Since I’ve dealt with sinus issues for so long, people often ask me how to stop sinus drainage altogether. The answer is, it’s impossible! More important, it wouldn’t be helpful. The sinuses are one of the body’s key ways of fighting infections. But if you’re suffering from sinus issues, you CAN help your body return to normal levels of drainage.
Before trying to remedy common sinus problems, it’s important to understand what the sinuses are and how they work. If you already know all this, skip to the third section of this article.
What is are Sinuses, and what is Sinus Drainage?
The sinuses are a series of connected, hollow cavities near the front of the skull, behind the face. They are critical in helping the body’s immune system fight infections. Your sinus cavities are lined by mucosa membranes. Mucosa are soft, pink tissues that produce mucus. In a healthy person who isn’t fighting a cold or infection, the sinus cavities only have a thin layer of mucus. Normally, this mucus drains through the nose and throat in small amounts you wouldn’t notice. This process is an important part of a healthy immune system, so asking how to stop sinus drainage is the wrong question.
The amount of mucus your body produces increases significantly when you’re sick, however. When the immune system detects an issue—such as a viral cold or bacterial infection—the mucosa begin producing additional mucus. The purpose of this mucus is to trap bacteria and viruses and remove them from the body. For example, when fighting a mild cold you’ll experience a runny nose. Blowing your nose allows you to push the virus-filled mucus out of your nose and away from your body. Mucus also contains critical antibodies, which help the body recognize foreign viruses and bacteria, as well as enzymes which slow down the reproduction of those viruses/bacteria and even kill them altogether.
When your body is producing excess mucus to fight a cold or infection, there is often excessive drainage as well, through either the throat (post nasal drip) or nose (a runny nose). So rather than asking how to stop sinus drainage, it’s better to focus on what’s causing the excessive amounts of mucus and drainage.
[box type=”info”]The Four Types of Sinuses – There are four types of sinus cavities. The largest sinus cavities, the maxillary sinuses, are located behind the cheek bones and are typically about an inch across. The frontal sinuses are the second largest, and are located in the lower part of the forehead. The ethmoid sinuses and sphenoid sinuses the smallest and are located behind the eyes and nose, respectively.[/box]
What Causes Excessive Sinus Drainage?
If looking for the cause of excessive drainage makes more sense than focusing on how to stop sinus drainage altogether, where do we start? Normally, sinus drainage is temporary and accompanies a mild cold. However, longer-term drainage, or drainage that is particularly painful or severe, may be caused by a more serious condition. It’s best to start by identifying the cause of the excess mucus. Possible causes of excessive drainage include:
- Allergies(Particularly to Dust, Pollen, or Pets) – It’s not unusual for people to experience allergy-related sinus drainage, even if they’ve never been diagnosed with allergies before. I developed a severe dust allergy as an adult, which led to severe drainage as well as frequent sinus infections (see below). Allergic Rhinitis symptoms include:
- Itchiness of the nose, mouth, eyes and skin.
- Sinus Drainage from the nose or into the throat. (Typically this mucus is clear or slightly yellow).
- Watery Eyes
- A Sinus Infection– Sinus Infections occur when the mucosa tissues become swollen or inflamed, preventing the sinuses from draining properly and allowing bacteria or viruses to grow more easily. Sinus infections (sinusitis) is much more likely in people who have allergies or frequent colds, but is not uncommon for people who don’t have these problems. Symptoms include:
- Facial Pain or Pressure in the Areas of the Sinuses (behind/between the eyes, behind the cheeks, or behind the lower forehead).
- Nasal Stuffiness
- A thick green or bright yellow mucus (as opposed to the normal clear / light yellow mucus).
- Loss of Smell
- Other Issues – Other potential issues that may cause chronic or severe sinus drainage include nasal polyps or cysts, a foreign object stuck in the nose, or paranasal sinus cancer. While these issues are much less likely, you should see your doctor before ruling these issues out.
[box type=”alert”]WARNING – If your sinus problems are chronic, or they do not go away after a few days, call your doctor. Only a doctor can fully diagnose you and provide the care you may need.[/box]
How to Stop Sinus Drainage (How to Reduce it to its Normal Levels)
So we’ve established that asking how to stop sinus drainage is the wrong question, and that focusing on treating the causes and symptoms of excessive sinus drainage is the right solution. Now what? Here are some ways to alleviate excessive drainage and stop sinus problems altogether:
- Alleviate Sinus Drainage
- Over-the-Counter Medicines – Usually, an over-the-counter medecine is enough to treat mild or short-term sinus drainage. I’ve had good success with using a sinus pressure medicine (like Sudafed) together with a cough suppressant medicine (like Delsym) to treat any accompanying sore throat and cough from the post-nasal drip. Both Sudafed and Delsym come in 12-hour dose variaties, which usually work better and are more convenient than the every-4-hour varieties. Always read the warning labels on these medicines. Do not take more than directed.
- Sinus Rinses – Home remedies can be surprisingly effective. Performing a sinus rinse with a nasal aspirator or Neti Pot can help clean and empty the sinuses, leaving you feeling refreshed and able to breathe easier. See my article on maxillary sinus drainage, which features step-by-step instructions on performing a sinus rinse. It sounds strange, but it works!
- Fluids and Rest – I don’t want to sound like your mother, but drinking lots of fluids and getting enough sleep are critical if you suffer from frequent sinus infections. They’re especially helpful if you’re dealing with a sinus drainage sore throat.
- Air Purifiers – If your sinus problems are caused by allergies, getting a home air purifier can make a huge difference! Look for a purifier that features a TRUE HEPPA filter and has a CADR rating above 100. Since you can’t blow your nose while you’re sleeping, putting the purifier in your bedroom is usually most effective. For best results, make sure the purifier you choose is designed to filter a room at least a few sizes bigger than your bedroom. Personally, I use the Winix PlasmaWave 5300. It works wonders!
- Stop Sinus Problems Altogether – Identify and Treat the Root Cause
The best way to stop chronic sinus problems is to work with your doctor to identify and treat the root cause. To treat allergies, your doctor may prescribe a prescription nasal spray. For a sinus infection, your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics to kill off the bacteria, and may also prescribe a nasal spray or allergy medicine to help prevent future reoccurrence of sinusitis. If your symptoms don’t go away within a few days to a week, call your doctor. Be sure to let them know if you have any allergies to antibiotics or other medicines.