Antibiotic-free Tips for Treating Sinus Infections

U.S. News asked two medical specialists for advice.

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With new medical research increasingly discouraging the use of antibiotics against mild sinus infections, what else can you do to treat sinusitis symptoms at home? U.S. News asked two medical specialists for advice.

Wash your nose. "Nasal irrigation is an excellent way to help get over an acute sinus problem," says Stanley Chia, a staff otolaryngologist at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. Cleansing your nose "tends to mechanically remove the bacteria that are clogging the sinuses and any allergens...and remove the pus drainage that is coming from the sinuses." U.S. News offers tips for at-home nasal washings.

Consider oral decongestants, but not without a doctor's approval if you have high blood pressure—which can be worsened by taking these medicines, Chia says. Nasal spray decongestants are also an option, and are less of a concern for those with high blood pressure, but they shouldn't be used for longer than three days at a time because they can cause a rebound effect involving constriction of the blood vessels in the nose, he says.

Try pain relievers for the pain, pressure, and elevated temperature often associated with sinusitis, advises Richard Rosenfeld, professor and chairman of otolaryngology at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Avoid antihistamines. Don't take medicines like Benadryl, Claritin, and Zyrtec unless you know allergies are at least partially responsible for your symptoms. Taking antihistamines simply to treat sinus infections is "not beneficial and could theoretically worsen the congestion because they dry out the mucous membranes in the nose," Rosenfeld says.

Take a nasal steroid. "There is some evidence [that] nasal steroids may give some relief," Rosenfeld says. Prescription nasal sprays like Nasonex and Flonase may ease symptoms by reducing inflammation, which promotes sinus drainage, he says.

Be patient. One conclusion shared by all of the recent research is that it takes time to recover from sinusitis, whether or not you take an antibiotic. It may take as long as 10 to 14 days—or longer, in some cases—to feel like your old self again.