The following self-care treatments and medications can help relieve your pain and discomfort. Sinus infections are usually caused by a viral infection, so antibiotics aren't usually effective. However, there are certain situations when you may be prescribed antibiotics.
To help relieve the pain and discomfort caused by sinusitis, try the following home treatments:
- Rest to help your body to heal faster.
- Keep hydrated and drink lots of fluids to help thin the mucus.
- Hold a hot compress or warm face pack over the painful area.
- Consider using saline (salt water) nasal spray or drops, or a sinus rinse to relieve congestion and blockage in your nose.
- You can make a home-made sinus rinse solution or you can buy a sinus rinse from your pharmacy. Read more about saline nasal sprays, drops and rinses.
VIDEO: Sinus rinsing with saline or medication
The following video demonstrates how to do a sinus rinse. It may take a few moments to load.
(Mayo Clinic, US, 2020)
Breathing in hot steam is a traditional remedy but is not recommended because there's little evidence that it helps. Also, there is a risk you might burn yourself. However, some people find that their nose feels clearer for a short while after a hot shower.
- Pain relief medication: take pain relief medicines (eg, paracetamol), or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs, eg, ibuprofen) to reduce pain and discomfort. Read more about how to use NSAIDs safely.
- Antihistamines can help to dry up nasal secretions and relieve a post-nasal drip if your symptoms are caused by hay fever or an allergy. There's no evidence that they'll work if your congestion is cased by viruses or bacteria. Some antihistamines can make you sleepy so if you need to be alert during the day, (eg, for driving) use one that won't have this effect. Examples are loratadine or cetirizine. For some people antihistamines can make the mucous thicker. Read more about antihistamines.
- Decongestant nasal sprays or drops (eg, oxymetazoline) can help to reduce congestion and swelling within your nose and sinuses. But you need to use them carefully because using them too much can make your symptoms worse. They can actually increase congestion if used for more than 3 days. Read more about nasal decongestants.
- Steroid nasal sprays: your healthcare provider may recommend the use of steroid nasal sprays (eg, Flixonase) to relieve your symptoms. You will usually feel better after using them for 2 to 3 days, but they may take a few weeks to work fully.
- Decongestant tablets: Although these have been used a lot in the past, there is little recent evidence that these medicines work and they can be expensive to buy.
Do I need antibiotics?
Antibiotics are seldom needed to treat sinusitis because sinusitis is mostly caused by viruses (a viral infection). Antibiotics only work against bacteria (a bacterial infection) but not viruses.
Using antibiotics when they are not needed can lead to antibiotic resistance. This is when overuse of antibiotics encourages the growth of bacteria that can’t be controlled easily with drugs. That can make it harder in the future to treat any infections you might get, and make antibiotics less effective for everyone. Antibiotics can also cause serious side effects so it’s important to only use them when they’ll help.
- Antibiotics are considered when symptoms last longer than 10 days, start to improve but then worsen again, or are very severe. Severe symptoms could include:
- a fever over 39°C
- extreme pain and tenderness over your sinuses
- signs of a skin infection, eg, a hot, red rash that spreads quickly.
- If you are given antibiotics, finish the full course.
- Read more about antibiotics for sinusitis.(external link)