What causes sinus swelling?
January 26, 2020 8:51 AM   Subscribe

I often wake up in the morning with what seems to be swelling on one side or the other in my sinuses. I can breath through one nostril but the other is closed almost completely. There is no indication of any boogers blocking it and eventually it will open back up. Sometimes the swelling may shift from one side to the other over time but I don’t know why. Looking for tips on identifying the cause and prevention. Thanks!
posted by GernBlandston to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Sometimes the swelling may shift from one side to the other over time but I don’t know why.

Your nostrils naturally alternate which one is more open and which is more closed. More info on the nasal cycle.
You may or may not have something else going on, but part of the explanation may be normal human nasal cycling.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:42 AM on January 26, 2020 [6 favorites]

There are probably a dozen potential causes! I think what you're going to get here are nice people sharing anecdotes about which particular cause they had. I can certainly take a turn there...

I was experiencing similar symptoms in the morning. I attributed them to allergies, until the congestion starting getting worse to the point where I would wake up in the middle of the night completely blocked.

I am a middle-aged person and it turns out over time, I have developed a histamine sensitivity. Certain foods (olives, aged cheeses, processed meats) and certain alcoholic beverages (particularly red wine and beer) cause me to experience extreme congestion.

Some of these things I had to cut out entirely, others I had to limit or at least limit consumption of the to early in the day.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:45 AM on January 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

This happens to me. I don’t have any cure for you, but for me it is exacerbated by a dust mite allergy. Keeping my sleeping environment very clean helps, as does an allergen filter pillow case. I take Benadryl before bed and that seems to help, consistent with what DirtyOldTown reports about histamine. I’ve cut dairy and alcohol out of my diet completely.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:00 AM on January 26, 2020

Try flushing your sinuses with a neti pot before bed.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:06 AM on January 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

Yep, sinuses are weird. I wrassle with mine all the time and a few things have helped

- certain things make me stuffier. As I got older, beer was one of those things. I still drink it sometimes but am more clear what to expect
- keeping the room humid in the winter was helpful, I have a bedroom humidifier
- sometimes there is some sort of slime that moves from side to side. Does it vary depending which side you sleep on
- dehydration can be a thing, drink more water
- neti potting was helpful for me but sometimes blowing my nose a dozen times afterwards would make nasal tissues swell up so be careful
- Mucinex can help slow moving mucus move more quickly
- similarly, Sudafed can help unclog something that needs to stay open to totally heal up
- avoid things like Afrin which can have rebound effects
posted by jessamyn at 10:11 AM on January 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

Do you snore? Dust & dry air do this to me at night & throw in snoring & my sinuses are a wreck when I wake up. Keeping on top of washing my sheets and dusting regularly help as did a humidifier in the bedroom.
posted by wwax at 11:11 AM on January 26, 2020

There was a study a few years back showing that pillows which have been in use for a while (more than 1.5 years in the study) tend to be heavily contaminated with fungal spores:
Each pillow was found to contain a substantial fungal load,with four to 16 different species being identified per sample and evenhigher numbers found in synthetic pillows. The microscopic fungusAspergillus fumigatus was particularly evident in synthetic pillows,and fungi as diverse as bread and vine moulds and those usually foundon damp walls and in showers were also found.

Professor Ashley Woodcock who led the research said: "We knowthat pillows are inhabited by the house dust mite which eats fungi, andone theory is that the fungi are in turn using the house dust mites'faeces as a major source of nitrogen and nutrition (along with humanskin scales). There could therefore be a 'miniature ecosystem' at workinside our pillows."
Since people seem to spend any given night sleeping mainly on one side or the other with long term trends favoring a particular side, that might explain the sidedness of the swelling.

If you can tolerate a night or two with something like a freshly laundered bath towel in a fresh pillowcase replacing your usual pillow, that might be an experiment worth trying.
posted by jamjam at 11:59 AM on January 26, 2020

I just figured this out: I was allergic to dust mites. Since you mash your face all night into a pillow, it's covered with dead skin / dust mites. I got dust mite proof pillow covers and now I nuke my pillows in hot water / dryer every week or two to murder them en masse.
posted by bradbane at 2:01 PM on January 26, 2020

Cold temperatures make my lungs and my nose more congested. The congestion often wakes me up at 3am. I have found that wearing a warm scarf or cap while sleeping can help make the congestion less severe. I have also accepted the fact that this a natural part of my body's cleaning cycle. The mucus clears old cells from the body. I am grateful that mine does this regularly, especially since I have heard from friends that have had to have medical procedures to have their sinuses cleared. I usually clear my sinus congestion with a warm bit of clothing, a warm beverage, headphones, sitting up and watching a few short clips on YouTube, and chewing some gum for a bit. This usually clears it up so I can go back to sleep. Simple aerobic exercise in the morning is also really great for clearing it in the morning. I hope some of this is helpful. If you are interested in understanding more about mucus and epithelial tissue, there are two great short clips on TedEd and Crash Course that will help you learn to love your epithelial tissue. Cheers.
posted by effluvia at 3:06 PM on January 26, 2020

Another vote for the nasal cycle. This happens to me as well, regardless of my sinus health. If you decide to try a neti pot (or the much-easier-to-use NeilMed sinus rinse), do not use water straight from the tap lest you fall prey to brain-eating amoebas.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:00 PM on January 26, 2020

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