Evaluate Your Sinus Congestion

What does your sinus congestion look like? What is it doing? Let's look at the possibilities.

Do you have a runny nose?

Is your head stuffed up, making it difficult to breathe through your nose?

  • It may be a cold.
  • It could be a sinus infection (sinusitis).
  • It may be the flu.

If you have drainage, what color is it?

  • Green or yellow: This color indicates an infection — but that does not mean it is caused by bacteria. Viral infections can also cause discolored mucus. See your doctor, but you may not necessarily need antibiotics. It could be sinusitis.
  • Clear and thin: It is probably a cold, the flu or allergies.
  • Thick and white or cloudy: It is most likely a viral infection, such as a cold or the flu.
  • Blood-streaked: This is usually caused by ruptured blood vessels in the nose. It can occur as a result of dry nasal membranes or from blowing your nose too aggressively. Look at other symptoms to determine whether or not you should see a doctor.

Do you have pressure in your face and eyes?

  • It is probably a sinus infection (sinusitis).
  • It may be allergies.

What Could be Causing Your Sinus Congestion?

Sinus congestion can be caused by numerous things, so it is important to evaluate your other symptoms as well. If you have concerns about your symptoms, you should always contact your doctor or health care provider.

  • Do you have stuffiness and pain and pressure in your face and eyes? It is probably a form of sinus congestion.
  • Do you have a runny or stuffy nose, headache, and cough? It could be a cold.
  • Do you have a runny or stuffy nose, fever, body aches, and a cough? It is probably the flu.
  • Do you have a clear runny nose and itching in the eyes or nose? It may be seasonal allergies.

Sinus congestion is a symptom that comes with a lot of upper respiratory infections and illnesses. Most of the time it will go away on its own but sometimes it needs to be treated with medication.

Medications for Sinus Congestion

There are two primary categories of medications to treat the different types of sinus congestion. They are known as antihistamines and decongestants.


Antihistamines are used for a runny nose. They help dry the sinus congestion and slow the nasal drips. Antihistamines are most commonly used to treat seasonal allergies.

Some common antihistamines include Benadryl (diphenhydramine), Claritin (loratadine), Zyrtec, and Allegra.


Decongestants are used for that stuffy, full feeling in your head. They reduce the swelling in your nasal passages which allows mucus to drain.

Some common decongestants include Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) and Sudafed PE (phenylephrine).

Many medications combine one of these decongestants or antihistamines with other medications to make multi-symptom treatments. They are sold under numerous brand names.

Treating Sinus Congestion Without Medications

A variety of non-medication treatments are available to help relieve sinus congestion. Some of the best options include humidifiers, saline nasal sprays, and saline nasal drops.


Humidifiers help keep moisture in the air and prevent nasal passages from drying out. They are especially effective in the winter. With heaters running, the air in our homes tends to dry out quickly, which in turn dries out nasal passages and makes it more difficult to breathe. Running a cool mist humidifier, especially while sleeping, will help reduce the risk of dried nasal passages and thick congested noses in the morning.

Saline Nasal Spray

Saline nasal spray used a few times a day can help loosen congestion and improve drainage. This is a safe and effective alternative to medication as saline nasal spray is simply sterile saltwater. 

You should take caution not to overuse over-the-counter nasal decongestant sprays (such as Afrin), though. Using medicated nasal sprays for longer than three to four days can actually increase congestion.

Neti Pot

Neti pots have been used for many years to rinse out the sinus cavities. There are several varieties available now in nearly any pharmacy or store that has a pharmaceutical section. Using a saline solution, you can use this device that looks like a miniature teapot to rinse the mucus out of your sinuses naturally, without taking medications.

Saline Nose Drops and Bulb Syringe 

Saline nose drops and the bulb syringe can be used in infants to pull out drainage or thick mucus from the nose. Infants breathe only through their noses, so it is important that the nasal passages remain open. This simple method is effective and does not cause harmful side effects like many medications do.

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