Baylor College of Medicine News

Tips help manage pesky sinus symptoms

Sinus infections can last up to two weeks and bring about pesky, uncomfortable symptoms – sore throat, sinus pressure, coughing, fever and drainage – but you can manage these until your body fights off the infection, said a physician assistant from Baylor College of Medicine.

Sinus infections are an inflammation or swelling of the tissue lining the sinuses caused by blockage of bacteria, viruses and fungi.

"Most of the time, sinus infections can be managed without antibiotics," said Isabel Valdez, a physician assistant and instructor of family and community medicine at BCM.

Valdez offered tips to help make the duration of the infection more comfortable.

Drainage

"There are two options you can use to control the drainage – decongestants or expectorants," said Valdez. "Decongestants dry up the mucus that collects in the back of the throat as a result of the infection. Expectorants melt the mucus."

Look for over-the-counter decongestants that contain pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine, such as Sudafed. "I recommend taking this in the morning only. These can increase your heart rate and blood pressure and keep you up at night."

Mucinex or products with guaifenesen are great options for "mucus melters" because these loosen the thick mucus, she said.

Sinus pressure

The expectorants and decongestants can help relieve sinus pressure but if the pressure becomes unbearable, a nasal steroid prescription may be necessary, she said.

"This is that 'head-in-a-vice' feeling where the pressure is felt in your eyes, ears and sinuses," said Valdez. "At this point you should get your doctor involved."

It is important not to confuse these nose sprays with popular over-the-counter nasal sprays, which may worsen your symptoms over time, she said.

Sore throats

The post-nasal drainage sitting on the throat can cause a painful sore throat.

For this, Valdez said a combination of Maalox and Benadryl can help ease the pain. Mix 1 tablespoon of liquid Maalox and 1 tablespoon of liquid Benadryl and swish and gargle.

"I always suggest spitting the mixture out during the day and swallow only at bedtime because this will make you sleep," said Valdez.

This will help ease the sore throat and also help dry up the mucus.

Additionally, warm tea with honey and lemon can help clear and soothe the throat.

Coughing

A cough can be difficult to treat, Valdez said.

"Not all of the cough comes from your lungs, but also from the drainage, so not all cough medicines help," she said.

Try over-the-counter suppressants like dextromethorphan and use as directed.

If the cough does not improve, see your physician so he or she can address where the cough is coming from and the best way to treat it. "If it's coming from the drainage, you may need a prescription. If a persistent cough is coming from the lungs, it could mean bronchitis."

Fever and pain reducers

If you have a fever and/or pain, take two acetaminophen tablets. After four hours, if you still have pain or fever, take two ibuprofen tablets. You can rotate these every four hours.

Valdez said it is very important to be careful when combining all these medicines to make sure you are not doubling up on a single agent. "Some of these medications may contain a lower dose of any of the above mentioned agents, so check the labels carefully."

Remember those agents are: acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever/pain, dextromethorphan for cough and pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine and guaifenesen for decongestants and expectorants.

Lastly, Valdez said to keep the following in mind:

  • If you have a fever, do not go into work or school – you should be fever free for 24 hours.
  • Rest is the best medicine. Let the virus run its course; if your body is run down it will take it longer to fight off the infection.
  • To prevent sinus infections, get a flu shot (it's not too late she said), wash your hands often and cover your cough and sneeze.