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Home therapies for chronic sinus congestion appear to be ineffective

Posted July 18, 2016

Those who are living with chronic rhino sinusitis or sinus infections are often advised to steam inhalation and nasal irrigation to alleviate the symptoms. These suggestions seem to be obvious for most, but scientists were not so sure about the effectiveness of these procedures. Now a new study from the University of Southampton has shown that steam inhalation is not effective in relieving symptoms of chronic sinus congestion and nasal irrigation is not as effective as previously believed either.

Nasal irrigation does seem to help with many symptoms of sinusitis, unlike steam inhalation. Image credit: Birte and Villy Fink Isaksen via Wikimedia, CC-BY-SA-2.5

Nasal irrigation does seem to help with many symptoms of sinusitis, unlike steam inhalation. Image credit: Birte and Villy Fink Isaksen via Wikimedia, CC-BY-SA-2.5

This knowledge is important for millions of people round the world, because chronic rhino sinusitis or sinus infections are quite common. Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that these people are looking for alternative ways to help themselves with the symptoms. Steam inhalation and nasal irrigation are widely suggested because they can replace antibiotics, which are not always effective and contribute to antibiotic resistance. Scientists wanted to see if there is any reason for such advice and conducted a study, involving 871 patients from 72 primary care practices in England.

Participants were divided into groups, which received different therapies. Patients were shown a video, which explained how to use steam inhalation and nasal irrigation at home. Paul Little, lead author of the study, said: “We have found that even a very brief intervention of a video showing patients how to use saline nasal irrigation can improve symptoms, help people feel they do not need to see the doctor to manage the problem and reduce the amount of over the counter medication the get”.

While steam inhalation appeared to help alleviate headaches, it did not do much to help patients with other sinusitis symptoms. However, Rhinosinusitis Disabilty Index showed that after some months of therapy nasal irrigation did help alleviate some of the symptoms. In other words, nasal irrigation may not be as effective as previous studies have suggested, but scientists still have to do some more research about how patients are using the technique.

Reducing antibiotics consumption is extremely important in order to avoid worsening he situation of antibiotic resistance. Finding an effective and simple technique to address the symptoms at home would also help patients to avoid visits to the doctor or pharmacy. However, more research needs to be done till one or another method is announced as effective and safe.


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