I have acute sinusitis, and my healthcare professional doesn't think I need antibiotics. Can medicines available without a prescription help ease symptoms?

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

Yes. Pain relievers and decongestants that you can get without a prescription may help ease acute sinusitis symptoms. They may ease pain around the face and sinus congestion.

Medicines you can get without a prescription that may help include:

  • Decongestants. These work by narrowing blood vessels to help lessen swelling that causes sinus congestion. Such medicines available without a prescription (Sudafed, others) are sold as liquids, tablets and nasal sprays.
  • Pain relievers. Pain caused by pressure buildup in the sinus cavities may be eased by pain relievers. Examples include acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others).

    For treatment of fever or pain, consider giving your child infants' or children's over-the-counter fever and pain medicines such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) as a safer alternative to aspirin.

Always use products that you can get without a prescription as directed. When in doubt, check with your child's healthcare professional to find out what's safe.

Other self-care tips you may want to try:

  • Breathe in warm water vapor. Drape a towel over your head. Then breathe in the moist air from a bowl of warm or fairly hot water. Or take a hot shower and breathe in the warm, moist air.
  • Put warm compresses on your face. Place warm, damp towels around your nose, cheeks and eyes to ease pain around your face.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Drinking more fluids helps dilute mucous secretions and helps 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. You can often find neti pots in pharmacies, health food stores and online. Talk to your healthcare team to see if nasal rinsing is right for you.

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

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Jan. 18, 2024 See more Expert Answers