine News in March of 2019, so this method should work well for seasonal allergy sufferers.
  • Xylitol irrigation uses the sugar alcohol xylitol, which has both antibacterial and antiviral effects, to flush out sinuses. It draws water out of nasal tissues, so it decongests better than saline irrigation. Xylitol is beneficial in helping to ward off respiratory illnesses and infections generally (according to an August 2019 study published in Nutrients), so it's a good irrigation approach for people with chronic sinus issues.

Staying Hydrated

You already know you should be drinking more water but, when it comes to your sinuses, there's an additional reason why. "The way the nose protects the body is by recognizing irritating things trapped there—the brain then sends a signal to your body [to] get rid of it, and your body produces mucus to clear out the foreign irritant," explained Dr. Takashima.

If you are dehydrated, your mucus will be too thick to help clear out irritants. Instead, mucus will become clogged in your sinuses, causing congestion, pressure, and possibly infection from bacterial growth. So hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

Decongestants

While decongestant tablets or nasal sprays can be very effective to reduce sinus pressure and pain, it's important to remember that these are short-term solutions.

"In an acute infection, a decongestant can be useful, but Afrin can become addicting if used for more than a few days and oral decongestants used regularly can have cardiovascular effects," explained Dr. Thompson. "These are targeted for short-term use."

Also, patients with high blood pressure shouldn't use over-the-counter (OTC) decongestant products, and people who are sensitive to stimulants, like caffeine, might have trouble sleeping when using them, added Dr. Takashima.

NSAIDs

If your sinus pressure is causing you serious discomfort, you can try taking an OTC nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) for pressure and pain relief. NSAIDs like Aleve (naproxen) or Advil and Motrin (ibuprofen) typically work better than Tylenol (acetaminophen), said Dr. Takashima, because NSAIDs are designed to reduce swelling and inflammation. (Tylenol might numb the pain, but it won't actually help with the cause of the pain.)

Nasal Steroids

For allergy sufferers, Dr. Takashima strongly recommended nasal steroids for people with allergy-related sinus pressure. If you are not already using an OTC spray (like Flonase, Nasonex, or Nasacort), you might want to consider trying one.

"The only thing to keep in mind is that these don't work well if you only use them occasionally...you need to use it on a consistent basis," clarified Dr. Takashima.

Dr. Takashima also recommended that allergy sufferers figure out when their allergies are especially bad (during the month of October, for example), then pre-medicate before symptoms appear, and continue to use a nasal steroid throughout the season to avoid symptoms.

Sinus Surgery

The word "surgery" is daunting but, if you have chronic or recurrent sinusitis, you may want to consider seeing an ear, nose, and throat specialist to discuss the possible benefits of sinus surgery.

Chronic sinusitis is defined as having sinus symptoms for more than three months; recurrent sinusitis is defined as greater than four sinusitis episodes in one year according to StatPearls.

"Surgery can be helpful in opening up the sinuses to allow better drainage," explained Dr. Thompson. "You can use as much saline as you want, but if you need surgery and you're using saline, you're only flushing out your nose, not your sinuses."

A 2013 study published in the International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology found that the overall success rates of endoscopic sinus surgery (ESS) ranged from 76% to 97.5%.

A final consideration: Dr. Thompson noted that facial pain, including pain in your sinuses, can also be related to migraines, neck tension, or bruxism (teeth grinding). So if you're having zero luck remedying pain with traditional sinus treatments, you should talk with your healthcare provider—you may be suffering from a condition totally unrelated to sinus pressure or congestion.

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