Medicine 101: Sinusitis Medications

Antibiotics, steroids, decongestants, and mucus thinners can all be involved in the treatment of sinusitis. Antibiotics are designed to kill or inhibit bacterial micro-organisms. Steroids are used to reduce inflammation. Decongestants shrink the lining of the nose by constricting blood vessels.

What are some of the medications used to treat allergies & symptoms of sinusitis?

It can be very confusing choosing the right allergy medicines. Medications are chosen not only by the symptoms you are trying to control but must also be based on each patient’s other medical conditions. For example, patients with an enlarged prostate should be cautious about taking anti-histamines. Patients with high blood pressure should avoid decongestants. When treating allergies, look at the symptom you are trying to improve and then choose the medication that helps that symptom. The frequency of your symptoms also plays a crucial role in choosing the right medications. Combining medications from different groups affords the best results. Many medicines are formulated with more than one drug to help control the multiple symptoms associated with allergies.

Saline Rinse

While a nasal saline rinse isn’t considered medication, using a nasal wash on a consistent basis could be all you need to relieve sinus symptoms. They are safe and can be used as often as desired. Nasal rinses will flush out excess mucus and other debris that can irritate your nasal tissue and cause inflammation. Consider a nasal rinse each evening before bed to wash out the day’s pollutants.


Antibiotics are used when there is an infection. Antibiotics are designed to inhibit growth and often kill infectious bacteria. Antibiotics are usually prescribed when a sinus infection is lingering and not getting better with the use of saline washes or over-the-counter medications.


Oral (medicine taken internally by mouth) steroids or topical nasal steroids (nasal spray or wash and not taken internally) are used to reduce the swelling of the mucosal membranes inside your nose. These drugs work by reducing the inflammatory chemicals made by your body. Oral steroids go through your bloodstream and should not be taken for an extended period of time.

Topical sprays and washes do not go through your bloodstream. They only affect the inside of your nose. Nasal steroid sprays can be used daily and for long periods of time.


Oral (medicine taken internally by mouth) decongestants like Sudafed, Zyrtec-D, and Claritin-D contain a drug called phenylephrine. These are the drugs you can purchase over the counter. They are designed to shrink the blood vessels and swollen tissues inside your nose and turbinates. If the decongestant contains pseudoephedrine vs. phenylephrine, then those drugs have special requirements. You must purchase these drugs from pharmacy staff, you will have to show your ID, and you’re limited in the amount you can buy daily and monthly. The reason? Pseudoephedrine is used to make illegal methamphetamine, which is highly addictive. Generally, oral decongestants should not be used for more than five days, and it should be understood that they can cause elevated blood pressure in some patients.

Topical nasal decongestant sprays like Afrin will also help reduce nasal swelling. Because you are applying the spray directly into the nose, it will shrink the blood vessels and swollen tissues.


Histamines are chemicals that your body (immune system) makes. The job of histamine is to help your body get rid of something foreign to it. For example, if you come in contact with a lot of pollen and you start to sneeze, your eyes start to water, etc., then that’s the effect of the histamine. Those histamines are doing whatever it takes to get rid of the pollen that’s entered your body. It’s your immune system fighting off what it perceives to be a threat. But things like dust, pollen, dander, pets, and things like that can cause your body to overreact and send out those histamines when there really is no need. That’s why you take an antihistamine. Antihistamine (ex: Benadryl) block the histamines and reduce the symptoms.

Keep in mind that sinus and allergy medicines are only addressing your symptoms. If you are using decongestants and antihistamine medications on a consistent basis, then you’ll want to investigate the underlying causes of your symptoms.

If you’re feeling congested or having a difficult time breathing, please call our office today and schedule an appointment. We want you to feel better now!

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