If you’re like most adults, your sinus infection arrived on the heels of a common cold or some other upper respiratory infection. Approximately 90 percent of acute sinus infections are caused by a virus. Although such infections tend to last only about a week, the stuffy nose, sinus pressure, headache, sore throat and general lack of energy can interfere with your life in the meantime. You’ll want to manage your symptoms — and steer clear of anything that might make them worse — as the infection runs its course. Here are five ways you might be making your sinus infection worse, and tips on how you can avoid them to get better faster.
It turns out your mother was right: Your body needs rest when it’s fighting off an infection. Taking it easy during the day and getting enough sleep at night are key to giving your immune system the energy it needs to do its job. Going to work, meeting all your deadlines and keeping the same pace you did before you were sick can leave you feeling totally depleted. Worse, the stress of keeping up when you don’t feel well may exacerbate your headache or sinus pressure. Allow yourself to slow down, especially in the first few days when symptoms are at their worst.
It may surprise you to know that when your body is producing more mucus, as it does when it’s in the throes of a viral infection, you need to drink more water to stay hydrated. That’s because it takes fluids to make mucus and viral infections will lead to dehydration. Not drinking enough water when you have a sinus infection can make headaches and sinus pressure worse; it can also lead to thicker mucus that’s harder to expel. On the other hand, drinking enough fluids can help thin your mucus, which makes it easier to get rid of. Ice-cold drinks can soothe a sore throat, while hot drinks will help loosen mucus.
If you’re dealing with a sinus infection during the dry winter months, or if you live in an otherwise dry climate, the very air you breathe can irritate your nasal passage and exacerbate your symptoms. Give your nose a break by running a humidifier or a cool-mist vaporizer in your bedroom at night. You may find it helpful to run it during the day, as well. Humidified air promotes drainage, soothes sore throats and helps ease coughs. If you don’t have a humidifier, you can promote drainage by running a hot shower in a closed bathroom and inhaling the steam two to four times a day.
Dry air isn’t the only thing that can irritate your nose and make your sinusitis symptoms worse. Inhaling cigarette smoke, strong perfumes, pollutants or any airborne allergen that affects you can lead to further inflammation and greater sinus pressure. If you’re a smoker, don’t smoke when you have a sinus infection. If you like to wear perfume, take a break until you’re better. If the air quality where you live is sub par, you may want to stay inside as much as possible, particularly in the first few days when your symptoms are at their worst.
Nasal decongestant sprays can offer great relief when you’re battling a sinus infection. Their concentrated mist are good at breaking up mucus and helping it flow, allowing you to breathe easier in an instant. But don’t use decongestants for longer or more often than what’s recommended — overusing decongestant nasal sprays can actually lead to rebound congestion and make your symptoms worse. Talk to your doctor before trying a nasal decongestant, and use it only as directed.