My personal tips for sinus infections

— Chris Hoadley

I used to get terrible sinus infections that would last weeks, several each winter, until I eventually had sinus surgery, which seems to have really fixed things.

But I recently typed up what tricks worked best for me with the sinus infections for a friend, and I thought I should perhaps post it online in case others find these tips useful. Please note: graphic discussion of snot follows.

It's important to note, I'm not a medical doctor, this is not medical advice, yada yada. Also remember that people have really different reasons for developing sinus infections. Don't mess around and avoid seeing your doctor, since a sinus infection can become serious. But this is what I found helpful in addition to my doctor's instructions.


I hate drinking water. And it seems like unless you're thirsty, why pound the fluids? But it really seemed to make a difference for me, especially hot liquids. Hot water with a little lemon juice, a spoonful of sugar, and a pinch of salt really soothes. If my throat is killing me from post-nasal drip, putting cayenne pepper in some tea or in a gargle also, surprisingly, helps make my sore throats better (the capaiscin in cayenne interferes with pain receptors). It's worth a try.

What's the trigger?

For me, allergies would trigger and sustain each sinus infection—the antibiotics would kill the beasties in my head, but then as soon as the drugs were done I'd get sick again for like a month solid, until an attentive nurse practitioner noticed my sinus infections occurred like clockwork at certain times of year. Et voila, I discovered I had a pretty strong seasonal allergy that was the trigger, and it was pretty easy to treat the trigger with antihistamines and/or avoid. Things were a lot better for several years after that. Other people have triggers like quick temperature changes, smoke, dust, mold, chlorinated pools, or even just a common cold. Try to figure out what yours is, and take preventative measures when it occurs to avoid sinus infection.

Decongestants can be counterproductive

I found decongestants really made things worse; they would relieve the pain and drainage for a few hours, but the mucus that was left was thicker and ended up causing more trouble in the long run. Instead...

Thin the mucus and decrease the swelling

For me, allowing things to drain properly was key, and the two things that worked best for that for me, pill-wise, were aspirin and Mucinex (the plain one, not Mucinex D, Mucinex DM, or any of the Mucinex Sprays). Aspirin (or ibuprofen) is to relieve the inflammation and sinus pain, and Mucinex is to thin out my mucus (it's an expectorant, the same active ingredient as in robitussin expectorant syrup, guaifenesin, but in pill form). Acetominophen didn't work as well for me—it helped the pain but not the swelling as much. In Germany once I got to use this expectorant gelcap called Gelomyrtol Forte which must have been made from pine trees—when you burped it smelled like turpentine. That stuff worked really well too to keep things thinned out and draining. You can now get Gelomyrtol in the US via

Rinse things out, carefully

A lot of people swear by Neti pots (saline rinse for your nose and sinus). I found it to be good for prevention, but if an infection was coming on and I did Neti it would be way worse, probably because I was just spreading germs around in my sinuses. After my surgery my doctor prescribed hypertonic (extra salty) saline rinses, and the addition of extra salt felt a lot better, so maybe I would have had better luck with Neti if I had added more salt. I was not able to use bottled saline spray (like Ocean) AT ALL, because I'm apparently allergic to the common preservatives, and it would sting like the dickens. I later discovered a mucus-thinning nasal rinse called Alkalol which also has mild disinfectant properties, and that works best for me. Important: whenever rinsing your sinuses, use distilled or boiled water; there are lifethreatening infections you can get by using unpurified water.

Disinfect directly

A friend posted on facebook that her doctor came up with a compounded (specially made up by the pharmacist) gentomycin rinse that she could put in her nose rather than taking oral antibiotics. I used an over-the-counter spray called SinoFresh that has both antibacterial (antibiotic) properties and antifungal properties, and it seemed to help a fair bit. Expensive though—I think it was about $20 per spray bottle. And, as mentioned above, Alkalol is a mild disinfectant due to the Thymol in it.

Immune Boosters

Although I'm allergic to echinacea, there are two immune boosters I sometimes use. One is Sambucol, or black elderberry syrup, which has modest evidence to suggest it can help fight viral infections. And the other is beta glucan; this is a compound found in mushrooms and yeasts that has been shown to activate the innate immune system. I get mine from the Immune+ line of Emergen-C powders, although you can buy them as a pill as well.


There's this great over the counter remedy in Nepal called 'Sancho' which is an essential oil mix that smells like a cross between eucalyptus, Vicks vapo-rub, and moth balls. You can boil water, put a few drops in, then put a towel over your head and steam. The menthol-ish smell really opens up my passages. Presumably you can do the same thing with a few drops of eucalyptus oil, menthol, or one of those drops for vaporizer/humidifiers like Kaz or Vicks in a pot of boiling water. And while I'm at it, remember that your mucus membranes can't do their job as well if the air doesn't have a little humidity, so if you have an arid climate or a furnace in wintertime that makes the air really dry, you might try buying a humidifier or vaporizer for your bedroom.

Avoid eating poorly

At some point I want to do a real double-blind experiment with myself to see if this is true. When I'm sick, I'll often crave sugar, and coffee, and chocolate, but I have begun to suspect that these things actually make the disease worse. Obviously, you should eat healthy when trying to get healthy, but these three seem to be especially bad for me. When I'm craving sweets, I try now to do either the lemon hot water thing, or eat some fruit; if I want caffeine, I'll hit the green tea rather than the coffee. Oh, and spicy Chinese hot-and-sour soup is always a good idea, but especially when I'm getting sick.


Copyright © 2009-2016 Christopher Hoadley. Last updated 25 January 2016.