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Sinusitis: Over-the-Counter Medicines

Sinusitis: Over-the-Counter Medicines

Topic Overview

Medicines available without a prescription may help relieve pain and promote sinus drainage.

  • Try pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen to relieve facial pain and headache. Do not give aspirin to anyone under age 20 because of the risk of Reye syndrome.
  • Try using a decongestant nasal spray or decongestant nose drops. Avoid using these products for more than 3 days in a row because it increases your risk of developing "rebound" nasal congestion. Frequent, prolonged use of a nasal decongestant can actually prolong your problems with congestion when you try to stop using the decongestant.
  • Try taking an oral decongestant that contains phenylephrine. These are safer for prolonged use than decongestant nasal sprays.
  • Try using a medicine that thins mucus and improves sinus drainage (mucolytic). Guaifenesin is a commonly used mucolytic. Mucolytics are often combined with other medicines such as cough suppressants.

Be careful with cough and cold medicines. They may not be safe for young children or for people who have certain health problems, so check the label first. If you do use these medicines, always follow the directions about how much to use based on age and weight.

Many doctors do not recommend using antihistamines unless your symptoms are related to having allergies. Antihistamines and decongestants may dry out the mucous membranes in your nose and sinuses and slow the movement of the cilia (the tiny hairs that line the nose, sinuses, and the air passages inside the lungs and that remove irritants). This can make mucus thicker, adding to drainage problems. But other experts believe antihistamines may help treat sinusitis by reducing the amount of mucus that builds up in the sinus cavities. Don't give antihistamines to your child unless you've checked with the doctor first.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Patrice Burgess, MD - Family Medicine
Donald R. Mintz, MD - Otolaryngology
Last Revised September 12, 2012

Last Revised: September 12, 2012

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