It’s that time of year where everyone is looking for the best sinus pressure relief! The physical and gravitational impact of sickness and allergies on your sinuses can be frustrating and miserable. Keeping them clear and healthy is critical to minimizing sinus discomfort.
Sinuses: What Are They?
Before we get to alleviating sinus pressure, what are your sinuses, and what’s their function?
Sinuses are connected hollow cavities within the skull beneath your nose. They connect to and drain into the nasal passages through small tubes.
We have 4 pairs of sinuses lined with a soft pink tissue known as mucosa. The sinuses are usually empty except for a thin layer of mucus found on the mucosa.
Your four sinuses are:
- Frontal; located in the low center of the forehead.
- Ethmoid; situated between the eyes.
- Maxillary; found behind the cheekbones.
- Sphenoid; positioned behind the nose
There has yet to be an agreed-upon consensus regarding the actual function of the sinuses. The sinuses are thought to help trap foreign objects inhaled through the nose and drain them away from the body through the nostrils.
What Causes Pressure to Build Up in the Sinuses?
Swelling of the nasal blood vessels and mucus membranes (mucosa) can happen for various reasons, usually triggered by a reaction from the immune system. As the membranes swell, they block the sinus openings and prevent drainage. The excess mucus fills the sinus cavities, which increases the pressure felt inside the head.
Essentially, mucosa swelling can happen because of the following:
- An infection or cold
- Airborne pollutants
- Nasal structure (like a deviated septum, nasal polyp, or nasal bone spur)
- Underlying conditions (such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, HIV)
- Aspirin sensitivity
Why Does Sinus Pressure Happen at Night?
Gravity can also cause sinus pressure to build since your body is not in motion while you sleep; thus, the blood flow to your head increases. Your blood vessels dilate, and the increased blood pressure stimulates mucus production.
Whether you lay on your side or your back, these positions don’t allow the drainage to naturally flow down your esophagus and into your stomach compared to when you’re up and moving around. This slow drainage can irritate the tissues at the back of the throat, leading to a sore throat and increased sinus pressure or congestion.
Sleeping propped by pillows to elevate your head from your shoulders could help prevent sinus pressure, face pain, and sinus headaches.
Can You Have Sinus Pressure Without Congestion?
It is doubtful to have sinus pressure without congestion because of the pressure buildup from the clogged mucus in the sinus cavities. Feeling facial pain and sinus pressure without mucus production usually indicates the presence of a migraine or a tension headache. Another blog post will dive into migraine and tension-headache identification and relief.
Does Sinus Pressure Lead to Sinusitis?
The dark, damp, clogged sinus cavities are the perfect breeding ground for any malignant microorganisms that may be stuck within the mucus, setting off infection and worsening congestion.
If your sinus pressure comes with any of the following:
- Postnasal drip (thickened mucus that drips down your throat)
- Sore throat
- Tenderness in the face, especially around the eyes
- A stuffed nose that restricts your ability to breathe properly
- Cloudy greenish-yellow mucus
- Sometimes fever
This collection of symptoms can be considered sinusitis, an infection of the sinus tissues. This condition can be either acute or chronic.
An acute case is a sinus infection that lasts from 10 days to 8 weeks. A sinus infection that lasts over 8 weeks or occurs 4+ times a year is considered a chronic sinus infection–one of the most common chronic conditions.
If you have an acute sinus infection, you could consider using the following:
- Warm compress
- DIY/personal steam inhaler or vaporizer
- Mucus thinners, or expectorants
- Nasal strips
For a chronic sinus infection, you might want to:
- Continue doing what you would for an acute sinus infection for symptom relief
- Discover any underlying conditions and treat or manage them
- Discover, treat, and manage your allergies
- Understand your unique anatomy
- Learn about and when to use antihistamines, expectorants, and decongestants
- Learn about nasal/sinus rinsing and what different nasal sprays are available
- Avoid breathing pollutants, smoke, and chemical irritants
If you have sinus pressure and face pain, you could consider the following:
- Elevating your head while you sleep
- Hydrating more often
- Acupuncture or self-acupressure
- Salt water gargle
- Steam inhaler or vaporizer
- Speaking with your doctor
- Using your fingers to do a self-face massage
For the generally healthy individual, a sinus infection caused by a virus will usually resolve after a week or so. Speak to a doctor or call your health insurance’s nurse line for proper guidance on alleviating your symptoms.
This blog was contributed by Lex Alvarado:
Lex Alvarado has over 14 years of experience working with patients, collaborating care to improve pain and posture.She is certified in Active Release Technique (ART) and neuromuscular massage (CNMT) and is a Board certified massage therapist (CAMTC). She is currently on the rehab. team at Irvine Spine and Wellness Center. When you are ready, contact us online or reach the team at 949-552-5535