Do Over the Counter Medications Help Sinus Problems?

What Causes Nasal and Sinus Pain?

Nasal and sinus membranes respond to viruses, allergic triggers, and common bacterial infections similarly. The membranes become swollen and congested. The congestion then causes pain and pressure.  Your mucus production increases during the inflammation.  This results in a runny nose.  The nasal secretions may begin to thicken and slow the drainage.  This can result in a sinus bacterial infection.

When the nasal membranes become congested, it may block the eustachian tubes leading to the ears, which results in a feeling of pressure in the ear or fluid behind the eardrum. Nasal airway congestion causes mouth breathing.

Every year, over 37 million Americans suffer from sinusitis.  This includes nasal congestion, thick yellow-green mucus, facial pain, and pressure around the eyes.  Frequently, before visiting a doctor, people try to get relief for their nasal and sinus discomfort by taking non-prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications.

OTC Medication for Sinus Pain

There are so many over the counter medications out there to relieve sinus pain, sinus pressure, allergies, and nasal congestion. Most of them are products that are combined with a pain reliever and an antihistamine or decongestant. Knowing the cause of the symptoms will assist in deciding which product would best relieve specific symptoms that are associated with nasal congestion or sinus inflammation.

These medications are created to reduce the symptoms that are produced by inflamed nasal membranes and sinuses. They reopen nasal passages, reduce congestions and relieve the pain and pressure in the face.

Nasal Sprays

Nasal saline is an over-the-counter medication that is ideal for many types of nasal issues. The saline solution adds moisture and reduces thick mucus.  The mist should be applied in the nose up to five times per day.

Decongestant Sprays for the Nose

Nasal decongestant sprays such as Afrin, Flonase, Nasacort and other brands reduce the swelling in the nasal membranes. They help clear nasal passages quickly and are useful in treating the initial stages of a viral infection or common cold. Nasal decongestant sprays can help prevent eustachian tube pain when flying, and to prevent sinus infections after a cold. It is very important to know they should only be used for 3-5 days. Prolonged use can cause repeat congestion where the body gets “hooked on nasal sprays.”

People with swelling in the sinuses caused by seasonal allergies should use a cromolyn sodium nasal spray. This specific nasal spray is an anti-inflammatory medication to prevent allergy symptoms. The spray should be used frequently (4 times a day) during allergy season to prevent the release of histamine which starts the allergic reaction process. It works best before symptoms are evident by stabilizing the nasal membranes.

OTC Decongestants

Decongestants are OTC products that relieve nasal swelling, pressure, and congestion. They reduce swelling in the nose, relieving pressure and improving the air flow. Decongestants do not relieve a runny nose.

Decongestant Side Effects

Side effects may include light headedness, increased blood pressure and heart rate. (Patients with high blood pressure or heart problems should consult a physician before use.) Decongestant medications may interact with other medications, causing side effects.

Products Combined with Decongestants for Pain

Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen are combined with a decongestant (pseudoephedrine). These products relieve both sinus and cold/flu symptoms. They also keep the same attributes of each drug including the side effects.

OTC Antihistamine Medication

Antihistamines fight allergic problems that lead to nasal congestion. OTC antihistamines such as Brompheniramine (Dimetane), Cetirizine (Zyrtec), diphenhydramine (Benadryl), or Clemastine (Tavist), Chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton) may be used for relieving allergic symptoms of itching, sneezing, and nasal congestion. These antihistamines relieve the drainage from allergic inflammation, but they don’t help with congestion. These medications can cause grogginess and dryness.

Products with Antihistamine and a Decongestant

Antihistamines and decongestant medications are often combined to cover multiple symptoms of congestion and drainage while reducing the side effects of both products. The combination of these medications helps to relieve a runny nose and nasal congestion.