If you’ve ever had a sinus infection, you know how painful and inconvenient it can be. I’ve lost quite a few work days to this common illness during cold and flu season.
There are many great drug treatments that alleviate symptoms of sinus infection. However, I’ve been experimenting with essential oils as an alternative remedy for years. They’re cheap, free of side effects and they smell great!
But don’t just trust me, check out the science behind it. I’ve put it all together so you can make your own decision. Read on to find out what are the best essential oils to deal with sinus infection.
What is a Sinus Infection?
If you’ve found this page, someone has probably told you that you’ve got a sinus infection – or you’ve come to that conclusion yourself. But what exactly is a sinus infection?
What are these mysterious sinuses? We can’t see them yet they can cause us so much pain.
The sinuses are essentially gaps in your skull. That’s right, they’re not organs, just empty space! You have quite a few of them in your head, check out this page for more info.
Your sinuses are lined with soft fleshy tissue and a thin film of mucus.
We don’t even know for certain what sinuses are for. They might help humidify the air we breathe or even enhance our voices. (source)
Your largest sinuses are in your cheekbones, they’re known as the “maxillary sinuses”. You also have sinuses in the center of your forehead and between your eyes. (source)
Sinusitis – Inflammation of the Sinuses
When you have a sinus infection, the symptoms you’ll notice are as a result of “sinusitis”. Here’s a little secret – any medical word that ends in “-itis” means “inflammation”.
In this case, sinusitis is sinus inflammation. Inflammation happens when your body detects a nasty intruder, in this case bacteria or a virus.
In an effort to fight the intruder, your body activates pain, swelling, heat and leaky fluid. Not a very effective attack, you’re probably thinking. Well, actually it is.
These symptoms may be awkward and unpleasant for you, but they’re necessary for your body’s immune system to get in on the action.
For example, the swelling and leaky fluid is due to extra blood rushing to the site. Your blood carries white immune cells which can neutralise intruders. Your vessels become leaky to let the white cells out and into the tissue where the bacteria are.
Pain is in part due to the swelling – it can push against pain signallers and trigger them. It can also be activated to let your brain know that something is wrong. E.g. if the “intruder” is a thorn that you’ve stepped on, pain lets you know so that you can remove it.
Of course it’s a lot more complicated than that but those are the basics.
If you want more detail, check out this video:
Symptoms of Sinus Infection
If you have a sinus infection, here are some of the symptoms you will notice. Some of them are related to sinus inflammation, and others are as a result of the bacteria creeping into other areas (e.g. your nasal passage).
- Facial pain or feeling of pressure
- Blocked or dripping nose
- Loss of smell
- Dental pain
How Can Natural Remedies Help With Sinus Infection?
You may wonder how can essential oils help with a sinus infection. Well, there are quite a few things they can do.
First of all, many essential oils have antimicrobial properties. This means that they can directly kill the bacteria or viruses in your sinus causing inflammation.
The next thing they can do is ease the inflammation and pain. Just like you can take an anti-inflammatory or painkilling tablet, you can choose a suitable oil for the same effect.
The Best Essential Oils for Sinus Infection
1. Eucalyptus Essential Oil
Eucalyptus is an evergreen tree native to Australia. The essential oil is extracted from its leaves. (source)
Eucalyptus helps with sinus infection in two ways. Firstly, it contains chemicals that have activity against bacteria and viruses.
One study (source) examined the effects of 8 different types of eucalyptus oil on microbes commonly responsible for respiratory illness e.g. H. influenzae and S. pneumoniae.
The ability to kill bacteria and viruses varied significantly within Eucalyptus species oils.Eucalyptus odorata and Eucalyptus bicostata gave the best results.
Secondly, eucalyptus may help ease pain and inflammation. (source)
A study investigated the effects of eucalyptus oil inhalation on pain and inflammation after knee surgery. A significant reduction in pain was observed. (source)
You can buy eucalyptus essential oil here.
2. Thyme Essential Oil
Thyme is a herb in the mint family. (source) It contains a few compounds which give it a powerful ability to fight inflammation.
One of these, called “carvacol” works in a similar manner to many conventional drugs. Carvacol reduces enzymes involved in inflammation. (source)
Another study showed that thyme oil decreased inflammatory signallers in acne. (source)
You can buy thyme essential oil here.
3. Fennel Essential Oil
Anethole is another compound in fennel oil which can kill bacteria such as salmonella. (source)
You can buy fennel essential oil here.
4. Myrtol Standardized Oil
A study (source) used myrtol oil topically to treat acute sinusitis. The essential oil proved to be significantly superior to placebo.
The researchers even recommended myrtol oil instead of antibiotics to treat mild cases of sinusitis.
Myrtol essential oil also lead to “rapid and more complete recovery” in acute bronchitis when compared with a placebo. (source)
5. Peppermint Essential Oil
L-menthol is a compound naturally present in peppermint and similar plants. It is responsible for many of peppermint oil’s medicinal effects.
Peppermint oil has a cooling effect which, much like applying an ice pack, relieves pain and moderates inflammation. One study showed that applying it topically eased nerve pain. (source)
Peppermint oil may be a good side-effect free alternative to conventional painkillers and anti-inflammatory tablets. (source)
Peppermint can also fight infection. It has been useful in oral care to treat plaque and gingivitis. (source)
You can buy peppermint essential oil here.
6. Lemon Essential Oil
Lemon is more than just a garnish for your cocktail. Lemon oil was used in combination with 3 other oils to examine the effect on mucus clearance in nasal and sinus regions.
Results were promising, supporting essential oils’ use in respiratory inflammatory disorders. (source)
You can buy lemon essential oil here.
Essential Oils vs Conventional Treatment for Sinus Infection
Ok, so now you understand how essential oils can help with a sinus infection, but why choose them over conventional treatments?
The Holistic Approach
Personally, what I love about natural remedies is their holistic nature. What I mean is that they look at the bigger picture rather than curing individual symptoms.
Sure, if you’re sick as a dog you can take a decongestant pill and feel great. You’ll probably carry on with work but end up feeling worse once it wears off. This is because you’ve over-exerted yourself instead of taking time out to heal.
Treating yourself with essential oils often forces you take time out of your busy day to relax and focus on your body. Instead of 30 seconds to pop a pill, you take 30 minutes to do a facial steam or massage.
I feel more in touch with my body’s needs when I use essential oils.
Drug Side Effects and Interactions
I’ve mentioned the side effects of conventional drugs many times on this blog. I’m not against big pharma at all. I admit that the effects of a decongestant or painkilling tablet are much stronger than that of essential oils.
However, for some people these pills are not safe. For example, the powerful decongestant pseudoephedrine can raise your blood pressure, making it unsuitable for those with hypertension. It also interacts with many prescription medicines.
Painkillers too can damage your body if you use them too often. Anti-inflammatory painkillers such as aspirin and ibuprofen can give you stomach ulcers if you don’t take them with food.
If you can get some relief using the above oils, I think it’s a great way to minimize reliance on conventional drugs. When you need them, by all means, take them. However the less frequently you do this, the better.
How to Use Essential Oils for Sinus Infection
There are several different methods to choose from when it comes to using essential oils for sinus infection. Most of them use steam in combination with the essential oil vapour to help flush out the nasal passages. Steam also helps to break down mucus.
I find the steam inhalation method most effective when I have any type of congestion – cold, flu or sinus infection. I use it for my kids too, now that they’re old enough not to scald themselves with the hot water.
- Fill a large bowl with hot, steaming water (be careful not to burn yourself!)
- Add a few drops of essential oil and stir to incorporate.
- Put your head over the bowl and put a towel over your head and the bowl to prevent the steam from escaping.
- Inhale the steam deeply for as long as you feel comfortable (up to 30 minutes). You can top up the bowl with hot water if needed.
Essential Oil Bath
If you have time, taking a bath with a few drops of essential oil can also help with sinus infection. If the bath is hot enough, steam will carry the essential oil vapour into your respiratory system.
Aromatherapy Diffuser or Burner
If you don’t already have an aromatherapy diffuser or burner yet, why not? I use mine (this one) almost every day. The great thing about it is that I can change the oil depending on my needs.
If I’m suffering from a sinus infection, I simply add a few drops of one of the essential oils above and leave it on all day.
If you’re using an aromatherapy burner, don’t leave it lit overnight. Instead, leave a small bowl with some essential oil beside your bed, it will slowly release vapour all night.
Essential Oil Rub
You can buy natural “vapour rubs” in the pharmacy to treat congestion and sinusitis, but I like to make my own. Simply take some vaseline and add essential oil (1 drop essential oil to one teaspoon vaseline).
Massage this into your chest at night or even during the day. Just make sure to wear an undershirt as the vaseline can stain.
A traditional remedy for nasal congestion is self-massaging your sinuses. It’s said to act on pressure points and will also relieve associated headaches.
Take a tablespoon of carrier oil and add a drop of essential oil. Dip your fingertips into the mixture and rub into your hands before starting the massage.
There are lots of different techniques – check out this video for a tutorial:
There are certain cases where you will need to see a doctor rather than treating your sinus infection with essential oils. If it doesn’t start to improve after 3 days or so, you may need antibiotics.
If you notice some of the following symptoms, it’s best to see a doctor too:
- Pain in the face, teeth or eye(s)
- Headache not relieved by over-the-counter pain medicine
- High fever (101°F/38.3°C or above)
- Thick yellow or green discharge from the nose
- Symptoms lasting longer than 10 days or getting worse after 7 days
Not all essential oils are suitable for everybody. If you are pregnant, have an ongoing health condition or take a prescription medicine, check with a healthcare professional before using essential oils.
Many essential oils can cause irritation when applied to the skin undiluted. Always use a carrier oil (e.g. coconut oil, jojoba oil, sweet almond oil) before applying an essential oil to your skin.
The best ratio for essential oil dilution is 1 drop of essential oil in 1 tablespoon of carrier oil.
Always look for high quality essential oils from reputable sources – there are fakes out there. Not only will a fake oil not produce any health benefits, it may cause irritation or allergic reaction.
I hope this information on the best essential oils to deal with sinus infection has been helpful. Sinus infection can be a real pain but luckily there are so many treatment options out there.
When I notice the first signs of sinus infection I immediately swap out my diffuser with one of the antimicrobial essential oils above to stop the whole house getting sick!
Then I use it as an excuse to take a lovely fragrant bath every evening until I get better. It usually works!