Treatment of sinusitis aims to reduce inflammation and clear your sinuses. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or corticosteroids. Lifestyle changes, such as using a humidifier or irrigating your nasal passages with salt water, may also help. Several dietary supplements and herbs may help prevent colds and flu, shorten their duration, or work together with antibiotics to treat your infection and support your immune system.
These measures can help reduce congestion in your sinuses:
- Using a humidifier
- Using a saline nasal spray
- Inhaling steam 2 - 4 times per day (for example, sitting in the bathroom with the shower running)
- Quickly treating allergic and asthma attacks
Antibiotics -- Your health care provider may prescribe antibiotics if your health care provider suspects you have a bacterial infection. To treat acute sinusitis, you may take from 10 - 14 days of antibiotics. Treating chronic sinusitis may take longer, usually 3 - 4 weeks.
Nasal corticosteroids -- These prescription sprays reduce inflammation of the nose and help relieve sneezing, itching, and runny nose. They are most effective at reducing symptoms, although it can take from a few days to a week after you start using them to see improvement.
- Beclomethasone (Beconase)
- Fluticasone (Flonase)
- Mometasone (Nasonex)
- Triacinolone (Nasacort)
Antihistamines -- Antihistamines are available in both oral and nasal spray forms, and as prescription drugs and over the counter remedies. Over the counter antihistamines are short acting and can relieve mild to moderate symptoms. All work by blocking the release of histamine in your body.
- Over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines: Include diphenhydramine (Benadryl), chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), and clemastine (Tavist). These older antihistamines can cause sleepiness. Loratadine (Claritin), a newer antihistamine, does not cause drowsiness. All OTC antihistimines are short-acting and can relieve mild-to-moderate symptoms.
- Prescription antihistamines: Include fexofenadine (Allegra) and cetrizine (Zyrtec). These medications are longer-acting than over-the-counter antihistamines and are usually taken once a day.
Decongestants -- Many over the counter and prescription decongestants are available in tablet or nasal spray form. They are often used with antihistamines. Oral and nasal decongestants include Sudafed, Actifed, Afrin, Neo-Synephrine. Some decongestants may contain pseudoephedrine, which can raise blood pressure. People with high blood pressure or an enlarged prostate should not take drugs containing pseudoephedrine. Nasal decongestants can cause "rebound congestion," where the nasal passages swell. Avoid using nasal decongestants for more than 3 days in a row, unless your health care provider tells you to, and do not use them if you have emphysema or chronic bronchitis.
Surgery and Other Procedures
For chronic sinusitis that doesn’t respond to medication, your doctor may recommend endoscopic sinus surgery, which may be done to remove polyps or bone spurs. Enlarging the sinus opening is also sometimes recommended. A newer procedure called balloon rhinoplasty involves inserting a balloon inside the sinus cavity and then inflating it. Your health care provider may suggest other alternatives.
Nutrition and Dietary Supplements
Because supplements may have side effects or interact with medications, you should take them only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider.
- Bromelain -- Several studies suggest that bromelain, an enzyme derived from pineapples, may help reduce inflammation and swelling and relieve symptoms of sinusitis. However, not all studies found any benefit. Bromelain is often combined with quercetin a flavonoid (plant pigment responsible for the colors found in fruits and vegetables) that may act as an antihistamine. Bromelain may increase the risk of bleeding, so people who take anticoagulants (blood thinners) should not take bromelain without talking to their doctor first. Taking bromelain with ACE inhibitors may cause a drop in blood pressure (hypotension).
- Quercetin -- Quercetin is a flavonoid, a plant pigment responsible for the colors found in fruits and vegetables. In test tubes, it inhibits the production and release of histamine, which causes allergy symptoms such as a runny nose and watery eyes. It’s often combined with bromelain, a supplement made from pineapples. However, there is not much evidence that quercetin would work the same way in humans. More studies are needed. Some people report that water soluble quercetin, such as quercietin methyl chalcone, may work best.
- Probiotics (Lactobacillus) -- Probiotics, or "friendly" bacteria, may be helpful if you are taking antibiotics for sinusitis. They may also reduce your chances of developing allergies. Probiotics may not be appropriate for certain people who are extremely immunocompromised or who take immunosuppresent drugs; talk to your health care provider.
- N-acetylcysteine (NAC, 1,000 mg 3 times per day with meals) -- NAC is a modified form of a dietary amino acid that works as an antioxidant in the body. It also helps thin mucus. Although no scientific studies have been done to see if it works for sinusitis, some doctors report that it does lessen sinus congestion. NAC may interact with nitroglycerin, use to treat chest pain (angina).
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs only under the supervision of a health care provider.
- Essential oil monoterpenes -- A combination of essential oils --, including eucalyptus, a citrus oil, and an extract from pine -- has been suggested for several respiratory illnesses, including sinusitis. One study found that people with viral sinusitis who took essential oil monoterpenes did better than people who took placebo. However, more studies are needed.
- Sinupret (A proprietary formulation containing Sambucus nigra or European elder, Rumex acetosa or common sorrel, Primula veris or cowslip, Verbena officinalis or European vervain, Gentiana lutea or gentian) -- In two studies, Sinupret was found to be more effective than placebo in relieving symptoms of sinusitis. The herbs it contains may work by thinning mucus and helping the sinuses to drain, and they may also help strengthen the immune system.
Although studies are few and have found conflicting results, some people may find that acupuncture helps relieve symptoms of sinusitis. Acupuncturists usually describe sinusitis as "dampness," which creates inflammation and congestion in the mucus membranes. This dampness is cleared by strengthening the spleen meridian and by working with the stomach meridian. Practitioners often perform needling therapy or moxibustion (a technique in which the herb mugwort is burned over specific acupuncture points) for this condition.
A 2009 double-blind, randomized, controlled study found that acupuncture significantly improved nasal air flow and decreased congestion in participants with chronic sinusisits. These benefits also increased 30 minutes after treatment.
Although no studies have examined using chiropractic to treat sinusitis, some practitioners suggest that it may decrease pain and improve sinus drainage for some people.
There have been few studies examining the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies in general. In one study of homeopathy for sinusitis, however, more than 80% of the 119 participants had significant improvement in their symptoms after taking the homeopathic remedy for 2 weeks without antibiotics or other medications. Professional homeopaths may recommend one or more of the following treatments for sinus congestion based on their knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type. In homeopathic terms, a person's constitution is his or her physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual.
- Hepar sulphuricum -- for the later stages of sinus inflammation when the pain is concentrated between the eyes and is worsened by cold or motion; nasal discharge tends to be thick and the individual may experience sensitivity of the scalp
- Kali bichromicum -- this remedy is considered the first choice homeopathic treatment for sinusitis; it is most appropriate for individuals who have pain between the eyes or in the forehead above one eye; nasal discharge is generally stringy; scalp and facial bones are tender to touch and the person may feel dizzy or nauseated; pain is worse around noon and with cold and motion, but improves with warmth and pressure
- Mercurius -- for sinusitis with thick, green, foul smelling nasal discharge which may be blood tinged; there may also be a gripping pain around the head extending to the teeth; persons for whom Mercurius is appropriate have symptoms that worsen with open air, sleeping, eating, drinking, and extreme hot or cold; they may also have difficulty regulating their temperature (the individual often fluctuates from feeling cold and chilled to hot and sweaty)
- Pulsatilla -- for individuals who have a thick, bland, yellow or greenish discharge that is often accompanied by nausea and indigestion; symptoms tend to improve with cool air, pressure, and cool compresses; symptoms worsen when the individual is lying down, especially in a warm room; this remedy is appropriate for individuals who are distinctly not thirsty and require tremendous comforting
- Silicea -- for individuals with chronic congestion accompanied by head pain that tends to be worse in the right eye; this pain is worsened by cold, movement, light, noise, and mental concentration (such as when studying), but relieved by heat and pressure
- Spigelia -- for sinusitis with sharp pains on the left side of the face, generally coming on after exposure to cold, wet weather; symptoms are aggravated by warmth, light, noise, and movement, but are relieved by cold compresses or cool water on the face and when the individual is lying down with the head propped up
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