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Can Sinus Massages Relieve Congestion?

By The Health News Team | January 3, 2023
Can Sinus Massages Relieve Congestion?

Sinus massages have become a recent health trend promoted by some health and wellness figures as a fast and easy way to relieve nasal congestion. With cases of respiratory illnesses — including the flu and COVID-19 — increasing in San Diego County, it’s a tempting one to get behind.

According to Dr. Ronald Mathiasen, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor) with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, a stuffy nose accompanied by uncomfortable sinus pressure is a common symptom of respiratory illnesses. But the cause of nasal congestion may not be what you think. And when it comes to sinus massages, he recommends you also consider some other ways to help clear your sinuses.

That stuffed-up feeling
Many people think a stuffy nose is just the result of too much mucus clogging your nose. A viral infection can put your mucus production into overdrive, but it is the swelling of your nasal passages that creates a “stuffy” or blocked feeling.

“Viruses can infect the lining of your nose and sinuses,” Dr. Mathiasen says. “When this area becomes inflamed, your mucosa, which is the lining of the inner nose, swells and can cause congestion.”

When you catch a cold or the flu, the virus gets inside your sinuses — a series of small, interconnected cavities behind your nose, eyes and cheeks — and irritates them. As a result, your immune system is signaled to produce more mucus to expel the virus and blood vessels in the nose swell, which leads to inflammation.

Do sinus massages actually work?
A few small studies show promising results, but more research is needed. Because there is a bone between the face and the sinuses, it’s unclear how a sinus massage would help with inflammation or drain the sinuses.

“There are some people who believe sinus massages make them feel better,” Dr. Mathiasen says. “But this could just be the placebo effect or an effect on the facial muscles.”

Sinus massages might not do anything to decrease inflammation, but Dr. Mathiasen thinks they could offer some degree of relief. “Massaging the area can relax the muscles of the face and help with the facial pain caused by sinus inflammation,” he says.

How to clear a clogged nose
To relieve pain and congestion at home, Dr. Mathiasen recommends nasal irrigation with a saline solution. Flushing your nasal cavities can help thin the mucus and reduce swelling that causes congestion.

Several methods of nasal irrigation exist. One of the most popular is the neti pot — a ceramic or plastic pot that looks like a small teapot. Nasal irrigation kits can be purchased over the counter and usually come with saline packets that should be mixed with distilled or sterile water.

These devices all work in basically the same way:

  • Leaning over a sink, tilt your head sideways with your forehead and chin roughly level to avoid liquid flowing into your mouth.

  • Breathing through your open mouth, insert the spout of the saline-filled container into your upper nostril so that the liquid drains through the lower nostril.

  • Clear your nostrils. Then repeat the procedure, tilting your head sideways, on the other side.

What are other ways to find congestion relief?
Over-the-counter decongestants can also help relieve a stuffy nose and are available in oral, drop and spray forms. Decongestants narrow the small blood vessels in the nose and sinuses, which can decrease pressure and improve airflow.

If you have symptoms, such as severe headache or facial pain, or your congestion lasts longer than 10 days, talk with your doctor. It could be a sinus infection or another underlying issue.

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