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10 Tips for Managing Sinus Irritation

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10 tips for sinus flareups

You definitely don't feel good, that much you know. But do you have a cold, or something else, like a sinus infected or irritated sinusses? Because there's a difference, and one you should know. Sinusitis is a more technical term for infection or inflammation of the sinuses, which are the air chambers in the bone behind your cheeks, jaw and eyebrows. Normally, your sinuses are filled with air. But when you have a cold they become blocked and filled with fluid.

So, what’s the difference between a cold and sinusitis?  

“The big difference between colds and sinusitis is how long they last,” says Jastin Antisdel, M.D., an ENT-otolaryngologist and director of Rhinology & Sinus Surgery at Saint Louis University in Saint Louis, Mo. Most colds taper off in 5-7 days but sinusitis symptoms last longer than 10 days. Sinusitis may also bring headaches, pain and pressure around the face and eyes, bad breath, pain in your upper teeth and colored nasal discharge. With colds, the discharge is often white or cloudy.

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Here's how to manage sinus irritation and congestion:

1. Keep your distance: Limit your contact with people who are sick. Wash your hands often with soap and water — especially before you eat.

2. Irrigate your nose: Keep your nostrils moist with frequent use of saline sprays or washes.

3. Check your indoor air flow: Use a humidifier in your home if you have forced-air heat – the moisture helps mucus drain more effectively. But clean the humidifier often to protect against mold and other allergens.

4. Open the windows: Ventilate your house on days when the pollen count isn’t high. Stale air aggravates sinus problems.

5. Increase your hydration: Drink 8 to 10 glasses of water or fruit juice to lubricate your throat and keep mucus thin. Avoid alcohol and caffeine because they will dehydrate you.

6. Conserve your energy: Your body needs to get well — rest at least eight hours a day. Stay in bed or nap. Try lying down on your side or prop yourself up with a pillow to breathe easier.

7. Stay on top of allergy care: If you have allergies, avoid exposure to your trigger substances and try to manage your allergies as best as possible.

8. Avoid harsh fumes: Exposure to cigarette and cigar smoke and strong odors from chemicals can irritate and inflame nasal passages.

9. Be aware of pressure cooker conditions: You may notice pain in your head and nasal area during extreme changes in air pressure or temperature. (Not the best time for airplane travel!)

10. Find over-the-counter relief: When you have a cold you may want to take a decongestant and pain reliever for sinus pressure and pain or an expectorant for chest congestion.

“If you start to feel worse again after the cold started to get better (body aches, sore throat and fever are gone) but the pain and pressure is in your face and gets worse, and you have thick secretions coming out of your nose, that’s when you should see a doctor,” says Dr. Antisdel.

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