Nonprescription medicines for sinusitis

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's 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 nonprescription 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.
  • Do not give cough and cold medicines to a child younger than 2 unless your child’s doctor has told you to. If your child’s doctor tells you to give a medicine, be sure to follow what he or she tells you to do.
  • Many doctors do not recommend using antihistamines unless your symptoms are related to having allergies. These medicines 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. However, other experts believe antihistamines may help treat sinusitis by reducing the amount of mucus that builds up in the sinus cavities.

Last Updated: August 15, 2008

Author: Shannon Erstad, MBA/MPH

Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Donald R. Mintz, MD - Otolaryngology

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