Winter Sinus Problems
December 22, 2003 11:27 AM   Subscribe

What is the best way to get rid of (and prevent) the all-winter-long sinus problems that I and so many other people seem to get? Short of taking decongestants until March, that is.
posted by catfood to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Get a good vaporizer - one that flash boils the water into steam, rather than one that blows relatively large droplets around (ineffectually) with a fan. Sleeping in a room with that takes care of 8 hours of the day. If you work in a dry building, though, I'm not sure what to suggest.
posted by stonerose at 11:55 AM on December 22, 2003

As someone who has had chronic sinusitis for many years and TWO sinus surgeries, let me tell you the things that work for me (IANAD).

One: Nasal irrigation twice a day every day with warm water, pinch of salt and pinch of baking soda (some people also use things like glycerine in it as well). Some people use a bulb syringe for this, others use a Neti pot (avail. at Whole Foods-type places). I cannot recommend this enough.

Two: Oral decongestants and guifanesen taken with HUGE amounts of water (drink more fluids then you think you can handle), but use drugs sparingly. Save nasal decongestants for times when things are really bad, otherwise you can get addicted and have rebound problems.

Three: save antibiotics for infections that have been cultured for bacteria. Taking antibiotics weakens your immune system and won't do jack against viruses anyway.

If this is an ongoing problem you NEED to see a doctor and get on a treatment plan. Don't be stupid like me. By the time I finally went, I had to have dangerous surgery in a hurry. You can find more info at, a schmancy New York doctor's site. Lots of good info there.
posted by answergrape at 11:59 AM on December 22, 2003

Answergrape has some good ideas. Another one that might help you a lot is moving. While this might not be an option, there are going to be some places where your nose is happier year round, or complains more year round.
posted by woil at 12:12 PM on December 22, 2003

agreed with the nasal irrigation. my mom swears by an OTC nose spray called Ocean. it's basically mild salt water and keeps all the junk in her sinuses moist and moving around, not stagnating and getting infected. Might be good in a dry office, that and drinking tons of water.

when I lived in Eastern Europe, far from decent medical care, I used a tincture of garlic and distilled water to deal with sinus infections. basically macerate the garlic in some distilled water. strain. use the drops as nose spray, 2-5 drops in each nostril. it hurts a lot right at first but it will keep your nose running and make your sinuses hostile to infections.
posted by jessamyn at 12:15 PM on December 22, 2003 [1 favorite]

I know you said no decongestants, but Allegra-D is just about the greatest thing ever invented as far as I'm concerned. My allergies are a thing of the past. Worth the exorbitant cost that my healthplan only pays a fraction of.
posted by vraxoin at 12:20 PM on December 22, 2003

Personally, I treat pseudoephedrine as a food group- it works well, and it doesn't have terribly bad side effects (unless you have a few drinks, in which case the stuff is pretty much a Juju cocktail).

Non drug-related stuff that works (this is mostly GROSS, but you'll be happy that you did it):

In the shower, breathe deeply and gently but firmly run your thumb over the "soft sinuses" of your forehead and sides of your nose, working towards your mouth. Also do this to the ones on your palate, working towards the back of your throat. Often, this will produce some brightly colored presents.

Menthol cough drop every couple of hours whether you feel congested or not.

Mentholated breathe-right strips look ridiculous and seem like quackery, but they really work. Sleep with your head up a bit and you'll drain well during the night.

This is very important: upon waking, after showering and any time that you feel compressed, cough, snort and hack like you mean it. Go to the restroom or outside so that you can put the effort into it that it deserves. Chronic sinusitis means that you don't naturally drain like you should, and more material means more impaction. Work hard at keeping the junk out, and it will be harder for the junk that you make later to accumulate.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:27 PM on December 22, 2003

The best advice I can offer is don't smoke. And I say this as a pack-a-day smoker. If you're already a non-smoker this advice is, of course, completely useless. But if you are, discomfort with the resulting winter sinus problems is as good a reason as any to get rid of the monkey.
posted by majick at 12:31 PM on December 22, 2003

The thing that works for me is to steam up the bathroom in the morning when you shower, then hanging out in there until the steam clears. My doc suggested this one.

Also, I can second what Jessamyn said about Ocean. Actually, most drug chains sell a generic saline nasal spray that's the same stuff but a bit cheaper.

I'll have to admit the idea of a garlic nose spray somewhat appeals to me, but then I LOVE garlic.
posted by SteveInMaine at 12:42 PM on December 22, 2003 [1 favorite]

Zicam works really well for me if I take it when I first start to feel bad.
posted by grumblebee at 12:54 PM on December 22, 2003

posted by UKnowForKids at 1:33 PM on December 22, 2003

I forgot a big one-- exercise. A good bit of exertion will bring it out and keep you open for hours.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:12 PM on December 22, 2003

I used to take pseudoephedrine nearly every day. Then I started having trouble peeing. Doc said it was an enlarged prostate, a common side effect of frequent pseudoephedrine use. That, and high blood pressure. I still take it, but sparingly, not every day like before.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:48 PM on December 22, 2003

After years of straining to breathe through my nose, and having every little head cold or allergy flareup turn into a nasty sinus infection, I finally got an ENT to do a CT scan of my head. He identified a deviated septum, polyps, and scar tissue from infections. When this was all corrected with outpatient surgery I felt reborn. Obviously this isn't everyone's scenario but a CT scan could be enlightening.
posted by Tubes at 4:28 PM on December 22, 2003

A friend of mine has polyps (i do also) but has had to go back again and again for surgery--they grow back she says...what's the deal? When i went to a ENT they said I already have the openings that surgery makes for draining, which was weird. Meanwhile, I'm continually stuffed up.

I do steam, and zyrtec everyday (and sudafed when i need it). I get infections a few times a year too.
posted by amberglow at 4:59 PM on December 22, 2003

For people who suffer from repeated sinus infections, asthma, allergies, polyps and an allergy to aspirin (also called Samter's triad), experimental aspirin therapy done at Scripps can help prevent future surgeries. Email me for more info if you're interested.
posted by answergrape at 7:05 PM on December 22, 2003

Dairy products help form extra mucus in your body. Try cutting them out for a couple weeks during the winter and see if there's a difference. For some people it will be more pronounced than for others. Of course, as with smoking, if you're already off of it, this ain't gonna be much help.
posted by soyjoy at 8:53 PM on December 22, 2003

Would anyone here care to elaborate on their nasal irrigation experiences and/or techniques? I spent about an hour reading about it this evening and I have to say it sounds just ... well ... awful. I'm just starting to develop sinus problems related to overly dry sinuses (a side effect of the medication I take to counteract the effects of heavy radon exposure as a child) and this sounds like a way to combat it, if I can bring myself to try it. I'm pretty squeamish....
posted by anastasiav at 12:17 AM on December 23, 2003

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice everybody!

I am definitely looking into the nasal irrigation & a few of the other ideas posted here. I'm trying hard to stay away from medicine of any type unless very necessary, because it doesn't take much to get me bouncing off the walls. For temporary relief, I find that eating something with hot sauce or horseradish works wonders.

Soyjoy - you aren't the first person to suggest that eliminating dairy might help, so I am going to try having a dairy free January to see what the effects are. Thanks!
posted by catfood at 6:02 AM on December 23, 2003

Another vote for nasal irrigation. I use a Neti pot and it's great. You really have to try it to "get" it, since it always sounds gross and/or pointless when someone describes it.

Basically, the pot has a long, straight spout. You fill it with warm saline solution, tilt your head far to one side over the sink, and stick the spout into whichever nostril is on top. The solution makes its way through your sinuses and out the other side, loosening up all the gunk in there. The toughest part of it is keeping your head angled so that the solution doesn't run down the back of your throat.

One thing that will not help is blowing your nose often. It just irritates your sinuses more.
posted by mkultra at 12:02 PM on December 23, 2003

mkultra how does that not hurt? Speaking as one who hates water in his nose, stemming from swimming experiences, I was pleasently surprised with nasel sprays, but pouring a liquid into my nose...and out the other side....?!?
posted by Grod at 1:46 PM on December 23, 2003

The nasal water thing isn't that uncomfortable. The salinity removes the sting. has tips on his site.

I've had a sinus headache all day, so this is a great set of suggestions.
posted by mecran01 at 6:14 PM on December 23, 2003

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