How To Treat a Sinus Infection Before It Starts

When you’re in the throes of a bad cold or deep into allergy season, all of that mucus production can be massively irritating. But, believe it or not, mucus has an actual purpose — beyond simply driving you nuts.

All that goo is basically a giant moat of glue that’s protecting your nasal castle. Not only does mucus help keep nasal tissue moist and supple, but it also acts as a sticky barrier that can trap and disarm viruses and bacteria before they get too far into the body.

However, when your sinuses are inflamed, the normal flow of mucus gets backed up, which leads to that ‘plugged up’ feeling. So, how do you keep your sinuses clear without a pharmaceutical assist? Try these simple, healthy, and natural alternatives:

Keep Your Nose Clean

Dust, pollen, mold, fungi, pollution, cigarette smoke, and all matter of microscopic particles flying through the air can land in your nasal passages, irritating them and stimulating mucus production, blocking sinuses and leading to infection. While it’s virtually impossible to avoid all those irritants, you can keep them from gaining the upper hand by regularly rinsing the troublemakers away, every day or every other day.

There are several ways to go about it, so you can pick and choose the technique that’s most comfortable for you:

  • The neti pot is an ancient Ayurvedic tool with which you pour a sterile water (never tap water!) and saline solution through your nasal passages, using gravity to help rinse out irritants. Click here for a tutorial.
  • Squeeze bottles or syringe bulbs are another way to irrigate the nasal passages. Both mechanisms use a sterile water and saline solution, in effect ‘shooting’ the solution into nasal passages with a bit more pressure.
  • Saline aerosol sprays are more convenient, if not quite as effective as the neti pot. The pre-mixed cans of sterile water and saline are good for frequent travelers who need to be able to irrigate anywhere, anytime.

Tune Up Your Gut

If you find yourself plagued by frequent sinus infections and seem to catch just about every cold that blows through your office, your immune system may be compromised. When immunity is weak, it’s easy for pathogens to march in, take up residence, and trigger a sinus infection (or some other illness).

So what’s your gut got to do with it? Well, it’s home to roughly 70 percent of your immune system, so making sure it’s in top form will likely cut down the number of colds, flus, and infections you’ll catch. The easiest way to supercharge your immune system is to rebuild and strengthen it with a healthy and diverse diet that’s full of immunity-boosting nutrients and probiotics. (To really get your gut and immune system humming, I recommend starting the rebuilding process with a two-week elimination diet like our Be Well Cleanse. It will purge allergens from the diet, get digestion back on track, and get gut function up to optimal levels.) For more ideas on how to supercharge your immune system, check out our list of immunity-boosting foods and nutrients.

Sidestep Sinusitis Triggers

Limiting your exposure to the irritants that can send your sinuses into overdrive is another way to combat the sinus problems. And while you might not have much control over the external world, you can significantly reduce the volume of exposure at home and the office by taking a few simple steps:

Make your house completely smoke-free. If anyone wishes to smoke, insist that they do so outside, as far away from your home as possible.

  • Don’t create your own in-house toxic clouds. Skip the aerosol kitchen and bathroom cleaners, air freshener sprays, scented candles, hair sprays, etc.
  • Keep your home well-dusted and vacuumed. Doing so will help keep sinus-irritating dust mites to a minimum. Also, wash bed linens frequently and add dust mite covers to your mattress and pillows.
  • Add an air purifier to the bedroom. Choose one with a well-rated HEPA filter.
  • Run the air-conditioner when seasonal allergies are running high. This will help keep pollen and pollution outside your home, versus opening the windows which will allow them to blow in.
  • Clear the air by adding a salt lamp to your bedroom or office. A pure, high-quality Himalayan salt lamp can help freshen the air, reduce the amount of airborne allergens and irritants, and for many people, make breathing easier.
  • Avoid breathing too much chlorine. Unfortunately, chlorine-treated pools can be a major irritant, so swim in salt water whenever possible. If chlorine-treated pools are your only option, then limit pool time, particularly in winter when most indoor pools are not as well ventilated as they are in summer.

If You Already Have a Sinus Infection…

OK, so let’s say you’re game to try the ideas mentioned above. But what to do if your sinuses are totally blocked up, you’re miserable, and you need relief right now? Don’t reach for jitter-inducing decongestants, ineffective chemical nasal sprays, or off-the-mark antibiotics. Instead, try these healthier DIY alternatives to breathe easier:

Massage your face. To unblock one or both nostrils, try facial massage, self-administered acupressure, or visit a trained acupuncturist to help relieve congestion.

Hum your favorite tunes. Apparently, humming a few of your favorite tunes — and the vibration that humming creates — can help loosen sinus sludge.

Bust out the back massager. Any sort of handheld back massager or ‘personal’ massager, when applied lightly to either side of the nose and cheeks, can create enough vibration to help move mucus out of the nasal passages, just like the aforementioned humming idea.

Spice it up. Another way to get relief? Head to your kitchen. Adding flavor boosters to a meal – such as black pepper, thyme, horseradish, wasabi, curry, garlic, onions, and chili peppers – helps thin out the mucus and ease congestion.

Get hot and steamy. Wet heat can also help get things moving again, so boost your hot tea drinking. In between teatimes, have a session in a wet sauna or steam room, or treat your sinuses to frequent warm compresses.


For Dr. Frank Lipman, health is more than just the absence of disease: it is a total state of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social wellbeing. Dr. Lipman is a widely recognized trailblazer and leader in functional and integrative medicine, and he is a New York Times best-selling author of five books, How To Be Well, The New Health Rules, 10 Reasons You Feel Old and Get Fat, Revive and Total Renewal.

After his initial medical training in his native South Africa, Dr. Lipman spent 18 months working at clinics in the bush. He became familiar with the local traditional healers, called sangomas, which kindled his interest in non-Western healing modalities.

In 1984, Dr. Lipman immigrated to the United States, where he became the chief medical resident at Lincoln Hospital in Bronx, NY. While there, he became fascinated by the hospital’s addiction clinic, which used acupuncture and Chinese medicine to treat people suffering from heroin and crack addiction. Seeing the way these patients responded so positively to acupuncture made him even more aware of the potential of implementing non- Western medicine to promote holistic wellbeing. As a medical student, he was taught to focus on the disease rather than the patient, and now as a doctor he found himself treating symptoms rather than the root causes of illness. Frustrated by the constraints of his training, and the limitations in helping his patients regain true health, he began a journey of discovery to search for the path to meaningful long-term health and wellness.

He began studying nutrition, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, herbal medicine, functional medicine, biofeedback, meditation, and yoga. Dr. Lipman founded the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in 1992, where he combines the best of Western medicine and cutting edge nutritional science with age-old healing techniques from the East. As his patient chef Seamus Mullen told The New York Times, "If antibiotics are right, he'll try it. If it's an anti-inflammatory diet, he’ll do that. He’s looking at the body as a system rather than looking at isolated things."

In addition to his practice, Dr. Lipman is the creator of Be Well, an expanding lifestyle wellness brand he founded in 2010 to help people create, sustain and lead healthier lives.