What Is Sinus Congestion? Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Despite dealing with a runny nose and sore throat the night before, you decide to take a quick 10-minute walk in your neighborhood park to complete your goal of 15,000 steps a day. Not too long after, you notice that your nose feels stuffy and you feel pressure around your forehead, between your eyes, and on the sides of your nose, which feels worse when you bend forward or lower your head.

This stuffiness, facial pressure, and pain you are experiencing may be due to nasal or sinus congestion that typically results from allergies, the common cold, or the flu.

What is Sinus Congestion?

Sinus congestion is the uncomfortable feeling you get when the tissues lining your sinuses swell up from inflammation. You have four pairs of paranasal sinuses in your head.1 Your sinuses are the hollow air spaces within the bones behind your eyes and nose. Your sinuses serve several functions, like lightening the weight of your head, increasing the resonance of your voice, and humidifying and heating the air that you inhale.1

When the tissues lining your sinuses swell up from inflammation, your sinuses will not be able to function properly.

Sinus congestion symptoms may include:

Stuffiness or congestion in your nose

Not being able to breathe freely through a blocked or stuffy nose can feel very uncomfortable. In addition to nasal congestion, if you compensate by breathing through your mouth, this can dry your mouth and lips, and irritate your throat, since the air you are breathing will not be warmed or humidified by your sinuses.

Pressure and pain around your sinuses

You may feel pressure and pain in any of the areas that surround your sinuses, including in your forehead, in-between your eyes, on either side of your nose, or in your upper mouth.

The pressure and pain can feel worse as you bend forward or lower your head— a tell-tale sign that you may have a sinus headache.

Causes of Sinus Congestion Symptoms

Sinus pressure is often caused by a buildup of mucus in your sinuses. If the fluids in your sinuses keep accumulating because they are not able to drain, this pressure can result in a sinus headache.

Viruses that cause the cold or flu and allergens may trigger inflammation in the nasal passages that underlies sinus congestion symptoms.

Common Cold

The common cold is a viral infection in your upper respiratory tract—your nose and throat. It can be caused by any one of more than 200 types of viruses, but the most common is rhinovirus.2 Adults can have an average of two to three colds annually.3

Aside from sinus congestion, symptoms of the common cold include stuffy nose, sneezing, runny nose, and coughing.


If you have a respiratory allergy to something in your environment, such as pollen, dust mites, mold, or pet dander, you may find out that anytime you are exposed to your trigger(s), your nose starts to feel stuffy. Allergy triggers cause inflammation of your nasal passages that causes blood vessels to enlarge and the nasal tissue to swell, reducing or blocking air flow through your nose and/or sinuses.

This swelling can make it difficult for mucus to drain as it normally does, which can then lead to feelings of pain and pressure in the areas surrounding your sinuses.

Talk to your doctor to find out whether you have allergies, and to learn how to avoid triggers that can cause your sinus discomfort.

How to Treat Symptoms of Sinus Congestion

You can try the following home remedies for sinus congestion, pressure, or pain:

Home Remedies for Sinus Congestion

Drink plenty of fluids. Drinking water can help you stay hydrated to thin your mucus for easier drainage.

Put a warm compress over your nose. Sinus discomfort can be treated by relieving the areas around your sinuses with a warm compress.4 The warmth of the material can reduce the swelling or inflammation, which in turn will allow your mucus to be drained properly. Once you get your mucus flowing, the pressure will reduce and you will have some relief.

Get some steam into your sinuses. Inhaling steam can help thin and loosen your mucus. You can get steam into your sinuses by bending over a bowl of boiling water with a towel covering your head or by taking a long steamy shower.5

Use a humidifier while you sleep. When indoor air is too dry, it can dry your nasal passages and make your nose feel stuffy. Humidifiers add moisture to the air to help keep your sinuses comfortable and break up your mucus.6 Run a humidifier in your bedroom at night so you don’t wake up with dry sinuses.

Sinus Congestion Medicine

Medicated Spray

Vicks Sinex™ SEVERE Ultra Fine Mist spray helps relieve the sinus and nasal congestion that often accompanies colds, hay fever, or upper respiratory allergies for up to 12 hours. This fast-acting nasal spray decongestant relieves sinus pressure and shrinks swollen nasal membranes so you can breathe more freely.

Non-Medicated Saline Spray

Non-medicated saline nasal sprays can clear your mucus and help to flush out or drain your sinuses. Sinex Saline Ultra Fine Nasal Mist instantly clears your nasal passages from allergens, dust, and irritants, and help with everyday congestion. This purified saline solution is sterile and safe to use daily.


If you’re looking for relief from sinus pressure, pain, and congestion, look for over-the-counter medicines with the right active ingredients to relieve your sinus symptoms effectively. If you have a sinus headache or pain, look for a medicine containing acetaminophen for pain relief. Sinex SEVERE All-in-One Sinus LiquiCaps™ has acetaminophen to relieve sinus headache and pain, plus phenylephrine, a nasal decongestant, to relieve sinus congestion and stuffy nose symptoms. It helps you breathe freely in as little as 30 minutes

How to Avoid Catching and Spreading Your Sinus Congestion Symptoms

If your sinus symptoms are the result of an allergen, avoiding your trigger(s) is usually the best option. Your doctor can help you find out whether your sinus symptoms are due to an allergen and possibly identify your specific triggers. Allergens and Cold and flu viruses can trigger the inflammation causing sinus congestion. If your sinus symptoms are due to a cold, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that you do the following to avoid catching or spreading a cold virus3:

Wash your hands with soap and water. The rhinoviruses that cause cold can stay on your hands for a while. Make sure you wash your hands for 20 seconds. If you don’t have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Don’t touch your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. If the virus is on your hands, it can easily enter your body when you touch your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose. Frequently washing your hands is a good habit in general, and especially effective for removing viruses and germs that can cause illness, such as the common cold. When you cough, sneeze, or blow your nose, the virus can get on your hands. Washing your hands right after will prevent you from spreading the virus to surfaces or other people.

Self-isolate at home. One great way to avoid spreading the cold virus to other people is by staying at home while you are sick.

Was this article helpful?