Nasal congestion and catarrh – nasal discharge, or phlegm in the throat – are usually present for a few days during and after many infections of the nose and sinuses, especially the common cold . The combination is a harmless but annoying problem that can be stubborn to shift and can also result in deafness if it builds up in the eustachian tubes (the tubes on either side at the back of the nose and throat, which lead to the ears).
One of the best ways of treating it is steam inhalation to help drainage. You can either do this by breathing the vapour being given off by plain hot – not boiling – water, or you can add decongestant capsules containing natural essential oils, such as pine or eucalyptus. Essential oils have a strong, pleasant odour and are extremely volatile. When exposed to air, they therefore give off a powerful vapour. Inhaling this helps give relief from catarrh, nasal congestion and sinus trouble and can loosen mucus. Do not let the vapour come into contact with the eyes. For older children and adults you can dab the oils on to bedding nearby, but avoiding the possibility of direct skin contact. Or for infants, a few drops in a jug of warm water placed in the room out of the child’s reach, may give relief.
Tablets are also available over the counter to relieve sinus congestion and pain. These contain paracetamol and a drug called phenylpropanolamine hydrochloride which constricts blood vessels and thus helps ease congestion. Decongestant tablets and syrups can also be bought for blocked sinuses, stuffed-up nose and catarrh as part of cold and flu symptoms. These contain a decongestant such as pseudoephed-rine hydrochloride.
You can also try sprays containing decongestants like oxymetazoline hydrochloride, which is used as a vasoconstrictor – a drug that causes narrowing of the walls of blood vessels to relieve congestion. But it’s usually inadvisable to use nose drops for longer than ten days, as they can cause a ‘rebound’ swelling and damage to the nasal passages, making matters worse.
To insert nose drops, lie on your back on a bed with your head hanging over the edge and stay in that position for at least three minutes after inserting the drops. This prevents them simply running down the back of the nose into the throat and allows them to reach their destination – the sinuses.
If your symptoms become more severe and the sinuses are actually infected, the condition is then called sinusitis. Anyone who has ever suffered from this will remember all too well the typical throbbing headache which is made worse by bending over or blowing the nose. It’s estimated that one in 200 colds leads to sinusitis.
The bones of the cheeks, forehead and back of the nose contain a hidden network of small caverns and channels -the sinuses – which help to make the bones lighter and give resonance to our voice. The mucus-secreting membrane that lines the nose continues on to form an interconnecting lining for all the sinuses and there are tiny holes in it which normally allow for free drainage and circulation of air. When germs or particles of dirt are inhaled, they lodge in the mucus; minute, moving liairs’ called cilia then waft them to the back of the nose where they evaporate, are harmlessly swallowed or are blown out on to a handkerchief.
However, if the lining membrane of the sinuses becomes inflamed – which is quite common after a heavy cold – more mucus than usual is produced, the cilia cease to function properly, infected secretions build up, the tiny drainage holes may become blocked and acute sinusitis results. The pain can be similar to that caused by toothache and the affected sinus – along the cheekbone below the eye, or just above the eyebrow, for example – may be tender to the touch. The sufferer will probably feel generally unwell and have a nasty headache and a blocked nose. He or she may also have a temperature and greeny discharge from the nose or running down the back of the throat.
An allergy – to irritant fumes or smoking, for instance -can also cause the lining membrane of the sinuses to swell and lead to a recurrent form of sinusitis. Diving and underwater swimming may have the same effect, if water is forced up into the sinuses.
An acute attack of sinusitis can usually be successfully treated by rest, painkillers and steam inhalations three times a day to relieve the congestion and help the sinuses to drain. A constant and comfortable room temperature and a humid atmosphere (keep bowls of water by the radiators) should help, too.
Some people also swear by an age-old remedy for catarrh and sinus trouble – garlic, in the form of garlic oil capsules, available from most chemists and health food shops .
Over-the-counter decongestant medicines may help treat sinusitis, but are not generally very effective and some can make you drowsy. Nose drops, if prescribed by a doctor, can be helpful. For a severe attack of sinusitis, your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics and, if symptoms do not improve or attacks recur, referral to a specialist may be necessary. Treatment may then include washing out the infected sinus under a local or general anaesthetic and finally an operation to improve the drainage system from the sinuses.
Actifed Syrup, Actifed Tablets, Afra-zine Nose Drops, Aller-Eze Plus, Bengue’s Balsam, Catarrh-Ex, Catarrh Pastilles, Congesteze, Cupal Baby Chest Rub, Dimotapp Elixir, Dimotapp Elixir Paediatric, Dimotapp LA, Dristan Decongestant Tablets, Dristan Spray, Famel Catarrh and Throat Pastilles, Fenox Nasal Drops, Flurex, Karvol Decongestant Capsules, Mentholatum Vapour Rub, Mucron, Mucron Junior Syrup, Otrivine, Penetrol Catarrh Lozenges, Penetrol Inhalant, Sinex Decongestant Nasal Spray, Sinutab, Sudafed Elixir, Sudafed Tablets, Throaties Catarrh Pastilles, Triogesic, Triominic
Sudafed Tablets, Sinex Decongestant Nasal Spray Homoeopathic Remedies
Silicea, and for Catarrh, Arsen. Alb., Kali. Bich., Pulsatilla.
Garlic, Dr Valnet’s Climarone Inhalant, Herbelix Specific, Natural Olbas Oil Inhalant Decongestant, Olbas Pastilles