The all-too-familiar pressure in your nasal cavity area, the intense pain in your face when you bend forward, and even the aches in your upper teeth are all the byproducts of a bad sinus infection. According to Mia Finkelston, MD, a board-certified family physician who treats patients virtually via telehealth app, LiveHealth Online, a sinus headache is "an inflammation of the mucous membranes that line the sinuses. This inflammation could be caused by an infection, viral or bacterial, or allergens." She also notes that it's worst in the morning since fluid buildup occurs overnight. And as annoying as a runny or stuffy nose is, it's the localized pain that is making you feel like your skull has been pumped with helium that draws the last straw. When the symptoms are especially unbearable, a heavy dosage of the strongest decongestant might be your go-to remedy—but let's put the pills down for a second, shall we? According to physicians, there are more holistic ways to deflate the building pressure in your head and get back to your regularly scheduled programming.
Hydrate Your Nasal Cavity
Finkelston suggests drinking plenty of water to thin the mucus in your nose and sinus passages. The steam from hot tea or soup will also help loosen the mucus buildup.
In addition to this, you can irrigate the buildup in your nose by using a Neti Pot with a warm saline solution two to three times per day. Says Taryn Forrelli, ND, VP of innovation and resident nutritionist at Olly Nutrition."It will help clear them of the mucus, bacteria, and allergens at the root of your sinus pain and inflammation. The typical dilution is 1/4 teaspoon of finely ground non-iodized salt per eight ounces of sterile water."
Inhale Peppermint Essential Oil
Vitruvi Peppermint Essential Oil ($12)
We recently raved about the amazing beauty and health benefits of peppermint oil, and it turns out that it's also awesome for sinus headaches. Says Forrelli, "Peppermint oil is rich in menthol, a natural decongestant and an anti-inflammatory compound." To use, she suggests adding three to five drops of peppermint oil to a bowl of steaming water then quickly draping a towel over your head to trap the steam and breathe deeply through your nose for several minutes. For an added benefit, she also suggests massaging peppermint oil into your temples, sinuses, and chest, but be sure to dilute it with a carrier oil like olive or grape-seed oil, as the direct contact can be too aggressive on the skin.
Try Andrographis Paniculata
It's a real mouthful, but this natural herbal supplement is widely used in Asia and Scandinavia to treat and prevent the common cold. Says Forrelli, "Andrographis has been shown in clinical studies to relieve symptoms of sinus infections, a benefit many attribute to its powerful antibacterial and antiviral properties. Its general immune-boosting properties also speed recovery."
Safety 1st Ultrasonic 360° Cool Mist Humidifier ($30)
The 100%-free way to clear your sinuses is with a hot, steamy shower. If you want even longer-lasting relief, try sleeping with a humidifier by your bed.
Finkelston says some may adapt better to cold then heat, (though she encourages patients to try both temperatures and see what works for them). For those who take to the cold, she suggests a cool mist vaporizer. "The cold air can shrink swelling and causes your nose to run, whereas warm air can make people feel stuffy," she explains.
Eat Spicy Foods
Now you can legitimize your Sriracha obsession even more. Finkelston says spicy foods open up your nasal passages and ease some of the sinus discomfort you may be experiencing (if you've ever gotten a big piece of wasabi in your sushi order, you know what we're talking about).
Use Hot and Cold Compresses
TheraPearl Face Mask Hot and Cold Therapy ($16)
Finkelston suggests alternating hot and cold compresses on your forehead while lying down for several minutes a few times a day.
How can you prevent sinus headaches from happening in the first place?
If you feel a cold coming on, Finkelston advises saying away from known aggressors that prod the sinuses even more, like alcohol, which intensifies congestion, as well as perfume and cigarette smoke. She also suggests staying away from decongestant sprays, as even though they may provide immediate relief, they can "actually have the opposite effect and worsen sinus pressure and nasal congestion after a few days."
To get ahead of cold symptoms, Finkelston suggests washing your bed sheets and pillowcases in hot water to reduce exposure to allergens.
The one caveat: If your sinus headache is brought on by a full-blown infection, Ehsan Ali, MD, says antibiotics may be the best course of action. If symptoms persist, speak with a physician to treat the source.