Sinus infections (sinusitis) and how you can manage it at home without antibiotics

What is a sinus infection or sinusitis?

Sinus infections are one of the less serious respiratory infections, but one that probably causes the most discomfort. A sinus infection, or sinusitis, is basically a runny nose that does not want to go away. This happens when the membranes (the lining) of the sinuses become swollen and inflamed. Acute sinus infections generally last for a few days up to a month. Chronic sinusitis hangs around for longer than a month, even up to 3 months.

The sinuses are cavities that link the nose and throat and its main function is to prevent mucus and foreign substances you breath in, from reaching the lungs. The sinus cavities are located above the eyes, the upper nose, behind and alongside the bridge of the nose and inside the cheekbones. 


What causes a sinus infection (sinusitis)?

An acute sinus infection can be caused by a common cold or by bacteria and viruses infecting the lining of the sinus cavities. Often an acute spell can be brought on and is very common when seasons change during autumn and spring. This can even happen when you travel to another climate region (as it happened recently when I travelled from Johannesburg to Cape Town). Changes in air quality and temperature, air pressure changes and changes in humidity are amongst the factors responsible for irritating the mucous membranes in the sinuses and even lungs. 

Changes in temperature, especially when it gets cold during autumn, causes a decrease in humidity. This leaves the air with less moisture and the body sometimes overreacts by producing too much mucus to moisturize the sinus and nasal passages. In spring the air quality changes with a saturation of pollen, seeds, grasses etc. In autumn or winter, the air could possibly be saturated with more pollutants released because of fires and other methods of heating homes and offices. Air pressure changes cause a change in the way blood circulates through the sinuses and the body sometimes battle to adapt. We are, after all, creatures of habit. 

Chronic sinusitis has more to do with a sensitivity to pollution and toxins that we breathe in on a regular basis, smoking, other allergies and even regular use of alcohol.

What are the symptoms of a sinus infection, what does it feel like?

The first dead giveaway is a runny nose that you can not seem to get rid of, no matter the amount of blowing you do. Other symptoms include:

- Face pain

- A toothache

- Earache

- A headache

- Low-grade fevers                                                        

- Inability so smell or distinguish between tastes

- Bad breath

- Fatigue (due to the decrease in oxygen intake)

- Coughing, especially at night (due to the post nasal drip tickling your throat)


How can I treat a sinus infection at home without antibiotics?

People are different, and the causes of the infection are different. Not all techniques will work for everyone, but here are a few you can play around with to see which one brings the most relief.

1. Make sure you follow a healthy diet that supplies your body with enough quality nutrition to help it recover.

2. Breathing exercises may help to decrease fatigue because you are focussing on giving your body more oxygen.

3. Make sure you get enough sleep, as that is when the body recovers.

4. You can do regular nasal rinses. You can make your own rinse solution using the following:

a) 1 cup iodine free salt (kosher or sea salt)

b) 1/3 cup baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)

Mix the above in an airtight container and store. Use ½ to 1 tsp in a cup of lukewarm, distilled or boiled water. Pull up some of the solutions in a rubber bulb syringe.


Bend over your basin, or in the shower. Tilt your head to the left and slowly squirt the solution into your right nostril. Do not do it too vigorously, as this may push the fluid into the ear and cause discomfort. Wait for it to run out the left nostril. Repeat this process on the other side. Play around with your head position so that the solution does not run down the back of your throat or into your ear.

Gently blow your nose afterwards.

c) You can also follow this procedure with a saline nose spray you get from your pharmacy.

5. Alternatively, you can do an old-fashioned steam with a bowl of steaming water and a towel over your head. Slowly take some deep breaths to inhale the steam and moisturise the membranes. Even your morning shower in a closed bathroom will do the trick. If you want to, you can add some fragrant drops of eucalyptus or peppermint as long as you are not allergic or sensitive to these.

6. Alternate applying some moist heat (warm wash-cloth) and a cube of ice wrapped in a wet wash-cloth over the sinus areas for about 10 minutes (2 min at a time). The alternating of the heat and cold will improve blood-flow to the sinuses, which in turn will reduce swelling and inflammation. If the ice sounds a bit much, just do the moist heat.

7. Gentle tapping over the sinuses also works wonders to improve circulation and for getting the draining process going. Be gentle here if your face is very tender 


In closing: If this does not have the desired effect after a few days, you may want to consult a physiotherapist to assist with some treatment in his/her rooms. This will normally consist of nebulising with saline, ultrasound, deep tissue oscillation or laser, dry needling and some soft tissue mobilisation. 

In my practice, I use the nebulising, soft tissue mobilisation in the form of fascial release around the head, face and neck as well as deep tissue oscillation.

If the secretions coming out of your nose have changed colour to yellow or green (sorry, a bit graphic), it normally indicates a secondary bacterial infection in your sinuses and some antibiotics may be needed if the above remedies do not alleviate it.

My name is Monique de Beer and I am a registered physiotherapistPlease feel free to contact me if you struggling with sinus infections (sinusitis) and would like to book an appointment.

I practice from the Timron Health and Wellness Centre in Randburg from where I serve patients from Randburg, Olivedale, Santon and the greater Fourways area in Johannesburg, South Africa. 


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