Stuffed Up with Sinusitis? Don’t Breathe Steam!

Date: August 30, 2016      Publication: Bottom Line Health      Source:  University of Southampton      Print:

TV commercials for cold remedies often feature a bleary-eyed sufferer with a red nose hunched over a bowl of steaming water…usually with a towel draped over his head.

It’s a popular home treatment—and not just for colds. Many doctors recommend breathing in steam to their patients with sinusitis, a common condition in which the nasal passages (sinuses) get clogged for weeks, even months, at a time. It’s a frustrating condition that often causes sinus pain and headaches, and it’s tough to treat effectively—antibiotics often fail.

Unfortunately, breathing in steam to clear your sinuses is just…hot air, according to a new study. But there’s good news, too. The researchers confirmed that a different home remedy really works.



In a British study, 870 patients with chronic or recurring sinusitis were assigned to one of four treatments…

  • Saline nasal irrigation with a neti pot, a device that looks like a tiny teapot that lets you pour saltwater up one nostril and let it drain out the other one. Then you repeat with the other nostril.
  • Breathing steam from a bowl of recently boiled water.
  • A combination of both remedies.
  • Just following their doctors’ usual care instructions, which sometimes included antibiotics (the control group).

The three treatment groups inhaled steam and/or irrigated their nasal passages for five minutes daily and were followed for six months.

Result: Participants who inhaled steam did report fewer headaches but no congestion relief. But those who used a neti pot—with or without steaming—reported less congestion over the next six months compared with the groups that didn’t use a neti pot. They also took fewer OTC medications and had fewer headaches.

This isn’t the first study to report that neti pots are a great way to treat sinusitis. But now we know not to waste time with that towel over your head—if you want to get rid of a nagging sinus problem, go right for the neti.

Important caution: If you want to try using a neti pot for sinus congestion relief, don’t use water straight from the tap. To avoid turning sinusitis into something worse, the CDC advises using filtered, boiled or distilled water—not just for irrigating your nasal passages but to rinse the pot after each time you use it. Then let the pot air dry.


Now, when your sinuses are clogged, you know what to do!

Source: Study titled “Effectiveness of steam inhalation and nasal irrigation for chronic or recurrent sinus symptoms in primary care: a pragmatic randomized controlled trial” by researchers at University of Southampton, UK, et al. published in CMAJ.

  • Kbuzz

    Saline water…its the salt that makes the difference. The water does soften any dried mucus, or serve as a carrier to flush the mucus – but what about the salt? The salt sterilizes the sinus cavities to prevent infection, it might also reduce inflation (due to sterile properties), and because of improved air-flow the sinus passages initially “dry out” – the use of Hot water is suggested and as hot as one can tolerate. However, too much flushing can excessively dry out the passages and now you have another problem.
    The use of “Collodial Silver” in a mist, used 10 minutes after a flush, has been observed to soothe the nasal passages, reduce the need for a nasal flush, and eliminate nasal infections. Users have also claimed that daily use of a silver snort for preventive maintainece prevents flu’s and colds. This has some merit as most viruses are airborne.

  • bouncedancer

    Steaming is great for infections, used with essential oils, but 5 min. is not enough! If the cause of the sinusitis is a latent bacterial or fungal infection, steaming for 15 min. and adding a few droplets of essential oil (ravensara or eucalyptus) a couple of times during the 15 min. is the bomb! Quickly breathe in the vapors because essential oils are volatile and drift off fast. When I have treated myself or family like this, it doesn’t take many steamings to kick the bug — I have seen nasty infections turn around with just one steaming.

    Often the cause of sinusitis is a food allergy.