I Have a Sinus Infection (Sinusitis). Information for Patients

Madeleen Winkler

Last update: 17.12.2019

Sinuses are hollow spaces in the bones on each side of the nose and in the forehead.

  • You have a sinus infection when you have a cold—a runny or obstructed nose—with pain or pressure in your face or an impaired sense of smell.
  • Chewing or bending over causes or worsens the pain.
  • A sinus infection usually heals in 1–3 weeks.
  • Local treatment can diminish your complaints—e.g., nose irrigation, external treatment (such as with horseradish sinus compresses) and complementary medicines. Antibiotics usually do not alleviate the symptoms or speed the time to recovery.

What is a sinus infection?

The upper walls of the nasal cavities are directly under the eye sockets. The base of the nasal cavities is near the roots of the teeth. All these cavities have a small opening towards the nose and throat spaces. All are covered with mucous membranes.

With colds, the mucous membrane of the cavities often gets inflamed. Stress, dry mucous membranes (e.g., in smoggy areas, when you are not drinking sufficiently), and cold air (e.g., air conditioning) are risk factors for this disease. You have a sinus infection when you are having a cold (a runny or obstructed nose) with pain or pressure in your face or an impaired sense of smell.

What are the symptoms of a sinus infection?

Sinus infections mostly start with a cold: a runny or obstructed nose, and sneezing. The nasal discharge can be watery, yellow or green, even with traces of blood. Nasal discharge running down the back of the throat can sometimes cause coughing, especially when lying down.

A cold may develop into sinusitis or rhinosinusitis.

Symptoms that suggest a sinus infection are:

  • Pain or pressure in the upper jaw, the face or behind the forehead.
  • Impaired sense of smell, and therefore taste.
  • The roots of the upper teeth can be painful.
  • Chewing or bending over causes or worsens the pain.
  • The inflammation can be one-sided, sometimes with a swollen cheek.
  • You may have fever.
  • You may feel a significant decline in your general condition.

What causes sinusitis?

Sinus infections result from inflammatory activity in your organism, mostly triggered by a viral infection and sometimes by bacteria. In most cases, infections of the airways are made worse when there is a disturbed balance between warmth, fluid intake, nasal breathing (!) and air quality.

The imbalance causes inflammation of the mucous membranes and mucous, which can block the opening between the nasal cavities and the nose.

The mucous becomes thicker and then can hardly flow away. The nasal cavity becomes too full. This causes pressure or pain.

Recommendations for treatment

  • Stop smoking: 
    Smoke irritates the mucous membranes and delays healing.
    With children, avoid passive smoking.

  • Fluids and nutrition:
    - Drink warm fluids, 1.5 liters per day for adults.
    - An infusion of elderflower and lime blossom tea, with a little lemon and honey, has a strong warming effect and is at least as effective as conventional mucous dissolvers.
    - Eat cooked food, ripe fruits, hot spicy soups, fermented food
    - Avoid processed foods, sugar and too many milk products.

  • Warm feet applications can diminish pain and congestion and balance warmth between the head region and the lower body:
    - Footbath, or ginger footbath: Fill a container with warm water (40°C) covering the ankles, add 1–2 tbsp. of ginger powder and 1–2 tbsp. of salt. Leave the feet in for 15 min.
    - In mild cases, or for children under 4 years, apply oil to the feet in the evenings or after a footbath: e.g., lavender oil 10% or Solum oil WALA (calming), mallow oil WALA (warming), copper ointment 0.4% WELEDA or Red Copper Ointment WALA (intensive warming).

  • Warm facial applications support decongestion and pain relief:
    - Steam the face 2–3 times a day for 10–15 min. above a bowl with warm water (ca. 60°C). Alternate between chamomile and lime blossom infusions (chamomile alone for more than 2–3 days may cause mucosal dryness).
    Steam the face with etheric oils, such as chamomile, thyme, eucalyptus and pine.
    Warning: etheric oils are not suitable for children younger than 2 years, pregnant women, or patients with asthma. Young children are not allowed to steam, due to the risk of getting burnt.
    - You can also steam in the bathroom or shower, by opening the warm water tap and breathing the steam carefully.
    Heat radiation of the cheeks and forehead with an infrared lamp.
    - Very carefully and briefly apply finely grated horse radish to the cheeks and the forehead for seconds only, until it burns (caution: protect the eyes), then remove and apply a soothing oil. This is helpful in managing the pain of sinusitis for older children and adults (see also: https://www.pflege-vademecum.de/mnha.php?locale=en).

  • Natural nasal decongestion treatment:
    - Nose rinse for children from age 5 years, using a lukewarm 0.9% saline solution (9 g salt in 1000 ml water) 1–2 x daily. This treatment is an effective alternative to decongestant nose drops, which are not appropriate for children under 2 years and should only be used in a very restrictive way (7 days max.).
    - Saline nose sprays several times a day or, especially with a history of allergy, a nasal spray based on quince and lemon: Gencydo® 1% Nasal Spray WELEDA or Gencydo Hay fever Nasal Spray WELEDA 3 x daily.
    - Local decongestant ointment: Nasal Balm WALA.

Medicines for sinusitis

Complementary medicines can reduce complaints and promote healing.

Antibiotics are seldom needed. They rarely alleviate complaints or influence healing. Antibiotics often cause side effects, especially in the digestive system and the vagina, and trigger allergies. Antibiotics can, however, be very helpful if you have a dysfunctional immune system because of an illness or certain medications.

For local decongestant therapy see “Recommendations for treating sinus infections” above.

Phytotherapy: Among the many applicable herbal substances, bitter substances are especially worth mentioning here, because they activate the immune system generally, as well as the specific respiratory cleaning activity of the mucous membranes in the sinuses and the digestive system.

  • Amara Drops WELEDA: 3–5 pure on the tongue, 3–5 x daily, or
  • Gentiana comp. WALA: 7–15 pill. 3 x daily, or
  • Sinupret extract drops or tablets BIONORICA: 3 x daily 1 tab. For children up to 12 years: 10–25 drops 3 x daily.

Ask your physician or pharmacist for prescriptions/recommendations.

What is the normal course of a sinus infection?

Sinusitis usually heals in 1–3 weeks. 1 in 10 people still have complaints after 3 weeks.

When do you have to contact a doctor?

  • You are very ill with fever and cannot do anything.
  • You have had a fever for more than 5 days.
  • You are getting fever again after a few days without fever.
  • Your complaints are not diminished after 2 weeks.
  • You get a very severe headache.
  • You are nauseated and vomiting.
  • You become drowsy.
  • You get complaints in an eye.
  • Your eyelids get red or swollen.
  • Your eye is painful, swollen and pushes outwards.
  • You suddenly see poorly or are seeing double.
  • You have swelling on the forehead.

When these kinds of symptoms appear antibiotics may be necessary.

Research news

Mistletoe therapy in addition to standard immunotherapy in patients with non-small-cell lung cancer indicates improved survival rates 
Immunotherapy with PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors has significantly improved the survival rates of patients with metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Results of a real-world data study (RWD) investigating the addition of Viscum album L. (VA) to chemotherapy have shown an association with improved survival in patients with NSCLC - regardless of age, degree of metastasis, performance status, lifestyle or oncological treatment. The mechanisms may include synergistic modulations of the immune response by PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors and VA. However, the results should be taken with caution due to the observational and non-randomised study design. The study has been published open access in Cancers

Further information on Anthroposophic Medicine