Sinus Pain Treatment: Medications and Home Remedies

Sinus pain is often a result of inflammation and congestion

Sinus pain relief can often start at home. However, you may need to see your healthcare provider for sinus pain treatment depending on the cause.

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 and congestion in the sinus cavities.

Since congestion is a big factor in causing sinus discomfort, many sinus pain treatments are aimed at reducing congestion.

This article will go over how to get relief from sinus pain. You'll learn about over-the-counter (OTC) sinus pain relief medications, home remedies, and lifestyle modifications that help prevent or reduce sinus pressure. You'll also find out when to call your provider for sinus pain treatment.

A woman suffering from sinus pain

 SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images

What Causes Sinus Pain?

Sinus pain happens when there is inflammation or irritation in your sinus cavities.

Your 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 healthcare provider or a headache specialist, since there are medications and prevention strategies specifically for migraines.

Other Causes of Sinus Pain

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 healthcare provider 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.

In rare cases, sinus pain that doesn't respond to treatment could be a sign of a serious condition such as nasal cavity or paranasal sinus cancer.

Sinus Pain Treatments

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

If your sinus pain symptoms last more than a week or keep coming back, see a healthcare provider. 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 Sinus Pain Relief

You may be able to get fast sinus pain relief from medications you can buy over-the-counter (OTC) at your local pharmacy, grocery, or big box store. These products treat sinus pain by relieving pain, encouraging nasal drainage, or easing allergy symptoms.

Pain Relievers

Common pain relievers that may be effective for treating sinus pain and sinus 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 for sinus pain when used alone. You should talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist before trying this, however, and let them know of any other medications you are taking.

Decongestants

Sinus pain can also be treated with OTC nasal decongestants. These products 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 healthcare provider, 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.

Antihistamines work by targeting histamine, a chemical that's released in response to allergens and that plays 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.

Sinus Pain Home Remedies

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

  • Drinking 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.

Natural Sinus Pain Relief

In addition to remedies and medications, practices that promote relaxation may help you to manage and 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 a useful coping strategy to manage pain.

You may want to enroll in a local mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) training program to learn techniques commonly used in studies on meditation and head pain.

How to Give Yourself a Sinus Massage

If you have sinus pain, doing a sinus massage may help. Massaging your sinuses can help drain them and relieve pressure and pain.

Here's how to do a general sinus massage:

  1. Press your index fingers into the sides of your head at your temples.
  2. Rub in small circles.
  3. Move your fingers and thumbs to your eyebrows and apply pressure for a few seconds.
  4. Move your fingers from the inside of your eyebrow (near your nose) out toward your ear.
  5. Put your four fingers of each hand together and press them against your cheek near your nose, apply some pressure, and move them across your cheek toward your ear.
  6. Make a V-shape with your fingers and pinkies, then gently rub the areas around your ear.

You have different sinuses located in different parts of your face and neck: frontal sinuses, maxillary sinuses, and ethmoid/sphenoid sinuses. Each sinus can be targeted with these techniques.

How to Prevent Sinus Pain

There are also steps you can take to prevent sinus pain. Pay attention to triggers for allergies and nasal irritation and try to reduce or prevent those exposures whenever possible. Common irritants that can cause sinus pain include:

Cigarette smoke: Smoking and 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 to help identify what's causing your symptoms so that you can take steps to reduce exposure.

Summary

There are some over-the-counter products and home remedies that can give you fast sinus pain relief. Most of the common causes of sinus pain, like congestion from colds or seasonal allergies, don't last long and are easy to treat at home.

However, if your sinus pain worsens, continues more than a week, or keeps recurring, contact a healthcare provider or allergist. They can help identify exposures and/or evaluate if there are other medical conditions that may be causing your sinus pain.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you relieve sinus pain fast?

    OTC pain relievers or decongestants are often helpful for sinus pain. That said, if you have sinus headaches often or at-home sinus pain treatment isn't helping, talk to your provider. You could have migraines rather than sinus headaches.

  • How long does it take for sinus pain to go away?

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

  • What food causes sinus problems?

    Some research has suggested that foods like dairy and sweets, as well as foods high in histamines (like processed meat) and salicylates (like legumes), can make sinus symptoms worse. You might want to avoid these foods if you have sinus pain.

  • Will pain from a sinus headache go away on its own?

    Symptoms like sinus pain and pressure may get better on their own or with at-home remedies. However, if you have sinus pain that lasts longer than a week, gets worse, or keeps coming back, you should see your healthcare provider.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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