Sinus pain and pressure can make exercise uncomfortable, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. In most cases, exercising with sinus pressure won't make matters worse. But whether to exercise strenuously or go at a more relaxed pace depends on the cause and any other symptoms you may have. It's always a good idea to get the go-ahead from your doctor when you're in doubt.
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Determine the Cause
If sinus pressure occurs during a cardio workout, you may have either a burgeoning sinus infection or allergic rhinitis.
Sinus infections often follow a cold, because the virus leaves your body less able to fight off bacteria, notes the American Academy of Otolaryngology. In the case of sinusitis, sinus pressure likely will remain after a workout and be accompanied by thick nasal discharge.
Rhinitis is an allergic reaction to an environmental factor, such as outdoor pollen or indoor dust, mold or cleaning products. These allergies provoke your body to produce protective histamines, which can cause sinus congestion and discharge. If you perform cardio in an area that triggers these allergies, your symptoms might recede when you complete your workout.
Read more: Should You Exercise When You Have the Flu?
If Allergies Are to Blame
If you suspect an allergic reaction is causing your sinus pressure during cardio, consider changing the workout venue. During hay fever season, performing cardio indoors might help prevent sinus flare-ups. Some people find that traffic fumes or other pollutants trigger sinus pressure. In those cases exercising outdoors is still possible, as long as it is done where the air is cleaner.
If you exercise indoors, pay attention to when your symptoms occur. If you only get symptoms when you're on the exercise bike but not when you take a cardio fitness class, you may be allergic to the chemicals used to clean the exercise equipment. Dust or other indoor allergens that lead to sinus pressure can be alleviated by running, walking or swimming outside rather than in a gym or home environment.
If It's an Infection
When you have sinus pressure because you have a sinus infection or a cold, you probably have other symptoms, such as headache, sore throat and nasal discharge. In some cases you may have a fever.
If you have a fever, you should take a break from cardio until your fever subsides. If you don't have a fever and your other symptoms are not severe, cardio is OK. However, use your own best judgement on intensity. When you're feeling ill, your body is telling you it needs rest. Some light cardio like walking or riding a bike at a leisurely pace may be your best bet until you feel better.
Treat the Sinus Pressure
There are a number of things you can do at home to alleviate sinus pressure before you do cardio:
- Apply warm, moist compresses to your face
- Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day to thin the mucus
- Inhale steam from a hot shower or a facial steamer
- Use a saline nasal spray
- Flush your sinuses with a neti pot or saline squeeze bottle
Your doctor can also prescribe medication or recommend over-the-counter treatments to clear sinus congestion and pressure whether due to allergies or infection.
Read more: Should You Work Out When You're Sick?
- American Academy of Otolaryngology: Stuffy Nose
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: NINDS Migraine Information Page
- American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: Exercising with Allergies and Asthma
- National Institutes of Health: MedlinePlus: Sinusitis
- Marshfield Clinic: EXERCISING WITH A SINUS INFECTION