How to Treat Sinus Pain

Sinus pain can range in severity from a mild headache to excruciating head and face pain, toothaches, and earaches. Regardless of the underlying cause, sinus pain usually develops as the result of inflammation in the sinus cavities. Along with inflammation comes congestion.

Congestion is a major contributor to sinus pain so many treatments are aimed at reducing congestion.

There are a variety of over-the-counter medications, home remedies, and lifestyle modifications that can help to prevent or reduce sinus pressure and offer sinus pain relief.

A woman suffering from sinus pain

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What Causes Sinus Pain

Sinuses are hollow spaces in your facial bones that are lined with membranes that secrete mucus. Sinus pain is often a result of inflammation that blocks mucus from draining and leads to pain.

Sinus swelling can follow viral illnesses, including the common cold, or it can be due to mucus production from allergies or breathing in polluted air that leads to irritation. It can also happen if there are nasal blockages due to abnormal growths called nasal polyps or structural abnormalities, such as a deviated septum, that make you prone to congestion.

Sinus Headache or Migraine?

About 80% of sinus headaches are actually migraines with nasal symptoms. If you get frequent headaches, consult your doctor or a headache specialist since there are medications and prevention strategies specifically for migraines. .

If you have intense sinus pain and pressure that gets worse when you are diving, flying in an airplane, driving up a steep mountain, or participating in other activities that involve steep altitude changes, it could be a condition called sinus barotrauma.

Although the pain will usually subside when these activities are discontinued, sinus barotrauma is a sign of an underlying sinus problem that needs to be evaluated by an otolaryngologist, a doctor that specializes in conditions of the ear, nose, and throat.

Sinus barotrauma can also be accompanied by ear barotrauma which can cause a ruptured eardrum.

How to Treat Sinus Pain

If you experience sinus pain, there are over-the-counter (OTC) medications, home remedies, and lifestyle strategies that may be helpful.

If your symptoms last more than a week or keep recurring, see a doctor. It could be a bacterial sinus infection, also called sinusitis, that requires a course of antibiotics or it might be migraines or another condition that requires medical intervention.

Fungal sinus infections can also occur and require surgery and/or antifungal medications.

Over-the-Counter Treatments

OTC medications can help relieve pain, encourage nasal drainage, or treat allergies.

Pain Relievers

Common pain relievers that may be effective for treating sinus pain and headaches include:

Aspirin can be used in adults but should not be given to children due to the risk of Reye's syndrome.

Some of these pain medications can be combined if one of them is not effective (when used alone). You should talk to your doctor or pharmacist before trying this, however, and let them know of any other medications you are taking.

Decongestants

Over-the-counter nasal decongestants help break up congestion by reducing the swelling of blood vessels. They work well for easing sinus pain from colds and come in oral medications, such as Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) or Sudafed PE (phenylephrine), or nasal sprays like Afrin (oxymetazoline).

Unless recommended by a doctor, nasal decongestant sprays, such as Afrin, should not be used longer than three consecutive days to avoid a condition called rebound congestion.

Antihistamines

If allergies are causing your congestion and leading to sinus pain, OTC antihistamines may be helpful.

Also a type of decongestant, antihistamines work by targeting histamine, a chemical that's released in response to allergens and can play a role in allergy symptoms, including runny nose. Antihistamines block histamine receptors to relieve allergy symptoms.

Common OTC antihistamines include:

Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is another OTC option, but it is an older, first-generation antihistamine, that has a higher risk of side effects, especially drowsiness, compared to the second-generation antihistamines listed above.

Home Remedies

There are a variety of home remedies that can help with congestion to relieve sinus pressure. Home remedies that you can try include:

  • Drink water: Staying hydrated can help to thin nasal secretions. Drinking plenty of fluids is also important in your recovery from viral illnesses.
  • Neti pot: A neti pot is used to irrigate the nasal passageways and can help to control congestion and nasal secretions.
  • Saline nasal sprays: Saline nasal sprays are sold over-the-counter at most drug stores. They are used to loosen nasal secretions and thereby decrease congestion by allowing it to drain. They can be used many times per day.
  • Cool mist humidifier: The humidity loosens nasal secretions and the cold air can help to decrease inflammation. If you do not have access to a cool-mist humidifier, several hot, steamy showers per day can also help to loosen nasal secretions.
  • Warm compress: Use a warm rag or heating pad over your sinuses to ease the pain. Do this several times per day.

Avoiding Irritants

Pay attention to triggers for allergies and nasal irritations and try to reduce or prevent those exposures whenever possible. Common irritants include:

  • Cigarette smoke: Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke are common triggers for sinus pain and sinusitis. Quitting or reducing exposure can alleviate symptoms.
  • Pollution: When you breathe in air pollutants, such as industrial chemicals or paint fumes, they are absorbed by the nose and can lead to irritation of the nose and sinuses.
  • Allergens: Allergies are a major culprit of sinusitis and sinus pain. Common allergens include pollen, mold, pets, and dust mites. An allergist can give you an allergy test (blood or skin test) to help identify what's causing your symptoms so that you can take steps to reduce exposure and/or treat symptoms.

Relaxation Techniques

In addition to remedies and medications, practices that promote relaxation may help you to manage or prevent sinus pain. This can include:

  • Massage: Relax in a dark quiet room. Gentle head and neck exercises, or gently massaging your head and face may also help.
  • Meditation: Research suggests that mindfulness meditation may help decrease the intensity of head pain. Focusing on your breathing, body sensations, and surroundings can be useful coping strategy to manage pain.

You may want to enroll in a local Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training to learn techniques commonly used in studies on meditation and head pain.

A Word From Verywell

Sinus pain can be frustrating, but it usually resolves within a few days and there are many options you can try at home to relive congestion and find some relief.

If your pain worsens, continues more than a week, or keeps recurring, contact a physician or allergist who can help identify exposures and/or evaluate if there are other medical conditions that may be causing the discomfort.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can you get fast relief from a sinus headache?

    OTC pain relievers or decongestants are often helpful. If you get sinus headaches frequently, consult your doctor who can evaluate if it might be migraines.

  • How long does a sinus headache last?

    Sinus pain from viral infections will typically go away within about a week. If it lasts longer, see your doctor since you may have a bacterial or fungal infection or another condition that requires medical care.

  • How can I stop a sinus headache?

    You need to treat or address the underlying cause of the congestion, such as allergies, irritants, or illnesses.

  • Will a sinus headache go away on its own?

    Yes, but if the pain goes on longer than a week, intensifies, or keeps recurring, see your doctor.

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Article Sources
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