You may associate sinus problems with wintry snow and spring flowers, but it is possible to experience congestion and sinus pressure in the summer. The good news is that it's often possible to prevent summertime sinus problems. Knowing the answer to the question "what causes sinus problems in summer?" can help you take steps to lower your likelihood of experiencing many sinus symptoms.
What Are Sinus Infections?
A sinus infection occurs when the sinus cavities behind your nose, cheeks, forehead, and eyebrows become infected, swollen, and inflamed. You may experience an acute sinus infection that lasts three to eight weeks or chronic sinus infections that persist for eight weeks or more. Sinus infections are a prevalent medical problem, affecting roughly 31 million Americans every year.
Sinus Infection Symptoms
Sinus infections can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including:
- Headaches located in the sinus area
- Pressure and pain in the sinus area
- Discharge from your nose
- Sore throat
- Bad breath
Common Causes of a Summer Sinus Infection
Summertime sinus congestion can have many causes, including:
Exposure to allergens like pollen. People who suffer from allergies may also develop sinus infections.
Irritants. Cigarette and campfire smoke and fumes from chemicals used for home improvements can cause inflammation, leading to sinus pressure, headaches, and congestion.
Dry conditions. Summer weather tends to be more humid, but you still may be exposed to dry air in an airplane cabin while traveling for summer vacations.
Microbes. bacteria, viruses, and fungi can trigger an infection that causes summer sinus pressure and other symptoms. The microbes most often responsible for sinus infections are less commonly encountered during the summer months, but it's still possible to come in contact with them.
About Summer Allergies
As mentioned above, summer allergies can contribute to sinus infections. Most often, allergy symptoms that develop during the summer months are seasonal allergic rhinitis. Also known as hay fever, this type of allergy occurs when you come in contact with certain substances in the environment. If you have hay fever, your body mistakes these harmless substances for threats. Your immune system takes action to protect you, releasing histamine that causes allergy symptoms to strike.
Sometimes, inflammation related to allergies leads to an infection. This means it can be challenging to know whether your symptoms are simply an allergy or a sinus infection that requires medical treatment.
Here are some ways to tell the difference between allergies and a sinus infection:
Eye symptoms. Allergies may cause itching, watering, and redness of the eyes, while sinus infections are unlikely to affect our eyes.
Wheezing. People with hay fever may wheeze when they breathe. Sinus infections usually do not cause breathing problems.
Pain. Sinus pain and headaches are usually associated with infection rather than allergies.
Fever. A low-grade fever is generally a sign of an infection. Allergies do not cause your body temperature to rise.
Preventing Summer Sinus Symptoms
To reduce your risk of ending up with sinus headaches, congestion, and other symptoms in the summer, follow these tips:
Clean frequently. Running the vacuum cleaner and wiping down hard surfaces in your home can reduce your exposure to allergens.
Improve the air quality. A HEPA filter can remove 99.9 percent of fine particulates in the air that you breathe at home.
Saline spray. Using a saline (saltwater) nasal spray keeps your sinus passages moisturized, making inflammation less likely to occur.
Nasal lavage. Flushing out your sinus cavities periodically makes it less likely that congestion will develop. There are several ways that you can flush your sinuses at home. You can purchase a neti pot similar to a teapot with a long spout or a battery-operated nasal irrigation device. Another option is to use a squeeze bulb to suck out mucus.
Protect your air passages. If you're working with chemicals that give off fumes or need to get close to a campfire to add wood, wear a mask. Chlorine can also irritate, so consider wearing a nose clip in the pool.
Wash your hands. Washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water makes you less likely to infect your sinuses with viruses and bacteria that you've come in contact with over the course of your day.
Tips for Addressing Sinus Allergy Symptoms
Even if you take all of the above steps, it's still possible that you may end up with a sinus headache, pressure, and congestion symptoms. To alleviate them, you can try:
Nonprescription oral antihistamines. Over-the-counter allergy medications, such as loratadine and cetirizine fight the release of histamine to ease allergy symptoms. These can generally be taken long-term to prevent the return of symptoms.
Nonprescription antihistamine nasal sprays. Oxymetazoline hydrochloride and phenylephrine hydrochloride sprays can provide quick relief from allergy symptoms. These sprays work similarly to oral antihistamines but deliver the medication right to your sinuses. These medications should only be used as long as symptoms persist because they can increase congestion if used for too long.
Ibuprofen. This over-the-counter drug eases inflammation and can soothe headaches and pain associated with sinus problems.
Before taking any over-the-counter medication, consult your healthcare provider. If you develop a fever or your symptoms persist despite using a nonprescription drug, schedule an appointment with your medical provider, as you may require a stronger prescription medication.
Try Natural Approaches to Sinus Health
There are several naturally derived ingredients that can be effective for sinus and allergy symptoms and are safer than over-the-counter and prescription products. Some of the more well-known natural ingredients for sinus and allergy relief include quercetin, serrapeptase, black seed extract, and NAC.
Quercetin is a flavonoid found in many fruits and vegetables and is known for its natural antihistamine effects. It stabilizes mast cells, which are immune cells responsible for releasing histamine, thus reducing the allergic response.
Serrapeptase is an enzyme discovered in the 1950’s in Japan that has been shown to reduce inflammation as well as relieve sinus pressure and reduce mucus thickness, allowing your sinuses to drain naturally.
Black seed extract is from the traditional herb Nigella sativa. Among the benefits of black seed oil are its ability to reduce histamine production, counter inflammation, and enhance clear breathing. Black seed is an excellent immune stimulant and a great choice for lung and sinus health.
NAC is an amino acid N-acetyl cysteine. NAC is a precursor for the master antioxidant glutathione in the body and raises glutathione levels in lung tissue, protecting the lungs from free radicals. NAC also reduces the thickness of sinus and nasal secretions, making it beneficial for lung and sinus health conditions.
While over-the-counter solutions may bring a degree of relief to sinus and allergy symptoms, a natural approach using common ingredients may offer longer-term benefits and be effective at reducing the occurrence of sinus and allergy issues in a safe manner.