Medical News Today: What is the best remedy for sinus drainage?

By | November 5, 2018
The sinuses are always draining mucus down the back of the throat and into the stomach. Some health issues can make this drainage more noticeable, and even painful or annoying. There are many home remedies, including essential oils, steam therapy, and nasal irrigation.

Healthy sinuses produce mucus that keeps the throat, nose, and airways moist.

Causes of excessive sinus drainage include:

  • allergies
  • dry air
  • dehydration
  • sinus infections
  • a cold
  • the flu
  • changes in weather

A person should try:

  • staying hydrated
  • using a humidifier
  • elevating the head at night

Too much drainage can be annoying, and it can also be a risk factor for pneumonia.

Natural remedies for sinus drainage

Bottles of essential oil lined up in a row
Aromatherapy with essential oils can help ease congestion.

If sinus drainage is irritating, but not severe, home remedies can usually relieve the discomfort.

Treating underlying causes, by eliminating contact with allergens, for example, can also improve symptoms and prevent them from returning.

The following can help relieve annoying symptoms of sinus drainage:

Essential oils

Aromatherapy can offer temporary relief when sinus drainage causes congestion and pressure.

Essential oils of peppermint and eucalyptus can alleviate discomfort from a cold and may help suppress a cough. Try using them in a chest rub or diffusing them in the bedroom overnight.

Essential oils are available for purchase online, including peppermint oil and eucalyptus oil.

While some mouthwashes contain essential oils, these ingredients can irritate the gums and may even be toxic, so speak with a doctor before using them.

Steam therapy

Thickened mucus often causes irritating sinus drainage. Steam can thin the mucus, allowing it to flow more easily, and help relieve coughing, pressure, and difficulty breathing.

Some pharmacies and health stores sell small steamers for use on the face and nose.

A person can also breathe in enough steam by closing the bathroom door and turning on a hot shower.

Water and preventing dehydration

Dehydration can cause painful sinus drainage.

Drinking more water and avoiding caffeine can help:

  • replace fluids
  • prevent further dehydration
  • thin the mucus, allowing it to drain more easily

Cool, dry air can also dry out the airways.

Nasal irrigation

Nasal irrigators are devices that help clean out the nose and sinuses. Irrigation can also moisten the sinuses, counteracting the effects of dry air.

Neti pots are among the most popular types of irrigators. Using one can help speed recovery from a sinus infection.

Neti pots and other irrigators are available to buy online. Be sure to use distilled water, not tap water.

Saline sprays can also help and are safe for most people to use on a long-term basis.

Humidifiers

It is easy for the sinuses to dry out in cold weather or dry climates, and this can lead to pain and congestion.

Humidifiers keep the air moist and reduce the effects of cold weather and dry air. Using a humidifier in the bedroom overnight can help.

It may also help to add a few drops of peppermint or eucalyptus oil to the water in a humidifier.

Humidifiers are available for purchase online.

Elevating the head

Sleeping with the head elevated can help the mucus drain and prevent congestion.

Symptoms of acid reflux can be similar to those of sinus drainage. People with acid reflux also tend to benefit from sleeping propped up on extra pillows.

Herbal remedies

Some herbal formulas promise to shorten the duration of the common cold, which can cause uncomfortable sinus drainage.

Research into the effectiveness of these products, however, is inconclusive.

Herbal remedies are generally harmless, but a person should exercise caution, as with any other medication. Speak with a doctor before trying them, and stop using them if any side effects occur.

Medical treatments for sinus drainage

Pharmacist looking at pack of medicine
A doctor can prescribe decongestants or antihistamines.

Medications that can relieve sinus drainage-related discomfort include:

  • decongestants, which help thin the mucus so that it can drain more easily
  • antihistamines when allergies are causing drainage symptoms

Nasal decongestants can offer temporary relief, but they may become addictive, so consult a doctor before using them. Some decongestants contain the drug pseudoephedrine.

Treating the underlying cause

The right treatment for sinus drainage symptoms depends on the cause, which is often the common cold. A cold is a viral infection that goes away on its own, and antibiotics will not help.

If the flu is causing uncomfortable drainage, antiviral drugs may speed healing. However, these medications only work if a person takes them within a few days of noticing symptoms.

Antiviral flu medication is available by prescription only, so a person should see a doctor as soon as they notice flu symptoms.

If a bacterial sinus infection is causing sinus drainage symptoms, antibiotics may help clear the infection.

If an allergic reaction is responsible, a person should undergo allergy testing and receive a diagnosis. Some prescription medications can help.

Chronic sinusitis can also cause uncomfortable sinus drainage. Antibiotics and corticosteroid medications can help, but a person may require surgery if the sinusitis has caused a blockage.

Causes and prevention of sinus drainage

Sinus drainage is a natural process, so a person cannot prevent it. The sinuses drain down the back of the throat and into the stomach. Each time a person swallows, they are swallowing some mucus.

Symptoms occur when there is an excessive amount of mucus, and the mucus is unusually thick.

Common causes of excess sinus drainage include:

  • infections, including the flu or a cold
  • allergies
  • dry air
  • dehydration
  • medications, which can thicken mucus

Also, an injury can affect the ability of the sinuses to drain properly or produce enough mucus.

To reduce the risk of developing uncomfortable sinus drainage:

  • get a flu shot every year
  • wash the hands frequently
  • drink plenty of water, particularly during changes in weather or the seasons
  • try a nasal saline rinse to clean the sinuses and keep them moisturized
  • avoid allergens
  • ask a doctor if any current medications may be thickening the mucus
  • keep a humidifier on in the bedroom overnight

It is particularly important to wash the hands frequently during cold and flu season, and after coming into close contact with others.

When to see a doctor

Woman lying on sofa holding baby on chest
A doctor should assess infants who have difficulty breathing.

When sinus drainage becomes uncomfortable, and this lasts longer than a week, a person may have an infection or another issue that requires medical treatment.

Also, a person should see a doctor if they have:

  • a fever
  • intense sinus pain and pressure
  • difficulty breathing, which can indicate pneumonia
  • in a person with a weakened immune system, any symptoms of a sinus infection
  • in an infant younger than 3 months, congestion or difficulty breathing

Minor discomfort from sinus drainage does not usually indicate a serious medical issue.

Outlook and takeaway

When a cold, seasonal changes, or dry air causes uncomfortable sinus drainage, the symptoms usually go away on their own.

A sinus infection, allergy, or injury can cause symptoms that last much longer. If home treatments do not work, see a doctor, even if symptoms are minor.

A person can usually manage symptoms of sinus drainage at home. Anyone with long-lasting or recurring sinus drainage discomfort should speak with a doctor about potential causes. Medical treatments can often resolve symptoms more effectively than home remedies.

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