The most common cold medications like decongestants, aspirin, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) work by constricting blood vessels in your nose, causing swelling and mucus. Cold medicines are often effective, but they may also cause side effects like drowsiness, dizziness, and low blood pressure.
If you’re concerned about the side effects of cold medicine, talk to your doctor. You might be able to try adding a decongestant, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), to your cold medicine. Decongestant nasal sprays can help reduce congestion, and they’re often used in conjunction with decongestant nasal drops.
A 2012 study found that people who took cold medicine with cold water had fewer symptoms and better quality sleep scores.
Try breathing in cold water instead of taking a decongestant
If you can’t live without your decongestant, you may want to try breathing in cold water instead. This can help relieve some of the discomfort associated with congestion.
For each hour you breathe in cold water, your nasal passages will be exposed to cold air for approximately 9 hours. This is a similar length of time to how long it takes to fully recover from a sinus infection.
Try using a humidifier
Humidifiers are used to keep air dry and help people breathe easier. They can also improve sleep quality. A 2010 study found that people who used a humidifier before bed had better sleep quality and fewer symptoms of colds.
A 2014 study found that people who took an oral decongestant before bed had better sleep quality than those who took it after bedtime.
Try using a saline nasal spray
Saline nasal sprays contain salt water to moisten and soothe the nasal passages. Saline sprays are available over-the-counter in many pharmacies.
Some people find saline nasal sprays to be effective for relieving nasal congestion. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology recommends saline sprays as a first-line treatment for nasal congestion.
However, according to a 2015 review of studies, saline nasal sprays aren’t effective for all people with nasal congestion.
Saline sprays aren’t effective for people who have:
- Nasal polyps
- Nasal septum deviation
- Nasal polyps and allergic rhinitis
- Chronic sinusitis
- Bacterial infections
A 2017 study found that saline nasal sprays were more effective in people with acute sinusitis than people with chronic sinusitis.
Other treatments for congestion
Cold and flu medications aren’t the only options for relieving congestion. There are other treatment options, like:
- Nasal irrigation. Applying saline nasal irrigation may help people relieve congestion caused by colds. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology recommends starting with 1 teaspoon of salt (1/2 teaspoon) in 8 ounces of water.
- Decongestants. Decongestants like pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) and phenylephrine help by constricting blood vessels in your nose. They can help relieve nasal congestion.
- Topical decongestants. These decongestants can be applied to the back of your throat or the front of your nose. They can help relieve symptoms of nasal congestion in some people.
- Nasal steroids. Nasal steroids, like olopatadine (Alavert), can help people with nasal congestion by widening the sinus passages.
- Nasal sprays. Nasal sprays like oxymetazoline (Afrin) and pheniramine (Relbecca) are used to treat congestion.
What’s the best treatment for a sinus infection?
Treatments for sinus infections are similar to treatments for colds, including:
- Over-the-counter nasal sprays
- Oral steroids
You can try all of these treatments in combination or separately, as they each work best for different people.
If you don’t get better in 7 to 10 days, your doctor may prescribe a prescription medication, like an oral or nasal antihistamine.
If it’s your first time experiencing symptoms of a sinus infection, you may be prescribed an oral antibiotic for 7 to 10 days.
When to see your doctor?
You should see your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve with home treatments.
It’s a good idea to see your doctor if:
- Your symptoms last more than 10 days
- Your symptoms are severe
- Your symptoms are accompanied by signs of more serious conditions like sinusitis
How can I prevent a sinus infection?
Experts don’t know exactly what causes sinus infections. However, there are things you can do to prevent them. Here are some tips:
- Wash your hands and face before treating yourself or your children.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Avoid sharing food, drinks, and other things that may cause you to become dehydrated.
- Avoid contact with people who are sick.
- Limit your exposure to allergens like dust and pet dander.
- Don’t smoke.
- Stay away from sinus infections caused by a cold or allergy.
Follow all of your doctor’s instructions when treating a sinus infection.
How do I care for a sinus infection?
When you’re sick, your body is busy fighting off the infection. To do this, it produces a large amount of white blood cells. These white blood cells are in your blood stream to fight off infections.
You also tend to have more mucus in your nose and sinuses. Mucus is made up of cells, proteins, and other substances that your body produces to help keep your body clean.
You can take care of a sinus infection at home by:
- Drinking plenty of fluids.
- Using a saline nasal spray to help relieve congestion.
- Using a decongestant to reduce the swelling and irritation in your sinuses.
- Taking pain medications like ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) to reduce the pain.
- Taking an oral antibiotic if your doctor prescribed one.
- Avoiding things that can irritate your sinuses like smoke, pollen, and dust.
- Avoiding contact with people who are sick to prevent spreading the infection.
You can reduce the swelling and pain in your sinuses by using a cold compress to reduce swelling.
You can also try using a humidifier to keep your home dry, which can help keep your sinuses moist.
The bottom line
You may be able to relieve your nasal congestion by blowing your nose or using an over-the-counter decongestant, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed).
Although decongestants can help to get rid of your congestion, they can also cause a number of side effects.
If you’re looking for an alternative for your congestion, try breathing in cold water or using a humidifier. You might also want to try a saline nasal spray or an oral decongestant.
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