The first and most crucial step is to open up those nasal passages, and steam is the way to go. With a towel draped over your head, put your face over a pot of just-boiled water (don’t get too close) and let the steam make its way up into your sinuses. You may have to hover there for as long as 30 minutes, but don’t give up: It really works. To give the vapors an extra boost, add essential oils such as eucalyptus, lavender, or thyme to the water. Some practitioners believe these herbs have antimicrobial powers that can battle the bacteria lodged in your nasal cavities. (If you’re in a hurry, just run your shower on hot for a few minutes and sit in the mist.)
Another do-it-yourself route to clear sinuses starts with saline solution. The traditional approach has been to use a neti pot, a device that looks a bit like a gravy boat. Fill it with warm water and add a quarter teaspoon of non-iodized salt; holding your head sideways over the sink, pour the liquid up into one nostril and let it trickle out the other. Then change sides. If your symptoms are severe, try this two or three times a day.
A recent study among 76 chronic sinusitis patients at the University of Wisconsin in Madison found that 93 percent of those who used this type of daily saline irrigation said their sinuses felt better, they had fewer symptoms, and they lessened their dependence on medication.
If the neti pot seems too messy and cumbersome, there’s now a simpler alternative, called the SaltAire Sinus Relief kit, which is available at some drugstores. (You can find out where it’s sold at www.saltairesinuswash.com.) It’s an easy-to-use pump system that you use to spray a premeasured salt solution into your nasal passages.
This is what proved to be McEntire’s salvation. She used to lean heavily on antibiotics and decongestants, but they often triggered yeast infections, and her symptoms always crept back before too long. One day two years ago, when a sinus infection sent her to the emergency room with a 104-degree temperature and an unbearable headache, she decided she had to try something else. Unwilling to consider surgery, she turned to acupuncture. She’d used it for years to treat various conditions–in fact she was so enamored of it that she’s now studying to become an acupuncturist–and her practitioner thought it could help her sinuses, too.
“It’s been a godsend,” McEntire says. “As soon as I got up off the table, the swelling went down around my face. I was no longer congested, and I could finally sleep at night, so my body could get the rest it needed to heal.”
It’s not uncommon for patients to see results right after a treatment, says Steven Given, an acupuncturist at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle. But it can take up to ten sessions to get lasting relief. The cost, which can be anywhere from $55 to $150 per treatment, is covered by some insurers; if yours isn’t among them, check out a teaching clinic, where the fees should be lower.