Sinus Infection Home Remedies: Relief without Antibiotics

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A long history of chronic sinus trouble brought a patient who I’ll call Joanne to see me. Joanne was in her mid 60s. She had raised four children while working as a paralegal and was looking forward to retiring. But she was determined to end the ongoing sinus infections she had lived with for the past 50 or so years.

“For as long as I can remember — since I was a little girl, in fact — I’ve had a runny nose, sinus headaches, and a chronic cough,” she told me. “The other doctors I’ve been to want me to take antibiotics or steroids, but whatever I take, the sinus problems come right back.”

Unfortunately, the chronic sinus problems were also making Joanne’s asthma worse. Her medications included not just antibiotics and oral and nasal medications, but a bronchodilator, as well. “My husband and I have a lot of traveling planned after I retire next year, and I don’t want to be hauling around medication or have an asthma attack in another country where I don’t speak the language. So I hope you have a magic wand to make all of this go away. Because nothing else has.”

A magic wand would be nice, but there are better, more practical ways to treat sinus problems. The first step is to understand how sinusitis happens, and then we’ll talk about what you can do to prevent that.

All About Sinuses

The sinuses are small, air-filled cavities that link the nose and throat. Their job is to prevent mucus from reaching the lungs, where it could cause infection. The sinuses are situated above the eyes, in the upper nose, alongside and behind the bridge of the nose, and inside the cheekbones.

Sinusitis occurs when the sinus linings become inflamed. There are two types of sinusitis — acute and chronic. Common colds, bacteria, or viruses can trigger acute sinusitis. On the other hand, chronic sinusitis may start with a cold, and then linger due to pollution or toxins in the air, stress, smoking, or allergies. Typically, acute cases go away within a month or so. When the symptoms drag on for twelve weeks or more, the diagnosis changes to chronic sinusitis.

Facial pain and tenderness and/or swelling in the sinus areas are common symptoms of sinusitis. Some individuals experience low-grade fever, post-nasal drip, difficulties smelling, bad-breath, breathing problems, headache, fatigue, and/or cough.

Sinusitis might seem like more of an inconvenience than a serious ailment. But the problem is, inflamed sinuses mean you’re at risk of being exposed to dangerous bacteria, toxins, viruses, and allergens because the sinuses can’t operate efficiently.

Our noses are designed to serve as high-efficiency air filters. When fully functioning, the human nose is capable of removing 80 percent of the various substances in the air. It does this by relying on tiny, hair-like fibers known as cilia in the nose. The cilia are equipped with mucous that’s loaded with substances to counteract toxins and other dangerous elements in the air.

Healthy, mucous-covered cilia are designed to catch invaders before they make themselves at home in your lungs. But inflamed sinuses weaken cilia, preventing them from removing invaders, and leaving you exposed to risk with every breath.

The Cold Facts

The first step to maintaining healthy sinuses is to avoid colds. Easier said than done, right? But take my word for it — it can be done. As a working physician, I spend most of the day with people who are sick. Years ago, I realized that, if I was going to be a doctor, my immune system had to be in top working order. So I’ve spent many hours investigating how to prevent infections like common colds. Here are some of the best methods I’ve found…

Look at Your Lifestyle

If you experience frequent colds and infections, it may be time to overhaul your lifestyle. Start by reviewing my earlier issue on immunity. Briefly, our immune systems thrive when we provide common sense support, like a nutritious, whole foods diet, plenty of high quality sleep, fresh, clean, filtered water, moderate exercise, appropriate supplements, and some form of stress management.

I’ve written about all of these things in earlier issues, and I do hope you’ll take a look at those and consider making some changes. It would be convenient to pop a pill that makes colds and sinus congestion go away, but that’s not very realistic. In fact, a recent study found that antibiotics, the most commonly prescribed treatment for colds, don’t work. Here’s why: most colds are caused by one of the many varieties of rhinovirus. Since antibiotics are designed to take on bacteria — not viruses — there’s no point in taking them for a virus-related cold.

Over-prescribing antibiotics has also led to the sort of frightening antibiotic-resistant bugs that are common today. Antibiotics destroy the friendly bacteria in our intestinal tracts. Ironically, the friendly bacteria are absolutely essential to our immune systems. So it’s very likely that antibiotics will not help with that cold, and they could make you even more vulnerable to the next one. In fact, a January 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed, once again, that antibiotics aren’t necessary for basic sinusitis.

Sleep It Off

Adequate sleep is another lifestyle issue linked to immunity. Years ago when I was an intern, I discovered that I was getting colds a few days after a busy night with very little sleep. Interestingly, research supports the connection between lack of sleep and illness, especially common colds.

If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, please revisit my issue on sleep for some helpful ideas. Sleep-supportive supplements, like melatonin, can help immensely. I’ve found that getting at least eight hours of sleep keeps my immune system functioning. But, for Joanne, it turned out that nine or ten hours did the trick.

Finding ways to minimize stress is another excellent way to promote deep, restful sleep. There are dozens of books on the topic, as well as meditation resources online that you might find helpful. Regular, moderate exercise — like a brisk, 30-minute walk — is another good way to reduce stress and improve your overall health.

Cold and Sinus Solutions

My first suggestion is a proven method for preventing colds in the first place. Simply gargle with plain water three times a day throughout cold and flu season and you’ll cut your risk of catching a cold by almost 40 percent, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

If you already have a cold or sinus infection, here’s my favorite technique for easing symptoms: the saltwater nasal rinse. It’s safe, effective, inexpensive, and relieves symptoms quickly. Saltwater rinses are available over the counter (look for “saline” on the label) or you can make your own. I’ve found that NeilMed makes a good product. But, to make your own, all you need is some water, salt (preferably sea salt), and an ordinary bulb syringe found in any drugstore.

Saltwater rinse is an excellent way to remove mucus and any particles (toxins, allergens, and other irritating substances) from your nose. This not only decreases stuffiness, but it also helps the cilia protect the lungs from invaders. To make the rinse, simply mix eight ounces of warm, filtered or distilled water (to remove chlorine that could cause a burning sensation) with 1/8 teaspoon of salt. I prefer sea salt because it contains important minerals, but you can use whatever is handy.

Fill the bulb syringe with saltwater solution. Lean over the sink and gently insert the syringe tip about 1/2″ into your nose. Do not try to force the syringe further into your nose. Point the tip of the syringe upward, toward your temple, then gently squeeze the syringe bulb. The saltwater will flow into your nostril. Allow it to drain out of your mouth or other nostril. Repeat the process on the opposite side.

If you make your own saline solution, you might try adding one teaspoon of “no tears” baby shampoo to 8 ounces of saltwater. Studies have shown that baby shampoo improved results for the majority of patients. Joanne, who was totally put off at first by the thought of using shampoo, eventually found that this version of the nasal rinse was far superior to saltwater alone.

“When you first described this to me, I thought you were joking,” she told me. “I really wasn’t prepared for how fast and how well it worked. Very impressive!”

After rinsing your nose, carefully clean the syringe by filling it with fresh water several times and squeezing the water out. When the rinse water is clear, dry the bulb well and store it with the tip facing downward so any water inside can drip out. You can use saline nasal irrigation several times a day to relieve symptoms.

In addition to bulb syringes, there are other nasal irrigation systems available. No matter which method you prefer, be sure to clean and dry the tools carefully after each use. Otherwise, harmful bacteria can grow inside.

Supplements for Sinus Support

In my earlier issue on inflammation, I mentioned a handful of supplements that really make a difference. Since sinusitis is inflammation of the sinuses, those nutrients — curcumin (500 mg daily), vitamin C (2,000 to 4,000 mg daily in divided doses throughout the day), and essential fatty acids (EFAs; 1,000 mg twice daily) are my strong recommendation. Vitamin D is another excellent supplement for sinuses. Many times, temporarily doubling or tripling the daily dose of vitamin D helps relieve sinus infections.

In addition, you may want to check your multivitamin to make certain you’re getting enough immune-boosting vitamin A. A daily dose of 10,000 IUs of vitamin A, along with an additional 15,000 IUs of the vitamin A precursor known as beta-carotene, is ideal. Vitamin A not only maintains healthy immunity overall, it also keeps mucous membranes in top form. Foods rich in vitamin A include sweet potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, leafy greens, mango, papaya, egg yolk, and pumpkin.

At the other end of the alphabet, we have another cold-and-sinus infection fighter, the mineral zinc, which is essential for a healthy immune system. Zinc improves absorption of vitamin A. Egg yolks, fish, mushrooms, whole grains, and pumpkin seeds are good food sources of zinc. In supplement form, 30 mg is a typical dose. Zinc is often sold with copper to maintain a healthy balance of the two.

The last time I saw Joanne, she had come in to my clinic to get a few vaccinations before leaving on a camera safari to Africa. “If it hadn’t been for your advice, I’d be sitting this one out,” she told me. “I haven’t had a single cold in the last year, and no sinus infections or asthma attacks either! A little saltwater, a few vitamins, and I’m good to go. It’s like a whole new world!”

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  • Andrew Russell

    gay pride world wide

  • elizabethregister .

    Wash your hands well, snuff up your salt water mixture from the palm of your hand and let it run out. Sounds nasty, but works great.

  • James

    I had a severe sinusitis. I had gone to Karachi, Pakistan for work. There I took Chhinkini from Tayyebi Dawakhana on the advice of my driver. This product was amazing. It cleared out my sinuses and my head felt lighter and I was able to do my work more effectively.

  • Karen McDonald

    That darn addthis menu blocks off the left side of the page, and that’s where most of the text is – could you shufty it to the right hand side please where there is just blank space? Cheers! I’m using Chrome, btw.

  • mark

    Am now 35 yrs i have had sinusitis as long as i can remember living in warm and now in very cold country still its a problem to me,have gone to doctors they have put me in antibiotics and steroids But i remember going to an herbalist with no Education and she told me to inhale steam from boiled water with Euycalptus and that did me good, Now in Europe am using an alternative,inhaling steam from a mixture of hot water and Olbas oil(cover your head with a blanket and inhale the steam fro few minutes it does wonders!i do this 3 times a day.And offcourse combine with good balance food for your immune system.

  • Marilyn Biles Johnson

    Have had two sinus surgeries. I still have sinus infections all the year long. No rhyme or reason, no allergy, antibiotics have stopped working, just suffering with it all the time. 24-7. If I thought that “No More Tears” in my nasal rinse would work, I would not hesitate since I have no smelling ability currently. It would make no difference…..

  • jbailey122

    Take 4000IU of Vitamin D3 a day and you won’t need surgery as you will bump up your immune system.

  • jbailey122

    Make sure that you take 4000 IU of Vitamin D3 a day. It will get you off the cycle of antibiotics.

  • stopthelies1

    Religiously washing your hands is the best prevention against getting sick. If you do not do that, taking all these mineral supplements and eating ‘the right foods’ is a waste of your time. Colds or the flu are spread by picking up the germs on your hands and then transferring then into your body via your eyes or nose. Another method of prevention is never to touch your face with your hands, use your wrist or knuckles only, they carry far less germs.

  • stopthelies1

    What?

  • bttab

    Also, my brother suffers as well, but his condition turned chronic. Washes did not work. Anti-biotics, even multiple treatments, stopped working, which was worrisome. It turns out that some people’s sinuses do not drain as they should, and this was his case. He had an operation to create drainage paths, and it has radically changed his condition for the better. Almost never another infection. For those who suffer chronically, this might be worth looking into. Do, however, insist on a surgeon who is very experienced as it is apparently a tricky operation.

  • bttab

    I’ve always been susceptible to sinus infections. Nose washes are
    helpful, but beware of two things: Putting too much liquid in your
    nose, and not using a sterile solution. Too much liquid can force the
    bacteria higher and deeper in your sinuses and exacerbate the problem.
    You don’t need more than 5-10 ml. Not using a sterile solution is
    obviously troublesome. I used to make my own solution, but have stopped
    and now buy single dose solutions — always sterile, always ready in
    the right amount.

  • Ween Kolberg

    Curtis Skeels, the product I references was pulled off the market. “SINUSURF” I was told by NeilMed that SINUSURF was “essentially the same product” (as J&J Baby Shampoo). It was pulled from the market September 2011 – some of the issues… permanent loss of smell! So that product was deemed UNSAFE yet the published research and the NeilMed site and many other MD”s continue to promote the use of J&J Baby Shampoo as medicine despite the adverse effects?

    As mentioned in my original post, J&J has been pledging to “remove chemicals of concern” for years now. And, J&J has been all over the news this year for having “harmful chemicals” & “cancer causing formaldehyde” in US products, including baby shampoo. Why would any patient with chronic illness want to introduce that into their system? They/we’ve got enough problems & shouldn’t be adding “harmful chemicals”, “cancer causing formaldehyde” and “loss of smell” to the sinus issues.

  • a dn

    I prefer my hand. I wash it often and it’s right there at the end of my wrist, free.

  • a dn

    And if we’re adding baby shampoo, the solution is now not sterile.

    Everything else she said? Forget it. If she’s as careful about all her research as she was about that one piece of information………run.

  • Curtis Skeels

    Just for anyone who may stumble across this article and read the above post…the NeliMed product is a Neli Pot with a ton of Saline packs that come with it (Salt…to dissolve in the warm water).

    The salt packs are just that, salt – and it’s not pulled from the market as you can still purchase it at Walgreens, Rite Aid, and most other supermarkets.

  • Kellergirl

    Yeah, I am sure you are not hot either. Loser.

  • Cheryl Phillips

    TRUE. When having any kind of cold or flu with mucus. Doctors have advised me to stay away from dairy products….period! Dairy products contribute to the production of mucus and therefore will not help in the recovery.

  • Jeannie Willard

    Went to her clinic over a year ago VERY sick…although they are very nice…each appointment is RIDICULOUS expensive and they did NOT help me at all.

  • ApproachWithLove

    Hi Cris, I’ve recently come across a few articles about healthy people who still catch colds that bring up an interesting point to consider. Cold viruses are obviously everywhere, and unless we live in a bubble, we all ingest them in some way shape or form. When we actually “catch” a cold and start exhibiting symptoms, those symptoms are not a sign that the virus got in per se, but they are the exact by-product of our immune system fighting to get rid of it. So it stands to reason that people with very strong immune systems are likely to “catch” colds more often; their immune systems are producing a normal amount of inflammatory mediators that fight the virus, and unfortunately create the lousy symptoms. It’s a logical explanation, that mildly flies in the face of the western medicine paradigm we’ve all been indoctrinated to follow, but makes sense to me, especially for those who make healthier lifestyle choices for themselves and still seem to get hit!

    I’d also be very aware of your intake of GMO foods, which sadly in this country includes ALL soy, sugar, wheat and corn that is not certified organic or non-GMO. While most independent research has been effectively blocked by Monsanto due to their appeal to protect their “intellectual property” (disgusting), there is information coming to light every day showing a positive correlation between GMO and all kinds of health problems like allergies, ADD, obesity, diabetes, autism, large aggressive tumors exhibited in rats, to actual restructuring of human DNA! We simply can’t trust our own FDA anymore as even labeling is being fought by very monied and powerful lobbying efforts in the US. I find it appalling that these foods don’t even have to be labeled! Many European countries enforce labeling, some have outright banned GMO farms entirely (protecting their citizens, isn’t that a novel approach!) due to the lack of proper research and evidence that it is in fact safe for human consumption.

    Sorry to ramble, but that’s my 2 cents anyway. Obviously you have to find an explanation that resonates for you personally, but hopefully this helps you in some way. :)

  • Cindy

    A lot of folks have sinus issues when they eat dairy products because of an allergy to some of the additives. I have no trouble when I eat organic yoghurt.

  • Ween Kolberg

    “Studies have shown that baby shampoo…” LIE!!!!! Studies have not shown – There was ONE report done by 7 MD’s at Division of Rhinology, Department of Otorhinolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 2008. The report is based on ONLY 18 PATIENTS!!!

    J&J was not told that their product, a cosmetic, was being used internally, as a medicine. Cosmetics do no require FDA regs, etc but Medicine does.

    J&J’s baby shampoo had toxic ingredients. It was such an issue that J&J made a promise to consumers to take toxins out of baby shampoo & all of their products by 2013-2015. In the mean time…. idiot MD’s are telling Patients to use this toxic item to rinse sinus with. The idiot MD’s base this decision on a test of only 18 patients! With NO FDA approval and no J&J approval!

    For some strange reason “the” publication (research document) can be found on NeilMed’s website. Shortly after the publication came out, NeilMed came out with their own product that NeilMed tole me “was the same product (as Johnson’s Baby Shampoo)”. NeilMed’s product was PULLED FROM THE MARKET in Fall 2011 because it was unsafe! Some but not all of the reasons were: it’s addictive and loss of smell. If NeilMed’s product, a medicine, was pulled from the market for being unsafe and it was “the same” as Johnson’s Baby Shampoo then why would Johnson’s Baby Shampoo be any safer for internal use?

    And, once the product is reformulated, (1) is it effective? (2) is it any safer?

    I found all this out, as a Patient, by simply making phone calls. I’m amazed at how stupid people are. Rinse away dumbass.

  • Cathy

    I’ve been taking this supplements for 7 weeks, feel better, but sinusitis is not gone. If you look at section under supplements to take Vitamin D dosage isn’t there.. I wrote Newport and they quickly got back to with 1,500 iu.

  • http://sinupret.co.za/ SinupretSa

    You have listed some great recommendations for a chronic sinusitis infection. There are times when antibiotics are just out of the question because of many reasons like when you have Fungal Sinusitis and tips like these may be helpful until you are able to get to the doctors provided your condition is that serious.

  • disqus_qOSXC2ZKgx

    I’m 24 and have had trouble with sinus infections as long as I can remember. I’ve always gone to the doctors for them and have been given antibiotics. Antibiotics are not working for me anymore. Thanks for this article, I’m going to follow your recommendations and hopefully I can ward off my sinus infection.

  • david

    I have been told that whoile milk is bad for those of us with sinus conditions.T or F

  • Tara Pope

    I always get a sinus infection more that once a year. I can not afford to just take off work to go to the doctors every time to get relief. I am so glad I have the MD247 service, I just pick up the phone and call. I am connected with a doctor within minutes and I am able to get the comfort an relief I need. Sinus Infection