Do you feel like a jackhammer is working on your brain? Nose congested, pain in your teeth, pain much worse when you sneeze or bend forward? Blow your nose and horrid mucus comes out? Get only temporary relief when you blow your nose? Have mucus draining down your throat, often at night, triggering a cough? Then you have sinuses full of mucus, putting pressure on the bones and membranes in your skull - that's what hurts.
Sinus Pressure or Sinusitis?
This is a very important distinction to make. IF you have an infection, an antibiotic will help. If you're congested but don't have a bacterial infection, it won't. Viruses can cause lots of mucus to be produced and may result in a mucus discharge which can go from clear to yellow to green and they don't respond to antibiotics.
Bacterial infections of the sinuses are much less common than congestion. They cause all the symptoms of congestion but also usually fever, fatigue and sometimes a bloody tinged nasal discharge. Another feature of infection is that the symptoms persist for days to weeks and do not usually respond to saline rinses.
Hiding deep within the skull lies a sinus that gets little attention. When you have that deep, head-bursting headache, this sinus is likely the culprit. See illustration.
While dealing with sinus issues using heat, moisture, and saline inhalations may relatively easily clear the frontal sinuses, it takes more persistence, in some cases, to clear the sphenoidal sinus.
Polyps in the nose are baggy water-filled swellings of the membrane inside the nose. They often completely block the passages. They sometimes are small enough to permit an in-breath but not an out-breath. They may be seen from the outside by the instrument a physician uses to examine the ear. A specialist has more sophisticated equipment and can look further back in the passages.
Polyps are always allergy related. For some people this will be environmental i.e. cat etc. For many others there may be a food connection. The usual medical treatment is with steroid nasal puffers. Steroid nasal puffers can produce good results. In the short term you may find breathing much easier but you may find you have to keep using them to get relief. In the long term there is the possibility that they will lower local immunity and can result in the emergence of a local fungal or yeast condition which can be difficult to clear up.
If you have nasal polyps and would like to see if you can alter them by changing your diet, I recommend starting with the elimination of wheat. You will have to do this for several months before a change might be noted.
Treatment Suggestions for Sinus Pressure
Medications to dry out the respiratory secretions (decongestants) cause our body to lock in the mucus and slow down healing. Decongestants may give temporary relief but most people report that there is a rebound effect, with decreasing benefit as decongestant use continues.
One of the frequent complaints I see is what patients often call "sinusitis." Their symptoms are facial pain and headache, but without fever. Their symptoms are caused by locked in mucus. Often they have been taking a decongestant in the hopes of getting rid of the secretions. But the decongestants cause the secretions to dry up. Dry, hardened mucus blocks the exit from the sinuses and the pressure builds, causing pain; headache, facial pain, pain in the teeth, pain which increases when you bend over to tie up your shoes. Patients often feel this pain will be fixed by an antibiotic, but which is not usually required.
The fix for most people with pressure symptoms is to stop the antihistamines and decongestants which have dried out the secretions. The goal is to loosen the mucus and help it to come out. Try inhaling hot moist air, perhaps containing a little camphor (Vicks™). The old fashioned way to do this is to boil a small amount of water in a saucepan, remove it from the heat and place a towel over your head to breathe in the moisture. It also helps to apply hot wet compresses to the face. take a hot drink and snort salt water up the nose. You can purchase this as a saline spray or make it yourself.
The Hindu gurus have, for ages, taught the use of the neti pot - a little teapot with a spout designed to fit in the nose. Some examples above. The pot is filled with warm salty water and inhaled. The water you use should be bottled or boiled as a rare amoebae has been linked to illnesses in some Southern U.S. States. Inhaling water sounds nasty but most people get used to it - and it really helps. Most pharmacies sell them.
Don't give up after trying these approaches once or twice. It may take a number of repetitions - heat, moist air, saline before there is a breakthrough.
Saline water is made by adding 1/8 teaspoon of salt in 1/4 cup of good quality bottled or boiled tap water. Salt water for inhalation should taste salty but not be as strong as sea water, which stings if inhaled. Sinus congestion can almost always be helped without requiring an antibiotic. If you get relief after one round of hot compresses and saline rinses that's great. But most people need more than one round. So don't give up until you get relief and then, with a large blow of the nose you'll deliver a large amount of mucus and the pressure symptoms will disappear.
You may also know that when you blow your nose you force mucus back into the sinuses. On the other hand, if you snort the mucus up and then spit it out, you vacuum out the sinuses. For this process, you will likely either want an understanding family or privacy.
If you have rested and were slowly getting better, but your symptoms began getting worse again, it may be time to see a physician. You may need an antibiotic.
Stop dairy products - most people find consuming dairy in any form (butter is OK) makes sinus symptoms worse. Other foods which make the mucus worse are nut butters, any milk substitutes and mayonnaise. Bread and baked goods should be avoided. Choose cooked grains i.e. rice. The use of a microwave for heating or cooking may create a drying effect and is best avoided by some people.
There are herbal and homeopathic remedies which may help. One rather brutal tactic is to take a little horseradish and hold it in the mouth. This makes your eyes water and your nose run, and can break the mucus up.
This won't work for children nor for the faint of heart! Garlic - the super anti-viral and anti-bacterial is amazing if fresh raw garlic juice can trickle down your throat. To do it, peel a clove of garlic and pop it whole into your mouth. Then suck on it. When you need to release more juice, touch it with your teeth. A clove should last about i/2 hour.
If this is too difficult, then take a thin slice of fresh raw garlic to suck on. If you space this out and alternate with salt water gargles, you should get good relief of your sore throat. With any luck, you may manage to avoid getting ill or at least your throat will feel better.
In the hands of a skilled acupuncturist you may see a rapid improvement in symptoms . Traditional Chinese herbal therapies can also make a big difference.