If you’re one of the 30 million Americans suffering from sinusitis, you would probably try any number of things to clear it up — irrigating your nasal cavities with a Neti pot, taking over-the-counter sinus medicine, adding moisture to the air with a humidifier, even twisting yourself up into a helpful yoga pose.
Sinus infections happen when your mucous membrane swells after an allergic reaction or infection, leading to tenderness and pressure around your face, especially the nose, cheeks and above the eyes. This infection also causes more mucus, as well as accompanying headaches and stuffy nose.
Most of the time sinus infections will clear up without a prescription. But when the usual mom-approved methods (like taking hot showers, drinking more water and placing a steamy towel on your face) aren’t providing much relief, you might be tempted to try some popular herbal remedies.
What are the pros and cons of going the natural medicine route?
Research has indicated that essential oils can be antibacterial and anti-inflammatory and also help to relieve pain. However, most evidence is anecdotal and oils’ benefits have not been as thoroughly studied as other remedies.
These oils are said to be beneficial for sinus issues:
- Eucalyptus — Helps open up sinuses and clears mucus. Studies have found that the main ingredient in eucalyptus oil (cineole) helps people recover from acute sinusitis faster. Cineole can improve headaches, too.
- Peppermint — This oil contains menthol, which helps open up the airways. You can use it in a humidifier or rub directly to the bridge of your nose (think Vicks VapoRub, which uses this oil in its formula).
- Grapefruit seed — This extract is said to be a powerful antibiotic that can ward off a number of illnesses by stabilizing your body’s pH.
- Oil of oregano — This oil has been used for centuries to support microbial health. It contains carvacrol and rosmarinic acid, which are natural decongestants.
- Tea tree oil — This oil can fight both bacteria and viral sinus infections, as well as reduce inflammation.
- Lavender and chamomile — Lavender is said to improve pain and swelling related to sinusitis. Lavender and chamomile also promote calming, which may help you sleep better.
Some people swear that adding some essential oils to a face steam will clear your sinuses right up.
First, boil a pot of water, then take it off the heat. Add a few drops of essential oil, then drape a towel over your head and bend over the pot to inhale the steam. Keep your eyes closed and be careful not to get too close to the hot water.
Other methods for using essential oils include using a diffuser and adding them to a soaking bath.
The biggest cons of essential oils are that they are widely untested, dosage can be a guessing game, and many people can be allergic.
- Never apply essential oils directly to skin without diluting them.
- Never swallow essential oils or use them anywhere in which they could enter the body (eyes, ears, etc.). They can be toxic.
- Side effects include irritation and burning, asthma attacks, headaches. Peppermint and eucalyptus, specifically, as known to trigger asthma.
- Essential oils can act as endocrine disruptors, which means they interfere with your hormones. Lavender and tea tree oil have been linked to prepuberty health complications in children.
- Allergic reactions are common, including itchy and watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing and skin irritation. If you have an allergic reaction to an essential oil, stop using it right away. Try a patch test before use to make sure you’re not allergic.
- Eucalyptus can cause seizures if ingested.
- Chamomile can cause severe reactions in people with allergies to ragweed and daisies.
- Peppermint is known to cause skin rashes when applied to skin and heartburn when ingested.
The practice of using herbal supplements/vitamins has been around for centuries to cure various ailments, but there is still little evidence that they are medicinal. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration requires that herbal supplements be called “dietary supplements” because they can’t legally make medicinal claims.
And even though the FDA can take supplements off the shelf that are known to be harmful, supplements that remain on the shelf aren’t necessarily safe.
Still, herbal “medicine” is as old as time, and some people turn to these supplements to help fight a sinus infection.
- Bromelain — This enzyme, found in pineapple, can thin mucus and relieve congestion.
- Quercetin — This plant component found in onions, apples, red wine and green tea is a natural antihistamine. It also helps reduce mucus secretion.
- Butterbur — Butterbur is used for treating allergies and research found that it works just as well as Allegra.
- Andrographis — This herb has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries to reduce inflammation.
- Nettle — This herb has a long history being used by Ayurvedics to support inflammatory pathways and sinus health.
- Bayberry — Native Americans used this bark as an herbal tonic to aid in sinus and respiratory health, but usage has many red flags (see cons below).
- Plantain — This herb has mucilage and therefore can support mucous membrane health.
These supplements are available in capsule form — though not always in the same doses or mixed with the same ingredients. Be aware of the amount you’re taking and also the reputation of the company that manufactured the supplement.
The biggest cons of herbal supplements are that results aren’t guaranteed, quality can be an issue and side effects can arise (especially with over-usage).
In general, pregnant women should avoid supplements unless directed to take them by a doctor.
- Avoid taking supplements while also taking prescription medication. Mixing the two can lead to serious side effects.
- Stay within dosage limitations and keep track of which supplements you are taking.
- Choose a trustworthy brand and check FDA advisories for information on supplements that have been reported as dangerous.
- Quercetin can lead to headaches and kidney issues if used in excess.
- Bromelain can cause allergic reactions, GI issues and increased heart rate.
- Some butterbur products may contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which have been linked to liver issues.
- Andrographis side effects may include diarrhea, vomiting, rash, headache, runny nose, and fatigue, especially with higher doses.
- Nettle can cause mild stomach upset, fluid retention, sweating and diarrhea.
- Use of bayberry is considered possibly unsafe because it contains a cancer-causing chemical, and additionally may lead to nausea, vomiting, and liver damage.
- Plantain supplements have side effects including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and bloating, especially at larger doses. Severe allergic reactions are also more likely at higher doses.
Certain foods and spices have been known to help because they contain anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that promote sinus health. (Conversely, some foods may actually exacerbate your sinus infection.)
Spicy foods in particular may contain capsaicin, which can help thin out the mucus and provide relief in your sinus cavities.
Here are a few to consider.
- Cayenne pepper and horseradish — These spices have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties and can help break down mucus.
- Turmeric — This fragrant spice is rich in antioxidants and also helps with swelling.
- Ginger root — According to research, ginger can be as strong an antihistamine as Claritin.
- Garlic & Onion — These foods help eliminate nasal drainage. Garlic is antibiotic, anti-inflammatory and is good for preventing future sinus infections as well.
- Apple Cider Vinegar — This high-pH vinegar helps relieve congestion.
- Herbal teas — Try teas made with mullein leaf, chamomile, comfrey, marshmallow, fenugreek, thyme, sage, or elderflower.
You can ingest these spices and foods in meal form or via a tea mixture.
In fact, mixing turmeric and ginger root in hot tea is said to provide instant sinusitis relief by loosening mucus and relaxing pressure.
Try adding garlic, onion, and cayenne pepper in your meals or soups. Or drink a solution of water, stevia and 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar to help clear up sinusitis.
The biggest cons with using foods and spices are allergies.
Spicy food can also trigger reactions such as sneezing and may even cause nonallergic rhinitis, which actually causes congestion and runny nose.
- Too much herbal tea can bring on headaches, nervousness, stomach issues and sleep problems. Research the brands you buy to make sure it is reputable because many herbal teas contain lead, aluminum and other contaminants.
- Drinking apple cider vinegar can lead to throat burns, gastrointestinal issues and erosion of tooth enamel.
Sinusitis Remedies You Can Trust
If you’ve tried every home remedy or herbal remedy but your symptoms persist past 10 days, you should call a sinus doctor such as Dr. Marc Kayem, especially if you have a severe case with high fever and swelling around the eyes.
It’s even more important to contact a doctor if you’re experiencing infections in excess of 12 weeks, or recurring sinusitis 3-4 times per year. This type of chronic sinusitis needs to be addressed with treatment — it’s not likely to clear on its own.
Dr. Kayem has provided relief for sinus patients for more than 20 years, and he will find just the right treatment for you, starting with the least invasive first.
If medication doesn’t work for your chronic sinusitis, he may recommend an alternative treatment: balloon sinuplasty. This treatment can be performed in one office visit and has a success rate of over 90 percent.
Dr. Kayem can also perform Functional Endoscopic Sinus Surgery in the small number of cases where balloon sinuplasty is not effective or not covered by insurance. Dr. Kayem is dedicated to giving you the treatment with the least discomfort and the best results. Call today for a consultation.