How to Clear Your Sinuses


Is it any wonder we get sinus issues, with that maze of passages in our heads? Photo source: Flickr.

It’s coming into summer, and the pollen count is rising. For some of you that means you’ve already been living on Sudafed for months. I’m lucky enough to “only” have mild allergies. But they still bug me, since they’re such a new thing for me to deal with. I’ve only developed them in the last year or two, and most days I can’t even tell what’s set me off. So I’ve come up with a few things that help me, and thought I’d share with you all.

Don’t Wreck Them in the First Place

This can be easier said than done, I know. But there are a few things that can stuff up your sinuses and/or make you more prone to blockages:

  • Too much caffeine. I had to stop drinking coffee because it was impacting my sinuses so badly. Water-process decaf is OK for me, as long as I’m not drinking it every day. If you drink a lot of caffeinated beverages and have sinus issues, it might be worth cutting out the caffeine for a while to see if helps.
  • Dairy or gluten, if you’re sensitive to either of them. While there’s no scientific evidence yet to show this has a measurable impact, many n=1 experimenters have reported that their sinus congestion eases or disappears completely on a dairy (and sometimes gluten) free diet. Going gluten free hasn’t helped me, personally, but I developed gluten intolerance and seasonal allergies at the same time – after falling pregnant with Chipmunk. I’ve found laying off the milk does have an impact, though.
  • Blowing your nose too hard. While it’s really, really tempting to just blow as hard as you can when trying to clear your nose, don’t. I know from bitter personal experience that this can backfire – and force the gunk further up your nasal passages instead of getting it out. During the last cold I had, I made this mistake. I spent the next week in agony, with a constant sinus headache. It was only after flushing twice a day with a neti pot that the gunk started to come out of where I’d managed to wedge it.


Use a Neti Pot

This is my go-to for stuffy sinuses. It’s cheap (you can pick them up from most chemists from $5), easy, and it works. You don’t even need to buy the special saline bottles if you don’t want to – just use 500mL of distilled or cooled, boiled water (filtered is best, but tap will do) and add one teaspoon of salt to it. You want the water to be about 35°C so it doesn’t shock your sinuses with the temperature change. Here’s a great video showing you how to use a neti pot:


Oil pulling

While it’s usually touted for its teeth cleaning benefits (and it certainly helps with that), I’ve actually found oil pulling is really helpful for getting the gunk in my sinuses moving of a morning. Once I spit the oil into the bin I almost immediately get a release of mucous into my mouth (gross, I know, but heaps better than it clogging up my tubes).


Essential Oils

Both Eucalyptus and Peppermint essential oils are brilliant for clearing your sinuses. This is how I use them:

  • Put 6-10 drops on the palm of your hand and then rub both palms together. This heats up the oil, releasing its vapours.
  • Cup your hands over your nose and mouth. Inhale deeply through your nose.
  • Take your hands away from your face and breathe out.
  • Repeat 8-10 times.

Odds are you’ll be clear for a while. I find this most helpful for cold-induced stuffy noses, but it can also bring relief from allergies too.


Steam Baths

I usually only do this if I’m desperate for relief and don’t have any essential oil or a neti pot handy – it’s fiddly and I don’t like being stuck at a table for half an hour. You can always get a similar effect when you shower, though.


Bicarb Soda

This is really only helpful if your sinuses are clogged due to asthma, allergies or hay fever, but it’s still worth a shot. I’ve found it helpful during pollen season. I usually drink 2-3 tsp in water every morning during the worst days. It stops the itching eyes and nose in about 5 minutes. I’m not going to lie – it tastes AWFUL. But it does the trick, and it’s heaps cheaper (and kinder on your system!) than over-the-counter antihistamines.

The Raccoon has also found bicarb soda helpful to take the edge off his asthma when it starts to flare up – he can’t physically stomach the amount he’d need to stop an attack completely, but every little bit helps. There’s even evidence that bicarb soda can be helpful when used in a nebuliser or administered intravenously for asthma.

It’s best to take it in only as much water as you can swallow at once. Swirl the cup for a few seconds to make sure the bicarb soda is distributed throughout the water, then chug it back as fast as you can. Follow it straight away with clean water to wash the horrible taste down your throat.


Sleep Right

Upright, that is. Especially if you have a history of earaches from sinus issues – the best way to avoid this is to sleep on your back with your head slightly elevated. This position will stop the fluid from pooling behind your eardrum, which can happen if you sleep on your side. I discovered this the hard way, after a particularly bad cold this past winter.  It gives me a crick in the neck, but I’ll take that over the ear pain any day. Luckily I’ve been pretty well cold-free since August. I’m keeping it in mind for next winter, though.


Hopefully this list will help you through the worst of allergy season, and on into cold and flu season. If you have any other tips and tricks for keeping your sinuses clean and happy, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.