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9 Natural Ways To Relieve Sinus Pressure

In the winter months, never-ending colds and other annoying illnesses can leave you with clogged-up sinuses. And though you hope (pray!) that springtime ushers in sweet relief, the blooming flowers bring with them allergy season—and another few weeks or months of congestion, intense sinus pressure, and the like. 

Whether you’re all stuffed up thanks to the common cold, clouds of pollen, or a more mysterious culprit, sinus pressure can be frustrating and incredibly uncomfortable. If you’ve been walking around feeling like your face is a clogged drain, here’s what you need to know about why your sinuses are all backed up and how to get things moving.

  • ABOUT OUR EXPERT: Dr. Peter Filip, M.D., is a physician with RUSH University Medical Group’s Department of Otorhinolaryngology.

All About Your Sinuses

The sinuses are four paired cavities (spaces) in the head, connected by narrow passages. 

“The paranasal sinuses are hollow cavities lined with mucus membranes that are present in the cheeks, the forehead, between the eyes, and behind the eyes,” explains Dr. Peter Filip, M.D., of the RUSH University Medical Center Department of Otorhinolaryngology. “They are thought to be ‘crumple zones’ or ‘airbags’ to prevent injury to the brain and the eyes in cases of trauma.”

What does that have to do with colds and allergies? Well, the sinuses also produce mucus that drains out through the nose, keeping it free from harmful bacteria, pathogens, and allergens, according to The Cleveland Clinic.

When this mucus stops draining properly, it can build up, leading to pain and pressure, Filip explains. “The sinuses produce about two-pint glasses-worth of mucus per day,” he says. “When this mucus gets trapped, it can hurt or cause pressure. In some cases, this mucus itself can become infected.”

Viral infections like the common cold are the biggest culprits behind sinus pressure and can sometimes even lead to a sinus infection. These occur when the passageways between sinuses become blocked by mucus, which then stagnates, allowing bacteria or viruses to flourish. While acute sinus infections can be the result of either bacteria or viruses, bacteria (or fungi) are often the culprits behind chronic sinus infections, according to Penn Medicine

Read More: How Stress Messes With Your Immunity—And What To Do About It

Sinus pressure may feel like achiness or tightness in the face, particularly around the cheekbones, eyes, forehead, and nose. However, sinus pressure can also radiate to other areas like the scalp, jaw, and teeth.

Natural Ways To Ease Sinus Pressure

The best course of action for relieving your sinuses (and your entire face) from frustrating pressure depends on what caused that buildup in the first place. 

If the culprit is a bacterial infection, you’ll likely need prescription antibiotics, says Filip. That’s why it’s always a good idea to check in with your provider if you’re experiencing severe symptoms, such as facial pain or an intense headache. If symptoms get worse after initially improving, last more than 10 days without getting better, or you experience a fever lasting longer than three days, seek medical attention to confirm whether or not you have an infection. 

However, if you’re dealing with allergies or the average sniffle, there’s plenty you can do at home to help your sinuses drain ASAP.

1. Audit Your Diet

Though this area requires more research, certain people seem to experience sinus pressure—and even sinusitis (sinus infections)—from food sensitivities, explains Filip. 

If you experience sinus issues often, certain foods might be messing with you. Your best move is to work with an allergy doctor to formally identify triggers and modify your diet to avoid those foods. “The type of triggering foods vary from person to person,” Filip says. “Common examples include histamine-containing foods like chocolate, milk products, tomatoes, and wheat.”

2. Clear or Soothe Nasal Passages

One of the most effective ways to relieve sinus pressure is to keep nasal passages moist, per The Cleveland Clinic. The easiest way to do this is with a nasal saline gel or spray. You can even try a nasal irrigation system like a Neti Pot, which washes away allergens and irritants that can cause inflammation. Just be sure to use distilled water to lower the risk of infection.

Filip, personally, is a fan of filling your Neti Pot with a solution that includes baking soda and salt. “Sinus rinses with baking soda and salt effectively reduce inflammation and swelling and remove irritants and mucus,” he says. 

Another option here is a nasal spray that contains xylitol, a sugar alcohol that can help with excess mucus and works against bad-guy bacteria, he suggests. (XLEAR Xylitol Saline Nasal Spray is a popular pick.)

3. Keep Your Head Elevated

If you have ever suffered from a stuffy nose when feeling under the weather, then you probably know how a little elevation can help you breathe easier. According to the Sleep Foundation, this may be because of how your head position impacts blood flow.

Before you go to sleep at night, prop yourself up on a few pillows to help the sinuses drain more easily. This simple adjustment can help you breathe more comfortably and ease annoying pressure.

4. Consider Essential Oils

Though there isn’t a lot of research on the benefits of essential oils for sinus troubles, “we do know that essential oils are safe to sniff and that they do have antioxidants and other beneficial properties,” says Filip. These perks could deem aromatherapy helpful in the case of angry sinuses. “My patients have had success with peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil, and tea tree oil,” he says. So, pop a few drops into your diffuser or try them topically around your nose and throat (dilute them in a carrier oil like coconut oil), suggests the American Sinus Institute.

A few other options worth trying:

Just note that adding essential oils to sinus rinses or ingesting them is not recommended.

5. Try gentle massage

Several pressure points around the face are affected when sinus pressure builds up. Using your fingers to gently massage these areas in a circular motion can help relieve some of the discomfort of sinus pressure. 

A few spots to try:

  • Above the eyebrows
  • In front of the ears
  • Outside the nose, between the cheekbones and jaw
  • The forehead
  • The temples

Bonus points for adding any of the aforementioned essential oils into whatever oil you like to use for massage.

6. Breathe In Some Steam

Another way to relieve congestion is to inhale steam. You can do this by lingering in a hot shower or leaning over a pan or pot of hot, steamy water with a towel over your head (like a miniature DIY steam room), suggests Harvard Health. Even breathing in the steam from a bowl of chicken soup or mug of tea might offer some minor relief. 

Adding a few drops of an essential oil to your steamy shower or bowl of hot water can help open things up, so feel free to experiment there, suggests the American Sinus Institute.

7. Try An Herbal Supplement

Herbs have been used to support all areas of health for generations, so it’s no surprise that certain herbs may be helpful in the case of sinus pressure, says Filip. A couple of options worth checking out: Natural Factors Lung, Bronchial & Sinus Health (which includes herbs like mullein and wild cherry) or Boiron SinusCalm Homeopathic Medicine (which combines several helpful natural extracts). Follow the recommended doses as included on supplement packaging unless otherwise guided by your doctor.

8. Hydrate

Dehydration can worsen sinus pressure, so drinking plenty of water when you’re feeling clogged up may help ease symptoms, The Cleveland Clinic suggests. If you want a bit of flavor, add fresh fruit slices to your H2O or grab a hot mug of tea.

Read More: 6 Tasty Drink Mixes To Help You Stay SO Hydrated

How much water should you drink? One common recommendation: about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids per day for men and about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) per day for women. 

9. Apply menthol

Topical treatments containing menthol are popular in cases of intense congestion. Although they cannot clear up congestion, they may make you feel a little bit more comfortable despite the extra mucus. The reason for the temporary relief: Menthol has a strong odor that essentially tricks your brain, making you feel like you’re breathing through an unclogged nose, according to the Mayo Clinic. It’s a temporary fix that can certainly come in handy if you’re struggling to sleep or get through the day (or night).

Final Advice

While sinus pressure is often little more than a temporary annoyance, don’t wait to get checked out by a medical professional if you’re experiencing symptoms like facial pain or a bad headache, spike a fever, or go longer than a week or so without any relief. Otherwise, give these natural solutions a shot.

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