Self-help measures and, if needed, over-the-counter drugs can help ease symptoms until sinusitis clears up, typically within a week or so. They include:
- Rest. That’s especially important in the first few days, when your body needs its energy to fight the virus—and when you’re most contagious.
- Warm fluids. Drinking them can help thin nasal secretions and loosen phlegm.
- Humidity. Warm, moist air from a bath, shower, or kettle can loosen phlegm and soothe the throat.
- Gargling. Dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water to relieve painful swelling in your throat.
- Rinsing. Flushing your nostrils with saltwater might ease congestion. If you use a commercial nasal-rinse device, be sure to thoroughly clean it daily.
- OTC medication, but used cautiously. To reduce the risk of side effects, look for single-ingredient products that target the symptoms you want to treat.
For a stuffy nose, drops or sprays containing oxymetazoline (Afrin, Neosynephrine Nighttime, and generic) work faster and cause fewer side effects than oral decongestants. But they can cause rebound congestion if used for longer than three days. If the stuffiness hasn’t eased by then, ask your pharmacist for pseudoephedrine pills (Sudafed and generic), which are nonprescription but kept “behind the counter” to prevent their use in making illegal drugs. Check with your doctor before taking any oral decongestant if you suffer from anxiety or have diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, or hyperthyroidism.
In general, don’t bother with antihistamines. Older ones such as chlorpheniramine and diphenhydramine might help a little but can cause drowsiness, dry eyes and mouth, and urinary retention, and can worsen narrow-angle glaucoma. Newer antihistamines, such as loratadine (Alavert, Claritin, and generic), work well for allergies but usually don’t help sinus symptoms.