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Sinus Infection (cont.)

Sinus Infection Medications

Medications to Reduce Inflammation and Promote Drainage

Reduce inflammation

Blood cells and lining cells of the mucosa in the sinuses can normally fight off foreign invaders. However, when overwhelmed by viruses or bacteria, coupled with a depressed immune system or over-reactivity to allergens, the result is the inflammation associated with sinusitis. With appropriate therapy, a short-lived infection can be treated effectively. Because foreign substances trigger numerous reactions, many treatments are available that can treat the symptoms of inflammation.

Decongestants help reduce airway obstruction and are important in the initial treatment to alleviate symptoms.

  • OTC nasal sprays: oxymetazoline (Afrin), phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine), naphazoline (Naphcon), and chlorzoxazone (Forte) work the fastest, within one to three minutes. These agents should not be used for more than three days because they become less effective and more frequent applications become necessary to attain the same clarity in breathing. This "rebound" phenomenon can be reduced by alternating between nostrils and using the medicine less frequently. Some people over-treat their nasal congestion with nasal spray and become dependent upon it in order to breathe more easily (a disorder called rhinitis medicamentosum). Overcoming the dependency requires a difficult withdrawal program involving oral decongestants, saline, steroid nasal sprays, systemic steroids, or a combination thereof.
  • OTC oral decongestants: OTC oral decongestants (in tablet or liquid form) contain the active ingredients pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine. They work much slower than nasal sprays do, and achieve their effect within 30-60 minutes. As with the nasal preparations, oral decongestants may become less effective with prolonged use. The rebound phenomenon exists but is not as severe as with spray preparations. Preparations containing pseudoephedrine are now kept behind the counter at the pharmacy but are still available without a prescription.

Both nasal and oral decongestants have side effects, including increased heart rate and blood pressure, insomnia, nervousness, anxiety, tremor, dry mouth, blurry vision, and headache. They may also cause an inability to urinate. Persons with a history of cardiac disease, high blood pressure, anxiety, or urinary problems (especially prostate disorders) should consult a physician before using decongestants. Combining decongestants with other over-the-counter or prescribed medicines with similar side effects may cause dangerous complications.

Promote drainage

Home remedies that open and hydrate the sinuses may promote drainage. See Sinus Infection Home Remedies for information on increasing daily fluid intake, inhaling steam, taking expectorants and pain relievers, and nasal saline irrigation.

If environmental allergies cause the sinusitis, an antihistamine may help reduce swelling of the mucous membranes. Allergens stimulate white blood cells in the blood and tissues to release histamine into the circulation. This causes fluid to leak from blood vessels into the tissues of the nasal passageways, leading to nasal congestion symptoms.

  • Some of the older sedating OTC antihistamines (diphenhydramine [Benadryl]) are no longer recommended because they tend to dry out and thicken the mucus, making drainage more difficult.
  • Non-sedating antihistamines such as fexofenadine (Allegra), cetrizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin), or desloratadine (Clarinex) do not seem to dry out the mucosa. If nasal congestion is severe, a decongestant can be added (for example, Allegra-D or Claritin-D).
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/16/2012

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Sinusitis, Acute »

Sinusitis is characterized by inflammation of the lining of the paranasal sinuses.

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