You know the feeling. Your nose is either plugged or like a leaky faucet, and your head feels like it’s in a vise. It feels better to keep your eyes closed because they’re puffy and sore. And your throat feels like you swallowed nails.
Sinus pressure is kind of the worst. There’s nothing quite as uncomfortable as the throbbing pain that comes with the build-up of pressure behind your face—especially because it’s so hard to know exactly how to deal with it.
What Exactly is a Sinus?
“We have four paired sinuses, or air-filled cavities within the skull: the frontal (forehead), maxillary (cheek), ethmoid (between the eyes), and sphenoid (behind the eyes),” says Naveen Bhandarkar, M.D., a specialist in otolaryngology at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. “Sinuses are known to lighten the skull, act as shock absorption in the setting of injuries, and affect the quality of your voice.”
Inside your sinuses is a thin mucous membrane similar to the one you’d find in your nose. “This membrane produces mucus, which is usually swept away by hair cells (cilia) and drains into the nasal cavity via openings called ostia,” says Arti Madhaven, M.D., of Detroit Medical Center Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital. That mucus also filters out particles like dust, dirt, pollutants, and bacteria.
Antibiotics, for example, won’t help if you’re dealing with a virus, and antihistamines are only useful for allergies, so it’s important for you to keep track of your symptoms
Sinus pressure becomes an issue when there are physical obstacles to the flow of air through your sinuses. If there are too many particles in your sinuses and that mucus can’t drain, blockages start to form. And “that backed up mucus is a perfect culture medium for bacterial growth, which triggers an inflammatory response by your immune system,” says Dr. Madhaven. “The result is swelling, which can cause facial pain and pressure.” That’s called sinusitis, and the most common triggers are viral infections, common colds, and allergies.
If that sinusitis goes unaddressed, you could be setting yourself up for acute sinusitis, or a sinus infection. (Anatomical defects like a deviated septum or polyps could also be to blame, but those are much less likely.)
How to Relieve Sinus Pressure
So what do you do to deal with all that pressure? You can use the same treatments whether you’re trying to relieve sinus pressure in your face, head, or ears; at the end of the day, it’s an inflammatory response.
First, you can manage your symptoms with nasal corticosteroids, some of which can be obtained over-the-counter (like Flonase and Nasacort), says Dr. Madhaven. (Talk to a doc if you’re using them long-term, though.)
Also helpful: “Drink plenty of fluids, inhale steam or humidified air, and press warm towels to your face,” says Dr. Bhandarkar. You can also use nasal saline rinses and sprays, decongestants, and over-the-counter pain medications such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen, he says.
Alternative treatments such as acupressure and essential oils may also be effective, he adds, but you should definitely be evaluated by a physician if the pressure continues for seven to 10 days, is recurrent, or is chronic. But usually, sinus pressure is due to a virus and will resolve on its own.
Home Remedies to Relieve Symptoms
While some over-the-counter treatments can help reduce symptoms, there are also many effective natural remedies.
Dry air and dry sinuses can increase sinus pressure and cause headaches and throbbing pain. Steam adds moisture to the air, helps to moisten your sinus passages, and thins out mucus that may have thickened over time. Take a hot shower and breathe in the steam to reduce pressure. You can also use a humidifier for more long-term relief.
For an extra boost, add eucalyptus oil to your bath to speed your recovery. Eucalyptus contains cineole, an ingredient known to speed healing of acute sinusitis. The oil also may help to reduce nasal stuffiness and clear your pathways.
A common treatment for sinus pressure and congestion is a saline wash. Saline spray contains salt that helps to increase moisture in your nose and reduce sinus pressure. You can buy saline spray in drugstores, or you can make your own with baking soda, distilled water, and iodine-free salt.
A good night’s sleep can help the body to heal. Sleep stimulates your brain to release hormones that encourage tissue growth. Also, when you’re at rest, your body is able to produce more white blood cells essential for attacking viruses and other bacteria.
Try to avoid activities or beverages that are over-stimulating before bed. Allowing your body to rest can help to reduce sinus pressure, speed your recovery time, and leave you feeling more refreshed. Check out some natural sleep aids if you need some added help.
Read more: What are the early signs of oral cancer?
Just as sleep is essential for healing, how you sleep can alleviate sinus symptoms. Lying flat can increase mucus buildup in your nasal passages, increase your sinus pressure, and disrupt your sleep cycle.
Prop your head up with pillows at night to keep your head above your heart. This sleeping position will prevent sinus buildup and can help you to breathe more comfortably.
Dehydration can contribute to your sinus passages drying out and increased pressure in your face. Increase your water intake throughout the day if you’re feeling under the weather. Fluids will reduce blockages in your sinuses.
While water may be your first choice to remain hydrated, you can also retain fluids through other foods and beverages including:
Your sinus pressure may cause you to feel tension in your head, face, and neck. Biofeedback therapy, an alternative treatment method that teaches you how to control your bodily functions, can relieve this pressure.
This method has had proven success in relieving headaches, incorporating deep breathing exercises and meditation to achieve relaxation and reduce pain. Yoga, meditation, and other relaxation techniques can help to reduce pain and pressure from sinus infections.
Similar to yoga, exercise can reduce sinus pressure. Physical activity can increase blood circulation and temporarily relieve congestion to ease breathing. Although uncomfortable to perform while being sick, physical activity can help to improve your recovery time and speed healing.
Address the ‘Real’ Problem
Make sure you actually get to the real root of the issue. “Many people misinterpret facial pressure to be automatically related to the sinuses because of the location and thus universally term this ‘sinus pressure,'” says Dr. Bhandarkar. “Although sinusitis is one cause of pressure, many other conditions, including migraine and allergies, can cause similar symptoms.”
Antibiotics, for example, won’t help if you’re dealing with a virus, and antihistamines are only useful for allergies, so it’s important for you to keep track of your symptoms, know your health history, and see a doc if this becomes an ongoing problem.
Sinus pressure symptoms can be painful and uncomfortable. In addition to using traditional treatment methods like decongestants and pain relievers, alternative home remedies can also boost your recovery.
If you continue to experience sinus pressure symptoms after a week, or if they begin to worsen, seek medical attention. This could be a sign of a more serious infection that may require prescribed antibiotics.