Common Medications and Treatments for Sinusitis

Treatment varies based on whether the condition is acute sinusitis or chronic sinusitis and whether the doctor thinks there is a bacterial infection involved. Most cases of sinusitis are caused by viruses and will get better without medication in about 1-2 weeks. Antibiotics, which fight bacteria, are not effective against viral infections.

People with sinusitis can also take the following steps to help relieve their symptoms:

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Lie on your side and/or prop up your head with a pillow because lying down can make sinuses feel more blocked up.
  • Sip hot liquids and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Hold a warm, wet towel against your face or breathe in steam through a cloth or towel to relieve sinus pressure and help open the sinus passages.
  • Avoid alcohol and smoking, which can worsen swelling in the sinuses.

The table in this sinusitis patient education guide describes the common medications used to treat sinusitis, most of which are aimed at relieving symptoms until the sinusitis resolves. It is important to talk with your doctor before using over-the-counter cold medicine, because some cold medicines can worsen symptoms or cause other problems.


Drug Category How it works
Saline nasal sprays These un-medicated sprays remove thick mucus from nasal passages and help the sinuses to drain.
Decongestant nasal sprays Some nasal sprays contain a decongestant to shrink the swollen membranes in the nose.Use of nasal drops and sprays containing a decongestant for more than 3-5 days can lead to worsened swelling in the sinuses after you stop taking the medicine.
Nasal corticosteroid sprays and antihistamines These sprays may be prescribed to decrease swelling in the nose, especially if there are nasal polyps or allergies.
Decongestants These drugs, taken in pill form, make it easier to breathe by shrinking the swollen membranes in the nose.
Pain relievers Drugs such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can relieve headache and other sinus pain.These drugs can also reduce fever, if present.
Antibiotics These drugs treat bacterial infection, if present.Antibiotics do not work against viral infections, which are the most common cause of sinusitis.
Oral steroids These drugs may be prescribed for severe chronic rhinosinusitis if other treatments have not worked.Use of these drugs is limited due to their significant side effects.


Surgery may be recommended for chronic rhinosinusitis that has not gotten better with medication. Sinus surgery aims to improve sinus drainage and reduce blockage of the nasal passages. These procedures are typically performed to enlarge the openings of the sinuses, remove nasal polyps, and correct structural problems inside the nose and sinuses.