What is the Best Way to Relieve Sinus Congestion?

Karyn Maier
Karyn Maier
Karyn Maier
Karyn Maier
A cross section of the head, including the sinuses.
A cross section of the head, including the sinuses.

Sinus congestion is generally regarded as a symptom, not a disease. In fact, stuffy sinuses are usually attributed to allergies or the common cold, especially when sneezing, a low-grade fever, or a sore throat is present. However, when accompanied by a sinus headache, sinus congestion could be a sign of sinusitis, a chronic inflammatory disorder. In short, this means that the sinus cavities are inflamed and possibly blocked.

A sinus headache is often a symptom of sinusitis.
A sinus headache is often a symptom of sinusitis.

Regardless of the cause, sinus congestion is uncomfortable, if not inconvenient. Constant pressure around the eyes and throbbing pain experienced near the ears and around the forehead and jaw line can interfere with hearing, chewing, and even speaking. Left unchecked, acute sinus congestion can develop into an infection of the ear canals or the upper respiratory tract. Since prevention is worth more than cure, it’s important to track down the root cause of excessive sinus congestion.

Inhaling steam vapors will help loosen congestion.
Inhaling steam vapors will help loosen congestion.

Many people mistakenly believe that they only have one or two pairs of sinuses in their head, when humans actually have four sets, or eight altogether. Each one is only the size of a pea at birth, but they continue to grow as the body matures. However, what’s even more surprising is that the average adult produces anywhere from one pint (473 ml) to one quart (946 ml) of mucus each day. Normally, this mucus drains from the sinuses into the throat, where it is often swallowed and “processed” by stomach acids without causing any harm. Trouble begins when this process is stunted by inflammation and blockage promoted by smoking, environmental pollutants, and even emotional stress.

Using a humidifier at night may help relieve sinus congestion.
Using a humidifier at night may help relieve sinus congestion.

In addition to eliminating any of the above triggers, one of the best ways to reduce chronic sinus congestion is to modify the diet. Since inflammatory disorders involve the immune system, it would be wise to limit certain foods that solicit an inflammatory response. Specifically, foods that are high in arachidonic acid should be avoided since this agent is responsible for stimulating the production of leukotrienes, inflammatory mediators that are far more potent than even histamine. Since arachidonic acid is found exclusively in animal products, it would make sense to limit or eliminate them in favor of more whole grains and vegetables.

Onions and garlic are known for thinning mucus, although they can also raise and lower insulin levels in an unpredictable manner.
Onions and garlic are known for thinning mucus, although they can also raise and lower insulin levels in an unpredictable manner.

Another dietary strategy to relieve sinus congestion includes increasing intake of alliums, namely onions and garlic. This family of vegetables and herbs may help since they tend to thin out mucus secretions and facilitate its passage from sinus cavities. However, be aware that members of the allium family can also unpredictably raise or lower insulin levels, which can be detrimental for diabetics.

Sinus congestion and sneezing can be caused by allergies and the common cold.
Sinus congestion and sneezing can be caused by allergies and the common cold.

The use of a humidifier or a vaporizer, especially at night, may also help to relieve sinus congestion. The increased moisture will thin mucus secretions and allow sinuses to drain better. At the very least, holding the head over a pan of steaming hot water while under a “tent” made with a towel can bring relief.

Finally, if dietary measures and do-it-yourself recommendations fail to resolve symptoms, it may be necessary to take a daily decongestant or antihistamine. Many medications of this type can be purchased over-the-counter. However, if symptoms persist, a consultation with a physician may be in order to rule out an anatomic abnormality that may be causing chronic sinus congestion.

Karyn Maier
Karyn Maier

Contributing articles to wiseGEEK is just one of Karyn’s many professional endeavors. She is also a magazine writer and columnist, mainly for health-related publications, as well as the author of four books. Karyn lives in New York’s Catskill Mountain region and specializes in topics about green living and botanical medicine.

Karyn Maier
Karyn Maier

Contributing articles to wiseGEEK is just one of Karyn’s many professional endeavors. She is also a magazine writer and columnist, mainly for health-related publications, as well as the author of four books. Karyn lives in New York’s Catskill Mountain region and specializes in topics about green living and botanical medicine.

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Discussion Comments

FrameMaker

@ Giraffeears- One of the best sinus congestion treatments for me has been the Neti Pot. I mix a prepackaged saline solution with about a cup of warm water and use the special neti pot to clear drain my sinuses. When I am having bad allergies or a sinus cold I use the pot about twice a day. It offers instant relief, and I find that my sinuses clear much sooner. This is about the best natural remedy that I know of.

GiraffeEars

I have had severe sinus congestion for the past three days, and it has made it nearly impossible for me to relax. I am pretty sure that my problems are form a cold that is going around, but I was running a fever for a couple of days, and I have an almost alkaline taste in my mouth. I am going to the doctor tomorrow. I am wondering though, if there is any way to tell if my sinuses are infected. Does anyone have any treatments that can at least temporarily clear my sinuses without the use of drugs and medication?

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    • A cross section of the head, including the sinuses.
      A cross section of the head, including the sinuses.
    • A sinus headache is often a symptom of sinusitis.
      A sinus headache is often a symptom of sinusitis.
    • Inhaling steam vapors will help loosen congestion.
      Inhaling steam vapors will help loosen congestion.
    • Using a humidifier at night may help relieve sinus congestion.
      Using a humidifier at night may help relieve sinus congestion.
    • Onions and garlic are known for thinning mucus, although they can also raise and lower insulin levels in an unpredictable manner.
      Onions and garlic are known for thinning mucus, although they can also raise and lower insulin levels in an unpredictable manner.
    • Sinus congestion and sneezing can be caused by allergies and the common cold.
      Sinus congestion and sneezing can be caused by allergies and the common cold.
    • Sleeping with the head elevated at night is a common sinus congestion remedy.
      Sleeping with the head elevated at night is a common sinus congestion remedy.