I have acute sinusitis, and my doctor doesn't think I need antibiotics. Are there nonprescription medications that can help relieve symptoms?

Answer From James T C Li, M.D., Ph.D.

Yes. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers and decongestants may help relieve facial pain and sinus congestion associated with acute sinusitis.

OTC medications that may help include:

  • Decongestants. These work by narrowing blood vessels to help reduce inflammation and swelling that cause sinus congestion. Such OTC medications (Sudafed, others) are available in liquids, tablets and nasal sprays.
  • Pain relievers. Pain caused by pressure buildup in the sinus cavities may be relieved with acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others).

    Use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Though aspirin is approved for use in children older than age 3, children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. This is because aspirin has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition, in such children.

Always use OTC products as directed. When in doubt, check with your doctor to find out what's safe.

Other home remedies you may want to try:

  • Inhale warm water vapor. Drape a towel over your head as you breathe in the moist air from a bowl of warm or moderately hot water. Or take a hot shower, breathing in the warm, moist air.
  • Apply warm compresses. Place warm, damp towels around your nose, cheeks and eyes to ease facial pain.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Consuming additional fluids helps dilute mucous secretions and promotes drainage.
  • Use a saline nasal spray. Saline washes or sprays can remove thick secretions and allow the sinuses to drain.
  • Use a neti pot. A neti pot is a container designed to rinse debris or mucus from your nasal cavity. Neti pots are often available in pharmacies and health food stores, as well as online. Talk to your doctor to see if nasal rinsing is right for you.

Most people with acute sinusitis get better without antibiotics. However, if your symptoms are severe or last longer than a few days, talk to your doctor.

From Mayo Clinic to your inbox

Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.

To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.

Jan. 20, 2022 See more Expert Answers