painYour head feels stuffy and full. The pressure behind your eyes hurts and you’re squinting. There is pounding in your head and you can even feel it on your face.
These are the most common symptoms of a sinus infection. About one third of the people get a sinus infection at least once a year. People with chronic immune diseases, like AIDS, get them more often.

WHAT CAUSES A SINUS INFECTION? The sinuses are air pockets located inside the bones in the skull, located on either side of the nose (called the maxillary sinus), behind and in between the eyes (ethmoid sinuses), in the forehead (frontal sinuses), and there is one much further back in the head (sphenoid sinus). These spaces contain mucus that drains through small holes in the sinuses.

Allergies, colds and environmental irritants cause swelling that can block the small drainage holes. That stops the normal mucus from draining properly. As the mucus builds up, pressure builds causing a stuffy feeling, and pain. The backed-up mucus is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria to grow; that’s an infection. Medical words that end in “itis” usually mean an infection. Sinusitis, then, is an infection in one or more of the sinuses that’s caused by bacteria growing in the mucus-filled sinus cavities.

If left untreated sinus infections can last for many weeks. Sinus infections that last 2 to 4 weeks are referred to as acute. When they drag on for many weeks, even a few months, they are referred to as chronic.

HOW DO I KNOW I HAVE SINUSITIS? The basic symptoms were mentioned above. The discomfort can range from a feeling of stuffiness and congestion to very painful. The pain is often made worse if you tap over the sinuses with your fingertips. As the infection worsens, fever may develop along with nasal discharge, head congestion, ear pain, and a diminished sense of smell.

HOW DO I TREAT SINUSITIS? The standard approach to treating acute sinusitis is to get a prescription for 10 to 14 days of antibiotics. It is common to also use oral and topical decongestants.

WARNING: Decongestants might make the situation feel better – at first. But, all decongestants have a strange effect. After using them for just a few days they can actually make the stuffiness worse. This is called “rebound congestion.” The decongestant action of the drugs works fine but then your body gets wise and reacts to the decongestant drugs by creating more congestion. When this happens you can have all of the basis symptoms of sinusitis, without the infection. The treatment causes the congestion. The only way to treat rebound congestion is to completely stop using any decongestant.

HOW CAN I RELIEVE THE SYMPTOMS? Until the infection is gone, the symptoms can be uncomfortable and annoying. Still, there are several easy ways to relieve the symptoms.

  • warm, moist air from a vaporizer
  • warm, moist compresses to painful areas
  • saline nose drops to relieve dryness (ie, Ocean)

The best all-around treatment for sinusitis symptoms is Xylitol Nasal Spray. It is commercially available. The trade name is XLEAR. I suggest that anyone who has recurring sinus infections always keep a bottle of XLEAR on hand. Until you open the bottle, it has a long shelf life. Once you begin using it plan on discarding any leftover. Do not save an opened bottle for the next time. This is dangerous because the solution can become contaminated once opened and used. That would just make matters worse.