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How do I Choose the Best over-The-Counter Sinus Medication?

By N. Farley
Updated Feb 06, 2024
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Before purchasing an over-the-counter sinus medication, it's important to determine what type of sinus infection you have. Viral sinus infections cannot be treated with antibiotics, but the symptoms can be relieved with a decongestant, expectorant, analgesic, or antihistamine. Decongestants are best used for individuals who have a stuffy, congested feeling, and expectorants can help sinus infections that are accompanied by coughs. Those who feel pain or pressure alongside their congestion might be best suited to choose an analgesic. Antihistamines are helpful to people who have runny noses, allergies, or ongoing sinus infections.

If you need medication for congestion or a stuffy nose, a decongestant is likely the best option. It works to provide sinus infection relief for people who have clogged nasal passages by breaking up some of the congestion. In some cases, a decongestant can be used alongside an expectorant for greater effect. These drugs can cause sleepiness and fatigue, so they are often recommended for use at night.

An expectorant might be the best choice if you have a sinus infection that has led to coughing. During a sinus infection, the mucus can gather in the throat or chest, causing congestion and a cough. Expectorants thin the mucus, which makes it easier for the individual to cough it out.

If you experience pain and pressure during a sinus infection, it might be best to use a medication that includes an analgesic, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, which works to relieve pain and inflammation. Many people take analgesic medications when their congestion causes a painful cough or headache, and it might also help to eliminate fever.

An antihistamine is another useful over-the-counter sinus medication that is most used in people who have severe allergies. Antihistamines can also be used with runny noses in order to thicken the mucus. They block the effects of histamines during allergic reactions and can prevent coughs, sneezing, and congestion. If you regularly suffer from allergies, you might need to use them continually.

There also are alternative forms of over-the-counter sinus treatments available, such as humidifiers and sinus cleanses. A humidifier can increase the amount of moisture in the air, which prevents nasal passages from drying out. Sinus cleanses can loosen congestion and help clear out mucus and other materials, making it easier for the individual to breathe clearly. You can try these alternative methods and see whether they work for you.

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Discussion Comments
By bear78 — On Apr 30, 2012

@ddljohn-- I get sinus issues whenever my allergies act up too. I usually use over the counter allergy medication. I've used loratadine and diphenhydramine (both generic names) in the past and both work pretty well for allergies. Usually if I can get rid of my allergies, my sinuses get better in a few days.

If I'm really stuffed up, then I use decongestants and/or nasal sprays and those are available over the counter as well. And you can always do basic nose washing at home with some warm salt water. Inhale some salt water into your nostrils and then release.

Or you can get a netty pot at the pharmacy. It's the same idea, you pour warm water through one end of the pot into one nostril and it comes out of the other nostril. It helps get rid of excess mucus and you'll get a good night's sleep.

By ddljohn — On Apr 29, 2012

I think I have a sinus infection. I'm not sure because my doctor is out of town for a couple of days and I don't feel like going to the emergency room for this.

It started a few days ago with what seemed like seasonal allergies. I had the typical symptoms- coughing, sneezing and tear eyes. Then, I started feeling mucus build up in and above my nose, right between my eyes. I think that's where the sinuses are located right?

Now I have red eyes, I can't breathe, I sneeze and blow my nose constantly and I have a horrible migraine. I can't wait till my doctor gets back and gives me prescription sinus medication. I need to take something over the counter temporarily. What should I take? Please help!

I already jotted down the medications mentioned in the article. But will those help with allergies too?

By candyquilt — On Apr 29, 2012

I haven't had health insurance for a while. So when I get a sinus infection, I have to use over-the-counter sinus medicine.

My go to sinus medicines are decongestants. I used an expectorant once and totally regretted it. It made me cough so much more! I think expectorants try to get the mucus out of your system but I don't really want to cough up a lung doing that. So I skip the expectorants altogether.

My main issues during a sinus infection is a stuffy, runny nose, difficulty breathing from the mucus and a headache. So I use decongestants and pain relievers like ibuprofen.

If I'm so stuffed up that I can't sleep, I take an antihistamine before I go to bed. I don't take antihistamines during the day because they make me too sleepy and drowsy.

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