Acute sinusitis, also known as acute rhinosinusitis, is a short-term infection or inflammation of the tissue lining the cavities around your nasal passages (sinuses). This flare-up of the nasal membranes obstructs the sinus openings, hindering normal mucus drainage and thereby causing mucus to accumulate within the sinuses. This makes it extremely hard to breathe through the nose.
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, sinusitis is a fairly common condition with about 1 in 8 adults in the United States suffering from it, amounting to 30 million annual diagnoses.
The magnitude of the problem can further be gauged by the fact that the direct cost of managing acute and chronic sinusitis exceeds $11 billion per year.
Causes of Acute Sinusitis
The mucus builds up within the nasal passages that are otherwise typically filled with air, and this condition offers a conducive breeding ground for germs.
Other causes include:
- Deviated septum, which is a structural anomaly of the nasal passage
- Intranasal allergies such as hay fever that target sinuses
- Tumors or growths in the nasal lining such as nasal polyps
- Mucus buildup that can also be traced back to cystic fibrosis
- Bacterial infection from a contaminated tooth, which can also spread to the sinuses
Signs and Symptoms Associated with Acute Sinusitis
The signs and symptoms of sinusitis include:
- Nasal congestion
- Thick mucus discharge from the nose or down the back of the throat
- Sore throat
- Cough (which may be worse at night)
- Bad breath
- Pain and tenderness behind the eyes, nose, cheeks, or forehead
- Reduced sense of smell and taste
Diagnosing Acute Sinusitis
Your doctor will take into account your medical history and discuss all the symptoms you are experiencing before moving onto a physical examination. He/she will check for any blockage, swelling, and drainage inside your ears, nose, and throat.
If your doctor feels that your symptoms may be stemming from an allergic reaction, an allergy test will be conducted to determine what triggered your sinusitis.
Treatment for Acute Sinusitis
- Although a typical case of acute sinusitis usually does not warrant any treatment, saline nose washes, decongestants, and pain relievers can provide symptomatic relief and ease your road to recovery.
- The doctor may prescribe you antibiotics to expedite the healing process by killing the bacteria (that may be) responsible for the sinus inflammation.
- Similarly, nasal steroid sprays can come to your rescue for shortening the course of sinusitis, as they are known to reduce inflammation.
- People with chronic, recurrent, or severe sinus infections may be recommended balloon dilation and endoscopic sinus surgery to reduce the intensity and frequency of infections.
Tips and Remedies to Get Relief from Acute Sinusitis
Here are 10 home remedies to help relieve your discomfort and promote healing.
1. Steam Inhalation can Help Clear up Your Sinuses
The best treatment for acute sinusitis is steam inhalation. Breathing in steam works as a natural expectorant to clear nasal congestion and open up your sinuses.
It can also help lubricate the irritated respiratory tract.
- Add a few drops of peppermint or eucalyptus essential oil to a small tub of hot water. Cover your head with a towel and inhale the steam for a few minutes. Repeat a few times a day.
- Also, run a hot shower and breathe in the steam vapors for 5 to 10 minutes. Do this once or twice daily.
2. Soothe Your Sinuses with Saline Solution
Using a saline solution for nasal irrigation is another effective way to treat acute sinusitis. A saline solution works to relieve pressure from the sinuses by thinning the mucus and enabling its expulsion from the nasal passages.
- Dissolve 1 teaspoon of sea salt in 2 cups of warm water (use distilled or previously boiled water).
- Fill a neti pot with 1 cup of the solution.
- While standing over a sink, place the tip of the spout into one nostril, tilt your head to the side, and allow the water to run out through the other nostril.
- Refill the neti pot and repeat the process with the other nostril.
- Repeat this remedy once or twice daily for a few days.
3. Cayenne Pepper is a Natural Aid
Cayenne pepper is another effective home remedy for acute sinusitis. The active component in cayenne pepper is capsaicin, which works as a painkiller and helps reduce nasal congestion.
Furthermore, capsaicin has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that will help relieve the swelling and inflammation that are narrowing your nasal passages.
- Mix 1 teaspoon each of cayenne pepper and honey and consume the mixture a few times a day.
- Another option is to add 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper powder to 1 cup of hot water. Drink this solution three times a day to loosen up the mucus and stimulate its excretion.
- You can also use a capsaicin nasal spray, which is readily available over the counter at pharmacies. Use it as directed.
4. Use a Humidifier
Air that is too warm can aggravate the symptoms of a blocked nose. Hence, adjusting the humidity in your house with the help of a humidifier can provide a quick, easy way to reduce sinus pain arising from a stuffy nose.
The sinuses function at their best in a moist warm environment, recording between 35% to 45% humidity. Adjust your humidifier to the preferred setting so that the environment turns damp, but not too damp.
Breathing in this moist air can soothe the irritated tissues and swollen blood vessels in your nose and sinuses. It can also thin the mucus in your sinuses, which in turn aids the process of flushing out the gunk clogging your nose and returning your breathing to normal.
Make sure to put a humidifier in the room where you sleep.
5. Garlic Promotes Sinus Drainage
Garlic is a natural decongestant that helps open up your nasal passages by dissolving the rigid mucus and thereby making it easier to drain. In addition, garlic exhibits potent antioxidant, antibiotic, and immunity-boosting properties, all of which fast-track the recovery process.
- Add 2 to 3 finely chopped garlic cloves to a pot of boiling water. Cover your head with a towel and inhale the steam of this garlic-infused water for 5 minutes. Repeat the process a few times a day.
- You can also eat 2 to 3 fresh garlic cloves daily or use garlic in your cooking.
- Alternatively, you can take 250 to 500 mg of garlic in supplement form to treat acute sinusitis. Talk with your doctor before using a supplement.
6. Horseradish is a Natural Alternative to Antibiotics
The herb horseradish is also beneficial in acute sinusitis. It helps dissolve and eliminate excess mucus. Moreover, its natural antibiotic properties boost your immune system and promote quick recovery.
A 2007 study published in Arzneimittel-Forschung found that patients treated for acute sinusitis, acute bronchitis, and acute urinary tract infection with a herbal drug containing horseradish root displayed a clear advantageous safety profile compared to the group treated with standard antibiotics.
- Grate 1 large horseradish and transfer it to a jar. Add the juice of 1 lemon and 1 tablespoon of raw honey to it. Seal the jar and set it aside for 24 hours. Consume 1 tablespoon of this mixture a few times daily to promote the flow of mucus.
- Another option is to put a pinch of freshly grated horseradish in your mouth until its flavor becomes bland and then swallow it. Do this a few times a day.
7. Consume Fenugreek Seeds for Faster Healing
Fenugreek seeds contain anti-inflammatory properties. They help cleanse the mucous membranes, thus helping the sinus cavities drain the excessive secretions.
Additionally, fenugreek seeds assist the body in bringing down mucus production, which is the source of your sinus discomfort in the first place.
- Add 2 teaspoons of fenugreek seeds to 1 glass of water.
- Boil the solution until the water level reduces to half.
- Strain the liquid, and then drink this solution in small sips.
- Repeat this remedy two to three times a day.
8. Oregano Oil is a Healing Tonic
Oregano oil has very potent antibacterial, antifungal, and antioxidant properties that can help eliminate the underlying cause of acute sinusitis. It is also effective in relieving the inflammation in the nasal cavities.
- Put a couple of drops of oregano oil under your tongue, two times a day.
- Another option is to mix 2 or 3 drops of oregano oil in 1 glass of water or juice. Drink this juice once or twice daily.
- You can also boil a pot of water, add a few drops of oregano oil, and inhale the steam for 5 minutes. Repeat this two to three times a day.
9. Trust Black Seeds for Symptomatic Relief
According to Ayurveda, black seeds, also known as kalonji, are highly recommended as an effective treatment for acute sinusitis. The anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties of black seeds help alleviate inflammation, congestion, and other symptoms.
A 2018 research published in Integrative Medicine Research found that the use of N. sativa seed oil can inhibit the inflammation of sinuses and respiratory airways and has antimicrobial effects; it can also help patients suffering from clinical symptoms of sinusitis, such as coryza, nasal congestion, headache, neck pain, earache, and toothache.
- Put a few drops of black seed oil in a clean handkerchief. Inhale the smell at regular intervals to reduce congestion and promote mucus flow.
- Another option is to mix 1 teaspoon of roasted and crushed black seeds with 1 tablespoon of honey. Eat this mixture two to three times daily.
10. Bromelain Helps You Heal Better and Faster
Readily available in supplement form, bromelain is a protein found in the stem of pineapples.
According to a 2005 study done in Germany, the use of the proteolytic pineapple enzyme bromelain in children with acute sinusitis showed positive results. Owing to its anti-inflammatory property, bromelain has been shown to be effective in reducing swelling in the nasal passages arising from acute sinusitis, thereby expediting the healing process.
- Typical oral doses of bromelain are between 500 and 2,000 mg daily.
- In addition to taking the supplement, include pineapples in your diet.
As far as viral and bacterial sinus infections go, the lines between the two are extremely blurred. There is no litmus test that can readily and conclusively differentiate between viral and bacterial sinusitis, at least not in the initial stages.
In fact, even if the signs and symptoms persist for longer than 7-10 days, the duration alone cannot specify if the infection is viral or bacterial in nature.
However, if the signs and symptoms of sinusitis fail to subside even after 10 days or if your condition improves initially only to worsen again within the first 7 days (“double-worsening”), bacteria tend to be the suspect in such cases.
Types of Sinusitis
- Acute sinusitis: This form of sinusitis is the most short-lived with symptoms lasting for anywhere between 2 and 4 weeks. Moreover, the typical symptoms of this condition start suddenly and are akin to common cold symptoms such as a runny, stuffy nose and facial pain.
- Subacute sinus: At this stage, the inflammation usually persists for 4 to 12 weeks.
- Chronic inflammation: This is perhaps the most long-drawn form of sinusitis with symptoms lasting for 12 weeks or longer.
- Recurrent acute sinusitis: If your sinusitis tends to flare up sporadically several times a year, it is referred to as recurrent sinusitis.
Prevention of Acute Sinusitis
- Exercise caution to avoid coming in contact with people suffering from acute respiratory or sinus infections.
- Quit smoking.
- Make a habit of washing your hands every chance you get, especially before meals and when cold and flu are in the air.
- Keep your allergies in check by closely working with your doctor to manage the symptoms.
- Incorporate immunity-boosting food items in your daily diet, which will help you fight the infection in case you succumb to it.
Risk Factors for Acute Sinusitis
Some people are at a higher risk of suffering from acute sinusitis. The risk factors include:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- A weak immune system
- Smoking and regular exposure to other pollutants
- Activities that involve rapid changes in atmospheric pressure, such as scuba diving and flying
- In children, interaction with other sick children at daycare or at playschool
Unusual Complications of Acute Sinusitis
Acute sinusitis rarely spirals into a severe stage, but when it does, the following complications can arise:
- Chronic sinusitis: If you are prone to frequent episodes of acute sinusitis, your condition may acquire a more long-lasting form. In fact, an acute sinus infection just might be a flare-up of a long-term problem known as chronic sinusitis.
- Meningitis: Acute sinusitis can pave the way for a far more grievous infection called meningitis or brain fever, which is characterized by an inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding your brain and spinal cord.
- Vision problems: If the infection makes its way to your eye socket, chances are you will be riddled with hampered vision and even permanent blindness.
- Other infections: Although uncommon, the acute sinusitis infection can spread to the bones (osteomyelitis) or skin (cellulitis), if not tended to properly.
- Partial or complete loss of sense of smell: If the nasal obstruction and inflammation are allowed to continue, the olfactory nerve can be compressed, leading to a temporary or permanent loss of smell.
When to See a Doctor
Most cases of acute sinusitis resolve on its own without medicine. However, you might need to consult your doctor in the event that:
- Your symptoms don’t subside within a few days and especially so if they continue to worsen.
- You have a history of recurrent acute sinusitis or prolonged symptoms suggestive of possible chronic sinusitis.
- You run a high fever over the course of several days.
- Apply warm compresses to your face to help keep the nasal passages moist.
- Buy a nasal spray with grapefruit seed extract and use it as directed.
- Eat a healthy diet with more emphasis on whole grains, beans, lentils, light soups, and cold-pressed oils.
- Avoid mucus-forming foods such as refined flour products, eggs, chocolate, fried foods, processed foods, and sugary and dairy products.
- Increase your fluid intake to help keep your body hydrated and sinuses moist.
- Avoid beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol, which can be dehydrating.
- Get plenty of rest to help your body fight the infection and speed up your recovery.
- Sleep with your head elevated above your heart by propping a few pillows under it. This position will help prevent mucus accumulation and help you breathe and sleep well.
- Avoid cigarette smoke and other air pollutants.
- Acupuncture and acupressure can also provide some relief for acute sinusitis caused by allergies.
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