Sinus problems among other recent events have brought my nootropic experiments to a nearly complete standstill. Exposure to dust hasn’t helped, and neither does the thaw of spring and the arid air that carries all the pollen around.
My main problem is my body overreacts to dust and pollen, and a couple times a year in spring and summer I end up with a sort of hay fever and sinus congestion that puts me out of commission for a few days to a week at the worst. Air travel can do me in as well.
When I deal with a sinus issue, I try to take care of it as soon as possible. Here are several things I do to ensure I’m free of sinus congestion ASAP.
- 1 Why I don’t resort to “conventional” methods to deal with sinus congestion
- 2 An overview of my methods
- 3 Step 1 – Loosen everything up
- 4 Step 2 – Cleanse the sinuses
- 5 Step 3 – Sleeping soundly
- 6 Caveats and conclusion
Why I don’t resort to “conventional” methods to deal with sinus congestion
The “conventional methods” are the ones that people with frequent sinus issues tend to use.
- Nasal decongestants can make things worse 1
- For people who want antibiotics from their doctors, they don’t work much more than placebo for non-bacterial sinus issues. 2
- Antihistamines can make you very sleepy.
For my most recent sinus issue, I tried a Tylenol formula that contained an anti-histamine and a nasal decongestant. Not only did it not work for nasal congestion as I’d hoped, I woke up after 3 hours of crappy sleep due to increased sinus congestion. It ruined my day which I spent making up for that lost sleep.
The following night I took one acetaminophen tablet to help soothe the aches and pains that were keeping me up and got tired naturally since I had no fresh ginger available. I avoided anything that claimed to work on mucus.
Believe it or not, some medical professionals actually advocate for the use of a nasal cleanser like the neti pot, and it’s actually in my 3-step method for handling sinus congestion as I detail below.
An overview of my methods
Check out my 3-step program for sinus success:
- Loosen up mucus
- Cleanse the sinuses
- Sleep properly
As soon as I notice my nose and sinuses start to gunk up, I get into action quickly to save my sleep later that evening. The discomfort during the day is one thing, but the inability to sleep due to headaches and dry mouth are much worse.
As soon as I get up in the morning I drink a glass of water and loosen up the mucus using whatever methods I have at my disposal, then cleanse using a neti pot.
Repeat this process until the sinus problems go away.
Step 1 – Loosen everything up
I don’t have a single method for loosening up mucus, I prefer to do everything that is available and/or convenient to me.
Some things you may want to avoid when you start experiencing sinus problems are dairy and alcohol. Dairy increases the thickness and secretion of mucus, and alcohol is a vasodilator, widening the blood vessels in your already congested sinuses.
Now for getting the mucus trapped in your sinuses flowing, you have many means at your disposal:
- Eating spicy food or hot soup
- Steam from a hot shower or putting your face over a bowl or sink of hot water and draping a towel over your head
- A shot of apple cider vinegar (the pungency should clear up your nostrils)
- Snorting a drop or two of lemon juice and tilting your head back (it works but it STINGS!)
- Ginger tea (slice up some whole ginger root then boil. Drink, sweeten and/or pour over ice if you want)
Something I always enjoyed making was a kind of spicy garlic soup with butter.
How to make garlic soup for sinus congestion
Ingredients (use what you have):
- Garlic (the main ingredient)
- Cayenne pepper (about a pinch or more)
- Black pepper (maybe 1/8th tsp)
- Red pepper (however much you can handle)
- Turmeric powder (1/8th tsp — If you have the tincture, a couple droppers’ worth will work. Be careful because this stuff can stain)
- 1 tbsp butter
Crush and mince garlic then let sit for about 10 minutes. (I explain why in this post.) In a small saucepan on low to medium heat, melt the butter (or a little oil if you have none) and add cayenne, black pepper and red pepper, and stir the spices around until they are soaked and you can smell the spices. Add 1 cup of water and bring to a boil.
Finally, add the minced garlic and let it simmer until the garlic is tender. Sip on this one slowly
The pungency of the spices helps loosen everything up while the butter, salt and turmeric help with a dry, sore throat. You can make extra and have it up to 2 or 3 times a day as needed.
Step 2 – Cleanse the sinuses
There’s a couple ways you can do this, but I prefer a neti pot with a body-temperature saline solution.
Some people prefer to use a squeeze-type bottle to force water into their nasal cavity because forcing things to work is apparently the way to do things these days. Personally I think this is a terrible idea because if the water is encountering some resistance to the mucus on the way in, it’s going to have a hard time getting back out, and this will only make headaches and congestion worse.
With a neti pot, in my experience I’ve noticed that the water just won’t go through to the other nostril if congestion is severe. If this happens, go back to step 1 and loosen everything up first, then perform a nasal cleanse. I think this is less painful than forcing the water through in desperation.
When you’re first hit with sinus congestion at its most severe, you might need to do the neti pot up to 3 times in a day. Sometimes you may want to do both nostrils with a full pot each.
If you’re shy about pouring water into your nose, it’s not as bad as it seems. Some people prefer to endure the misery of sinus congestion but I’d rather pour salt water in my nose and spare myself the pain.
Choosing a neti pot and making your own saline
In the past I’ve used some DIY nasal cleansers like using a cup with a spout or a water bottle with holes in the top and bottom, but neither ever worked as well as a true neti pot. A neti pot has a spout shaped in such a way that when you tilt it spout forward and down, the water is propelled out by the forces of gravity: nothing more and nothing less.
You can’t go wrong with most neti pots, but I prefer the hard plastic ones over the ceramic pots since they are easier to travel with. Some have complained that the plastic ones may leak at the seams but this has not been my experience. If you’re fortunate you can find either one of them at your nearest drug store.
If I didn’t already have a generic one from my local drug store (I ran out to buy it once when I was desperate) I would definitely choose something like this neti pot kit with the salt included.
If you prefer to purchase the neti pot alone, you can make your own saline solution.
- 8 oz. distilled or filtered water (boil for at least 5 minutes if it’s from the tap – there’s apparently a very remote chance you could become infected with a lethal protozoan if it’s in your local water supply) 3
- 1 tsp. salt (use non-iodized, preferably sea salt without additives if possible)
- less than 1/8th tsp baking soda (preferably without additives or anti-caking agents)
Make sure the salt and baking soda are totally dissolved before you use it.
Snot rockets for fun and profit
After you cleanse effectively, you may have loosened up the mucus enough to excuse yourself to shoot snot rockets in the sink throughout the day. The relief is tremendous. I prefer to do this instead of keeping crusty tissue papers around, using tissues only near the bed while sleeping.
Note that sniffing to keep the mucus from falling out of your nose will only prolong the congestion. When shooting your snot rockets, don’t force your snot out or do it in one big gust (forcing it back into the sinuses), be gentle and shoot it out in short bursts. You’ll know if you’re forcing it if your eyes are red and you have veins popping out on your forehead. If nothing’s coming out, try again later.
Step 3 – Sleeping soundly
How you sleep with sinus congestion is going to make or break you.
In my experience, if you sleep flat on your back, you’re screwed. The mucus tends to travel up and back into the sinuses as you sleep and you’ll wake up with a pain behind your eyes and in your head in general. It’s a lot more severe than it has to be.
According to NormalBreathing.com, sleeping sitting up, on your left side or in the prone position (on your abdomen) are the best for oxygenation during a full 6 to 9 hours of sleep. Supine (on your back) sleeping is the worst. 4 In my experience they are the best when you experience sinus congestion as well.
Sleep on your back with your head propped up as much as is comfortable, or sleep on your abdomen with your head facing up as much as possible. If you can’t handle sleeping on your abdomen, try to sleep sitting up in your bed or a comfortable chair.
One more thing: Don’t do a nasal cleanse less than an hour before you intend to sleep. It might give you some relief but the water that remains in your nasal cavities needs a chance to drain out or evaporate.
Can’t get to sleep anyway?
If you need help getting sleepy enough to overcome the sinus congestion that’s keeping you up, I might point you to a few familiar aids:
- Chamomile (did you know this is a mild antihistamine?)
- Valerian root
- Kratom (depending on the strain)
- Any over-the-counter PM cough/cold formula (don’t combine with valerian for your liver’s sake)
If it’s head pain or dry and achy throat keeping you up, here are a few other things you might want to try:
- Honey (for sore or dry throat)
- Ginger root (lots of it, also a mild antihistamine)
- Kratom (opioid-like analgesic effect)
- An OTC painkiller like acetaminophen or ibuprofen (don’t combine with valerian for your liver)
Ginger for me tends to be very effective for sinus congestion and the headaches it can cause. But I use a lot of it and enjoy how spicy it is. Often I will slice up an entire root then boil a pot of it, add more water after I drink some and keep reheating and drinking the same root over the course of a day or two.
I’m not against using painkillers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen when they’re the only option available, but I understand the reservations against their use. (acetaminophen is hard on the liver and ibuprofen can cause stomach irritation.)
If I do reach a point where I feel the need to take them after popping an OTC painkiller, I will still use herbs like chamomile or ginger if they are on hand.
Caveats and conclusion
The methods I’ve picked up over the years for dealing with an attack of sinus congestion have helped me become comfortable after the first day which is usually the most severe. It helps me get back to taking care of the important things instead of popping pills, lying in bed and feeling miserable.
If your sinuses remain congested for more than a few days with or without my little home remedies, you may need to see a doctor. It could be something a lot worse than just sinus congestion.
Nonetheless, if these methods worked for you, you’ve tried these before or have something better, feel free to write in the comments.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Over-the-counter decongestant nasal sprays work, but be cautious when using them — Washington Post|
|2.||↑||Antibiotic Amoxicillin No Better than Placebo for Most Sinus Infections — Medical News Today|
|3.||↑||How Not to Die Using a Neti Pot — Forbes|
|4.||↑||Best Sleeping Position | Prone Sleeping — NormalBreathing.com|