Snuffing Out a Sinus Infection?

What is a good treatment for sinus infection? I am taking antibiotics now and using a saline nasal spray, but would like to know of alternative treatment.

– April 29, 2004

I try to avoid using antibiotics for treatment of acute sinus infections (some studies suggest that people recover just as quickly whether or not they take antibiotics). Instead, I recommend acupuncture, which can be remarkably effective for relieving acute sinusitis, an infection that can cause pain, headache, congestion and obstructed breathing. Acupuncture can ease pain and promote sinus drainage within minutes of the placement of the needles.

You also can promote sinus drainage by placing hot, wet compresses over the whole sinus area (in your upper face) frequently. Work up to as much heat as you can stand for 10 minutes at a time, several times a day. Drink plenty of fluids to help moisten and thin the mucus in your sinuses. Inhaling steam with a little oil of eucalyptus in it may also ease clogging.

I also recommend regularly flushing your nasal passages with a warm saline solution to relieve sinus congestion and prevent sinus infections. Do this two to four times a day if you have an active infection. You can use a Neti Pot, a traditional, Indian nasal-irrigation device shaped like Aladdin’s lamp that lets you pour the water into your nose. Or simply dissolve a ¼ teaspoon of salt in one cup of warm water and pour some of the solution into your cupped hand and inhale it through one nostril while closing the other with a finger. Alternatively, you can sniff the solution from a small cup or squirt it into your nostrils with a rubber-bulb syringe. The idea is to inhale enough water to spit it out through your mouth.

Here are some other methods that can help:

  • If you have chronic sinus problems, eliminate milk and all milk products from your diet (including prepared foods that list milk as an ingredient). This can lead to dramatic improvement after about two months.
  • Take astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous), the root of a native Chinese plant that boosts immune system function. The usual dose is two capsules twice a day unless otherwise directed on the package label.
  • If you do take an antibiotic, be sure to take a probiotic to restore the friendly bacteria that inhabit the digestive tract and may be wiped out by antibiotics; I recommend the strain known as Lactobacillus GG, which survives passage through the strong acid of the stomach and actually makes it into the intestinal tract where it’s needed. (One brand of Lactobacillus GG is Culturelle, sold on the Internet or in health-food stores.)
  • Don’t smoke or expose yourself to smoke-filled environments. If you suffer from allergies, consider equipping your house – or at least your bedroom – with a good air filter.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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