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posted: 1/23/2012 1:00 AM

Sinusitis? Nasal irrigation might be the cure

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Q. Every winter I come down with sinusitis. Is there anything I can do to prevent it?

A. A lot of people suffer from periodic sinus infections (sinusitis). I'm one of them. The symptoms are aggravating: headache, pain or pressure in the face and head, where the sinuses are, and thick mucus clogging the nose.

The good news is there are many things you can do to reduce your risk of sinusitis.

One of the simplest, cheapest and most effective ways to prevent and treat sinus problems is nasal irrigation. This helps clear excess mucus and keeps your nose moist. Nasal irrigation is done with just tap water and table salt. At least twice a day, follow these steps:

1. Stir 1 teaspoon of salt into 2 cups of lukewarm water.

2. Fill a small bulb syringe with the saltwater solution.

3. Lean over your bathroom sink, insert the tip of the syringe just inside one nostril, and gently squeeze the bulb. Use at least one full bulb of solution. The water will run back out the nostril and into the sink.

4. Repeat the procedure in the other nostril.

During the day, use nasal saline spray (available over-the-counter at drugstores) to moisten nasal passages.

Here are additional suggestions:

• Drink lots of water. This helps keep mucus thin and loose.

• Inhale steam. Linger in a hot shower.

• Avoid dry environments. A humidifier in your home (in particular, by your bed) and where you work can help prevent nasal passages from drying out.

• Sleep with your head elevated. Mucus pools in your sinuses at night when your head is down. Prop up your head with pillows.

• Be nice to your nose. Blow your nose gently, one nostril at a time. Forceful blowing can irritate nasal passages and propel mucus back up into your sinuses.

• Avoid antihistamines unless prescribed. Antihistamines can be effective for nasal allergies that cause lots of sneezing. But they also make mucus thick and hard to drain. Even if your sinusitis is triggered by allergies, avoid antihistamines.

• Be careful with decongestants. Using decongestant nasal sprays for more than three to four days can cause increased swelling after the medication wears off.

With sinusitis, like with most illnesses, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Take it from a fellow sinusitis sufferer: You'll thank me if you take my advice.

• Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. Go to his website to send questions and get additional information:

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