37 million Americans suffer from sinusitis, or sinus congestion, each year, according to KidsHealth. Whether caused by a cold, flu, or allergies, sinus congestion and the accompanying headaches can make you miserable. Fortunately there's an inexpensive, natural treatment: steam, which, used correctly, provides relief without risk.
Humans have used steam to enhance their health for thousands of years. According to researcher Lyn Hopkins, M.S.W., Ph.D., Hippocrates, the father of medicine, used steam to "create fevers," and claimed he could cure any illness using that method. Romans used steam to cleanse themselves and to relax, and the native peoples of North America believed humid sweat lodges could cure physical and spiritual ills.
If you're suffering from sinus problems, there are several ways you can use steam to make yourself feel better. The American Academy of Otolaryngology recommends using a humidifier, steam from a pan, or steam from a shower. If your sinus problems come from a cold or the flu, you may want to use a humidifier, because humidifiers don't require much effort, and you can stay in bed while breathing the steam.
To use steam from a pan, boil water on the stove, drape a towel over your head and the pot, and breath the steam for 15 minutes, three times a day. Those instructions come from Nelson Gantz, M.D., chairman of the Department of Medicine and chief of the Infectious Diseases Division at the Polyclinic Medical Center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, writing for Mother Earth News. Dr Gantz reports that showering twice a day will work as well.
Using steam to treat sinus problems has advantages over other methods. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, steam is effective, costs nothing, and requires no special equipment. Also, unlike chemical-based decongestants, steam does not present any risk of dependence. Use steam and you won't have to worry about getting hooked on a nasal spray and rendered unable to breathe without one.
There are a few risks with using steam to treat sinus congestion. If you choose to use steam from a pan, Mother Earth News cautions you to leave 18 inches between your face and the water; any closer, and you could get a steam burn. Also, if you use a hot mist humidifier, make sure it has a nightlight and a steam-diffusing grate, so that you won't get burned if you bump into it at night. If you have young children who will be in the room where the humidifier is, MayoClinic.com recommends using a cool mist humidifier.
Some sinus problems require treatment by skilled medical professional. Mother Earth News recommends seeing a doctor if your symptoms do not resolve themselves in three to five days, you have a fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit, you have a severe headache that lasts more than one or two days, or you have greenish or yellow nasal discharge.