20 August 2018

What can you do to prevent sinusitis?

Sinusitis can be a pain – literally. Fortunately there are ways to prevent or manage flare-ups.

Your nose is home to millions of bacteria, which, for the most part, are harmless. The bacteria may cause problems, however, when they are not expelled from your body with the mucus. This happens when your sinuses are blocked but your glands continue to produce mucus. The bacteria then start to multiply and grow out of control, which can lead to an infection.

Your immune system will respond by triggering an inflammatory reaction, which results in:

  • Swelling (that causes headaches and facial pain)
  • A mucus buildup (that causes congestion)
  • An increase of white blood cells to help fight the bacteria (causing the mucus to thicken and change to a yellow or green colour)

So what can you do to prevent this from happening? 

    Nasal irrigation

    If you are susceptible to sinusitis, the Harvard Medical School says one of the easiest, most affordable and effective ways to treat your sinus problems is through regular nasal irrigation.

    You can use a homemade solution to relieve symptom. Follow these steps at least once a day:

    • Mix ½ teaspoon of non-iodised salt and ½ teaspoon of baking soda into two cups of lukewarm water – you can use either distilled or boiled water.
    • Fill a neti pot with the solution. 
    • Lean over the sink and insert the tip of the neti pot inside one nostril. Gently squeeze the pot – water may flow back out of the nostril (or from the opposite one). 
    • Repeat in the other nostril. If you find that the salt solution makes your nose sting, just use less salt.

    It's important to thoroughly rinse and dry the neti pot after every use.

    woman using neti pot

    6 additional tips

    There are other things you can do as well to prevent sinusitis.

    1. Stay hydrated

    Drinking enough water during the day can actually keep your mucus thin and loose. Keep a bottle of water on your desk or set a reminder on your phone if you struggle to remember to drink water throughout the day.

    2. Avoid dry air

    Your nasal passages can dry out if the air you breathe in is too dry. Use a humidifier to keep the air (and your nose) moist. Just make sure you clean it regularly to prevent bacteria and mould growth. 

    3. Lift your head

    Mucus can collect in your sinuses while you are sleeping if your head is flat on a pillow. Elevating your head slightly can prevent this from happening. Try propping your mattress up with a brick or books, or add another pillow. 

    4. Don't overuse antihistamines

    Although it might be tempting to take an antihistamine to alleviate your symptoms, avoid taking them unless advised by your doctor. Antihistamines can thicken your mucus, which makes it more difficult to drain. If your sinusitis is caused by allergies, however, speak to your doctor about effective treatment options.

    5. Clean regularly

    Regular cleaning of your home can help prevent sinusitis triggered by allergies by getting rid of dust and pet dander. Clean hard-to-reach areas (curtain rails, blinds and skirting boards) and don't forget to clean your vacuum cleaner filter and replace it regularly. 

    Couple cleaning their house

    6. Use a decongestant when flying

    Your sinusitis symptoms may worsen due to changes in air pressure if you fly regularly. Nasal drops can help reduce the discomfort experienced when pressure builds up in your sinuses due to chronic sinusitis.

    Image credit: iStock


    Ask the Expert

    Sinusitis Expert

    Dr Gary Kroukamp MBCHB, FCORL(SA) is an ENT Specialist, practising from rooms at Kingsbury Hospital in Claremont, Cape Town. He also has a teaching sessional appointment as an ENT Consultant at the Tygerberg Hospital. He is a member of the ENT Society of South Africa and the South African Cochlear Implantation Group. His interests in the ENT field include sinusitis and sinus surgery, nasal allergy and ENT conditions in children.

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