By Sarena-Rae Santos, Natural Health Blogger
As someone with a deviated septum, I am more susceptible to sinus infections. This is because one side of the nose is shifted over, making it harder to drain mucous, resulting in a stuffy nose more prone to a germy breeding ground. I tend to get a sinus infection roughly once a month, especially in the warmer months down south. Thankfully, I do have a routine that works to relieve them pretty quickly, and hopefully, this routine will work for you too.
Of course, a deviated septum isn’t the only cause of sinus infections. A weak immune system makes you more likely to develop sinus infections from bacteria or mold. Colds, seasonal allergies (which seem to occur all year long down south), and nasal polyps are other factors that can cause sinus infections (1).
To manage sinus infection symptoms effectively, it’s important to understand exactly what causes them and why, so let’s get to it!
What is a Sinus Infection
A sinus infection, sometimes called sinusitis, is inflammation of the air-filled pockets in the face (sinuses), which happens when fluid builds up in the sinuses. This fluid buildup allows germs to grow. Viruses cause most sinus infections, but bacteria can cause some sinus infections (2).
Symptoms of a sinus infection may include (3):
- A runny nose with thick, yellow, or greenish mucus coming from the nose
- Postnasal drainage with thick mucus coming down the back of the throat
- Blocked or stuffy nose (congestion) causing difficulty breathing through your nose
- Pain, tenderness, swelling, and pressure around your eyes, cheeks, nose, or forehead that worsens when bending over
- Ear pressure
- Aching in your teeth
- Altered sense of smell
- Bad breath
Through allopathic healthcare, a simple sinusitis infection is typically treated with decongestants, over-the-counter cold and allergy medications, nasal saline irrigation, and drinking fluids (sinusitis is a viral infection, and fluids will help). If symptoms of sinusitis don’t improve after ten days, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, oral or topical decongestants, or prescription intranasal steroid sprays (4).
Natural Remedies for a Sinus Infection
When it comes to a sinus infection, a fever is sometimes present. Suppose you read How to Handle Fevers Naturally. In that case, you already know the importance of letting a fever work its course and how fevers reducing on their own is vital to recovery from any illness. So just some quick reminders to naturally support the body during a fever:
- Keep comfortable
- Stay hydrated
- Take detox baths
- Support the lymphatic system
Earthley’s Ultimate Guide to Fevers is an excellent resource if you’re looking for more in-depth solutions surrounding fevers.
Aside from fever management, managing a sinus infection naturally is as simple as finding alternatives for each of the allopathic “solutions.” There are natural decongestants, allergy remedies, nasal irrigations, and even antibiotics, so let’s discuss them!
Addressing Congestion & Postnasal Drainage
Congestion occurs when the nasal cavity, adjacent tissues, and blood vessels become swollen with excess fluid, causing a stuffy or plugged feeling, often referred to as a stuffy nose (5). Postnasal drainage occurs when excess mucus builds up and drips down the back of your throat (6). Both of these symptoms can occur when struggling with a sinus infection, but some herbs can help, like elderberry and nettle.
Elderberry may support the immune system. The immune system protects the body from outside invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other toxins (7). When you support your immune system, you potentially support your body’s ability to fight off sickness such as a sinus infection. One study found that the elderberry polyphenols helped the rat’s immune defense by increasing the number of white blood cells (8). Additionally, elderberry has been used in folk medicine for centuries to treat influenza, colds, and sinusitis (9).
Nettle has anti-inflammatory properties. In one animal study, results suggest that a portion of the anti-inflammatory effect of nettle extract may be attributed to its inhibitory effect on NF-kappaB activation (part of the immune system responsible for inflammation development) (10). Nettle also reduced levels of numerous inflammatory hormones by interfering with their production in vitro (11).
Other options for these symptoms include using a facial steamer, a neti pot (I like using marshmallow root in the neti pot), and products like Earthley’s Sinus Saver and Breathe Well Salve. We also have some information on massages for nasal drainage available in our DIY: Lymphatic Massage.
Addressing Ear Pressure & Headache
When I have a sinus infection, the ear pressure and headache are inevitable and are the worst part. The best way to approach these symptoms is to tackle the inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s way of healing and fighting off infections, but chronic inflammation can also cause serious problems (12). Aside from the elderberry and nettle, which I’ve already discussed, three fantastic herbs are peppermint, turmeric, and ginger.
Peppermint not only has anti-inflammatory properties (13), but it also helps relieve headaches and migraines thanks to its cooling sensation (14). Peppermint’s ability to relieve certain headaches is likely due to the menthol in peppermint oil. Menthol increases the blood’s flow and provides a cooling sensation that assists in easing pain (15). In one clinical study of 35 people with migraines, when participants applied peppermint oil to the forehead and temples, the pain was reduced significantly after two hours compared to a placebo oil (16). In another study of 41 people, when participants applied peppermint oil topically to the forehead, they found it to be as effective for headaches as 1,000 mg of liver and kidney-damaging acetaminophen (17).
Turmeric has compounds called curcuminoids; curcumin is turmeric’s main ingredient and has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect (18). Curcuminoids are known for their medicinal properties, which have been used in India for thousands of years (19). Studies have shown that curcumin matches the effectiveness of some anti-inflammatory drugs without the dangerous side effects (20).
Ginger has an active constituent called gingerol, which is most studied in ginger (21). Gingerol has many known medicinal properties and a long history in traditional and alternative medicine. Most importantly, gingerol has robust anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Studies have found ginger inhibits protein kinase B (Akt) and nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) activation, thus causing an increase in anti-inflammatory cytokines and a decrease in proinflammatory cytokines (22).
Of course, Eathley offers some amazing products to help with these discomforts, such as Earache Ease, Pain Potion, and Anti-Inflammatory. I also find that using the facial steamer and neti pot from the previous section helps tremendously with these symptoms as well.
Addressing Aching Teeth
I have had many sinus infections over the years, but I have never experienced aching teeth as a symptom. Nonetheless, if this is a symptom you’re experiencing, two amazing herbs for tooth pain are clove and catnip.
Clove is very beneficial for oral health thanks to its antibacterial properties. One test-tube study showed that clove essential oil killed three common types of bacteria: Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (23). In another test-tube study, they found cloves to stop the growth of two types of bacteria that contribute to gum disease (24). Remember, clove is not the same as clove essential oil. Aside from having similar benefits, the way these two products are used couldn’t be more different! Check out our blog When & Why to Choose Clove Vs. Clove Essential Oil to learn more.
Catnip has a sedative-like effect due to its nepetalactone contents, similar to valepotriates found in valerian, another commonly-used herbal sedative (25). Catnip also has anti-inflammatory benefits that help ease pain and inflammation internally and externally. Catnip has traditionally been used for relieving arthritis, gout, headaches, and aching muscles and can also be used to ease menstrual cramps and gastrointestinal pain (26).
Addressing a Cough
Mainstream cough medicines like Dextromethorphan (DXM) have many side effects. We commonly hear about drowsiness, but it can also cause seizures. Not to mention regular abuse of DXM at high doses can lead to chemical psychosis (27). Alternative options include herbs like fenugreek and dandelion.
Fenugreek helps maintain mucus conditions in the body (mainly in the lungs) by helping to clear congestion and acts as a throat cleanser and mucus solvent easing the urge to cough (28). These benefits are why fenugreek is commonly used to aid asthma symptoms (29). Fenugreek also helps relieve pain and has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (30,31), which can significantly impact recovery from pneumonia.
Dandelions aren’t just a weed in your backyard. In traditional herbal medicine, dandelions are widely acknowledged for their vast medicinal properties, like antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (32,33). In animal studies, dandelion extract relaxes airway muscles, inhibits bronchial muscle contractions, and relieves the respiratory resistance of healthy and asthmatic mice (34).
Why not opt for something less dangerous than DXM, like Earthley’s Cough-B-Gone, which has all three of these herbs? Cough-B-Gone is an herbal tincture created to help relieve colds, coughs, and congestion. This tincture combines herbs like mullein leaf, fenugreek seed, and dandelion root to nourish your body and support the respiratory system.
Addressing the Infection
Addressing the infection is tricky because many believe you need antibiotics for all infections. Believe it or not, doctors prescribe about 47 million antibiotic courses annually for infections that don’t need antibiotics (35). If you read 6 Reasons Why You Should Ditch Antibiotics, you already know antibiotics can cause many health complications and often don’t even work. So what can you use instead? For most sinus infections, antibiotics are not required, but I like to use oil of oregano or fermented garlic honey, just in case.
Oil of Oregano has antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties, amongst many other beneficial properties (36,37,38). Oil of Oregano is made by infusing extra virgin olive oil with dried oregano leaves, creating a robust and ingestible “natural antibiotic” widely used in the natural community.
Fermented Garlic Honey has immunomodulatory, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties, relieving upper respiratory tract infection symptoms (39,40,41,42). Fermented Garlic Honey is made by fermenting garlic cloves in honey, creating a “natural antibiotic” commonly used in the natural community.
Additional Natural Alternatives
Aside from addressing the many symptoms that may accompany a sinus infection, I like to use a few other products when tackling a sinus infection.
Earthley’s Elderberry Elixir is a liquid supplement that combines elderberries and other immune-supporting herbs for everyday wellness. It’s an elderberry tincture (not syrup) that’s a potent cold and flu fighter, shelf-stable for up to 2 years, and super concentrated, which makes it the most cost-effective option. If you’ve previously enjoyed syrups, you’ll love our kid’s version because it’s alcohol-free and tastes great with no added sugar or sweeteners!
Earthley’s Immune Biotic is the perfect go-to herbal remedy for feeling under the weather and needing something fast. This tincture uses the natural power of immune-supporting herbs to give your body a jump start to fight off a cold or sinus infection. Take for three to seven days and kick sickness to the curb.
Earthley’s Lymphatic Cream is a lotion created to help relieve achy body parts caused by swollen lymph nodes. This cream tackles lymphatic congestion at the source and gently encourages drainage to help detox, reduce soreness, and improve overall wellness. I love to apply this on my sinuses to help relieve congestion.
Essential oils in the form of aromatherapy are a big part of my sinus infection recovery. Aromatherapy uses natural plant extracts, also known as essential oils, to promote health and well-being while improving the health of the body, mind, and spirit (43). I like using orange or eucalyptus essential oils for sinus infection relief. When using essential oils, be sure you’re using kid-safe essential oils for congestion.
Xlear Natural Saline Nasal Spray with Xylitol is the industry-leading formula for alleviating congestion and preventing bacteria and other pollutants from sticking to the nasal tissues. Typically, I take this nasal spray as needed at night when I need a little extra assistance. This nasal spray combines xylitol, an ingredient that cleanses with saline and grapefruit seed extract to open up, moisturize and soothe your sinus naturally and nasal passages without leaving them more irritated and susceptible to external contaminants. In one study, researchers found saline with xylitol increased the participants’ peak airflow by 36% compared to saline alone; frankly, saline alone worsened the participants’ condition and airflow over time (44).
Disclaimer: This post is not intended as medical advice. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, and nothing in this post is intended to diagnose, treat, or cure anything. If you have questions, please do your own research or seek advice from a health professional.