Antibiotic-free ways to beat sinusitis and breathe clearly again
Sinusitis—infection or inflammation of the sinuses—is an extremely common condition, affecting about one in seven adults (31 million people) every year.
The management of sinusitis costs an estimated $11 billion annually—and that doesn’t include the economic impact of lost productivity. It’s the fifth most common diagnosis for which antibiotics are prescribed.
The sinuses are small, air-filled cavities that line the nose and throat. They are situated above the eyes, in the upper nose, alongside and behind the bridge of the nose, and inside the cheekbones. Their job is to prevent mucous from getting into the lungs.
Typically, sinusitis begins with a simple infection (like a cold). When a virus or bacterium enters the nasal passages and begins to multiply, the body responds by causing inflammation in the sinuses.
This swelling often blocks the channels that allow the sinuses to drain, which leads to mucous buildup. You and I often call it a “stuffy nose”. To sinusitis sufferers, it's a warning sign of a potentially severe reaction to a common bug.
Acute vs. Chronic Sinusitis
With acute sinusitis, symptoms occur for four weeks or less. Symptoms include cloudy or colored drainage from the nose along with one or more of the following symptoms:
- Stuffy nose or congestion
- Postnasal drip
- Pain or pressure in the face or around the eyes
- Low-grade fever
- Other cold-like symptoms.
Acute progresses to chronic sinusitis if these symptoms last for at least 12 weeks, and your nasal blockage is so severe that you start to lose your senses of smell and taste.
Oftentimes, but not always, acute and chronic sinusitis are caused by the same thing—a virus or other “bug” that your body just can’t seem to fight off. Your primary care provider or an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist, can help determine what type you have and how to best treat it.
Proper Treatment Is Key
It is important to treat sinusitis properly. Here’s why…
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 in the nose called cilia.
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.
However, inflamed, infected sinuses weaken cilia, preventing them from removing invaders and leaving you exposed to risk of other toxins, allergens, and illnesses with every breath.
As mentioned earlier, antibiotics are a common treatment for sinusitis. But especially in the beginning, they’re not always the best solution to the problem.
A lot of times, physicians write prescriptions for antibiotics simply because patients are expecting them.
Nobody wants to go to the doctor while sick, only to be told, “Let’s wait and see if your body can fight this off on its own.” Most patients want to do whatever it takes to knock out an illness quickly—even if the supposed “cure” isn’t the best or most appropriate course of action.
I’ll give you an example.
A family member of mine took his one-year-old child to the doctor with an upper respiratory infection. He left that appointment with nine different treatments, including prescriptions for antibiotic and antiviral medication, drugs to help with stomach distress that could result as a side effect of the other medications, a nebulizer, and so on.
I think it is terrifying to see that kind of treatment plan, especially in young kids, because the potential damage from overtreatment is worse than the illness itself.
He took the “wait and see” approach, and it turns out that all it took for the baby to get better was plain old time, rest, patience, and hydration.
Sinusitis Home Remedies
Our bodies really are far more powerful against pathogens than we give them credit for. If we truly allow our systems to do what they’re designed to do, they can—and often do—heal themselves without any other interventions.
In fact, research has found that, in 70 percent of cases, sinusitis tends to resolve on its own within two weeks.
With that said, here are a few things you can do at home to facilitate the process…
Nasal irrigation using a neti pot is safe, effective, inexpensive, and relieves symptoms quickly. Saltwater rinses are available over the counter (look for “saline” on the label; NeilMed makes a good product) or you can make your own. All you need is some filtered or distilled water (do not use tap, as it may contain chemicals or microorganisms that can irritate or further infect your nasal passages), salt, and an ordinary bulb syringe found in any drugstore.
Saltwater rinse is an excellent way to remove mucous and any particles 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 with ⅛ teaspoon of salt. Fill the bulb syringe with the saltwater solution. Lean over the sink and gently insert the syringe tip about ½″ 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, then blow your nose to remove any remaining solution or mucous.
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.
Adequate sleep is crucial for immunity and for fighting off infections. If you have trouble sleeping, sleep-enhancing supplements like melatonin can help immensely.
Finding ways to minimize stress is another excellent way to boost immunity and promote deep, restful sleep. There are dozens of books on the topic, as well as meditation resources online that you might find helpful.
Finally, considering using a humidifier in your home to relieve congestion and keep your sinus cavity moist.
Supplements for Sinus Support and Treatment
There are a handful of supplements that work wonders for inflammation. Since sinusitis is inflammatory in nature, these nutrients can be helpful:
- Curcumin (500 mg daily)
- Vitamin C (2,000 to 4,000 mg daily in divided doses throughout the day)
- Omega-3 essential fatty acids (1,000 mg twice daily)
Vitamin D is another excellent supplement for the health of your sinuses. During an acute infection, temporarily doubling or tripling your daily dose of vitamin D can help provide relief and even treat it.
Additionally, making sure your vitamin D levels are within adequate range can help prevent sinus infections. Research has shown that vitamin D deficiency is linked with increased risk of sinusitis.
Vitamin A (10,000 IUs daily, along with an additional 15,000 IUs of beta-carotene) not only maintains healthy immunity overall, it also keeps mucous membranes in top form. Along with supplementation, increase your intake of foods rich in vitamin A, including sweet potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, leafy greens, mango, papaya, egg yolk, and pumpkin.
Zinc, at the other end of the alphabet, is another excellent cold and sinus infection fighter. Zinc also improves absorption of vitamin A. Egg yolks, fish, mushrooms, whole grains, and pumpkin seeds are good food sources. In supplement form, 30 mg is a typical dose. Zinc is often sold with copper to maintain a healthy balance of the two.
When to See a Doctor
Remember, acute sinusitis can last for several weeks. Give your body a chance to fight it off, using self-care techniques and getting plenty of rest.
If your symptoms start to improve—even if it seems to take a while—then let it be. Be patient. Your body is slowly, but surely, doing what it needs to do to fight the infection.
However, if your sinusitis symptoms get worse despite proper self-care; if they’re accompanied by high fever, a lot of facial swelling, and green or foul-smelling nasal discharge; and if these progressively worsening symptoms persist for longer than 10 days, it’s time to see your doctor.
In these cases, an antibiotic may be warranted because the infection has gotten out of control.
On a final note, be sure to take probiotic supplements while on antibiotics. While important and often lifesaving, antibiotics have a downside—they also kill beneficial bacteria along with the pathogenic.
Probiotics help ensure you continue to have friendly “bugs” in your system. Take your probiotics several hours apart from your antibiotics, as the antibiotics could negate their effects.
Take good care.
- Aring AM and Chan MM. Current Concepts in Adult Acute Rhinosinusitis. Am Fam Physician. 2016 Jul 15;94(2):97-105. Last accessed Jan. 22, 2019.
- University of Michigan Medicine. Acute Rhinosinusitis in Adults. https://www.med.umich.edu/1info/FHP/practiceguides/Rhino/rhino.pdf. Last accessed Jan. 22, 2019.
- Khalid AN, et al. Association of Vitamin D Status and Acute Rhinosinusitis. Medicine (Baltimore). 2015 Oct;94(40):e1447. Last accessed Jan. 22, 2019.
Disclaimer: Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
Last Updated: September 25, 2020
Originally Published: March 2, 2012