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7 tips for keeping your sinuses clear from the Harvard Men's Health Watch

More than 20 million Americans will have at least one bout of sinusitis this year. Blockage of the channels that drain the sinuses is the main cause of this painful condition. Keeping these channels open can reduce your chances of developing the problem, while restoring drainage if they become blocked is the key to treatment, reports the December 2008 issue of Harvard Men’s Health Watch.

Many people with sinusitis recover quickly and completely without taking antibiotics simply by promoting drainage. Harvard Men’s Health Watch offers the following tips:

  • Drink lots of water. Good hydration helps keep mucus loose.
  • Inhale steam three or four times a day. Boil water in a pan. Turn off the heat and bend over the pan with a towel over your head. to catch the steam. Breathe deeply through your nose.
  • Sleep with your head elevated.
  • Use decongestants. Tablets containing pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine are helpful, but beware that they may raise your blood pressure, speed your pulse, or make you jittery.
  • Avoid antihistamines. They’re fine for allergies or a watery nose, but they make mucus thick and hard to drain—the last thing you want for sinusitis.
  • Use a saline (salt water) nasal spray to loosen mucus and rinse your sinuses.
  • A warm compress on your face may soothe sinus pain. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin or acetaminophen will help reduce pain and fever.

Antibiotics aren't the first step in treatment. Good as they are, they have potential disadvantages. They can trigger allergic reactions or cause side effects. Most people recover fully without antibiotics, but if your sinusitis is very severe or does not improve with two to four days of drainage therapy, ask your doctor if you should take an antibiotic.

Also in this issue of the Harvard Men's Health Watch

  • Osteoporosis Part II: Prevention and treatment
  • Sinusitis
  • Medical memo: Food for thought: Tomatoes, broccoli, and prostate cancer
  • On call: Tests for statin users

More Harvard Health News »

About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.