9 Best Essential Oils for Sinus Congestion [with precautions, tips, and side effects]

Sinus congestion is a huge pain and can ruin a perfectly good day. Luckily, we have a few essential oils for sinus issues that can help reduce the symptoms.

Essential oils for sinus infections are gaining more and more popularity. Many people are turning to essential oils for sinus issues to help them get rid of sinus infections more efficiently than with their traditional medicine. 

But are essential oils for sinus really that effective? Let’s find out.

What Is a Sinus?

A sinus is a sac, cavity, or hollow space in the bone or other tissues lined by mucous secreting cells. It can also be an abnormal passage or cavity caused by damaged or destructed tissue.

However, the term sinus is often used to refer to the paranasal sinuses- the air cavities or the hollow spaces in the skull and facial bones, particularly those near the nose and those connected to the nose [1].

So what do sinuses do?

Though sinuses are located throughout the body and are thought to perform multiple functions, the exact role of sinuses is not clear. 

The paranasal sinuses [2]

  • Help lighten the weight of the head
  • Act as a ‘crumple zone’ – as a shock absorber and protect important structures in case of facial trauma.
  • Heat, humidify and purify inhaled air
  • Increases resonance to voice

What Is a Sinus Infection?

Sinus infection, also known as sinusitis or rhinosinusitis, is one of the most common primary care conditions and one of the top reasons antibiotics are prescribed. 

It is an infection or inflammation of one or more of the mucous membrane linings found in the sinuses that can cause sinuses to get blocked or filled with fluid [3,4].

Types of Sinus Infection

There are four types of sinus infections [3]

  1. Acute sinusitis occurs suddenly and lasts for less than 4 weeks
  2. Subacute sinusitis is something like an extended version of acute sinusitis and lasts less than 12 weeks.
  3. Recurrent acute sinusitis is 4 or more than 4 episodes of acute sinusitis and lasts at least 7 days each in any 1-year duration.
  4. Chronic sinusitis can last for 12 weeks or more.

Causes of Sinus Infection

A few common causes of sinus infection are [3,4,5]

  • Infection with a virus
  • Bacterial or fungal infection
  • Allergens
  • Irritants like dust, smoke, polluted air, animal dander, etc.
  • Nasal polyps (abnormal tissue growth)
  • Immunodeficiency as seen in Diabetes mellitus, chemotherapy, HIV, etc
  • Smoking
  • Dental infections
  • Swimming, high altitude climbing, diving, etc

In rare cases, rhinosinusitis can also be caused by 

  • Immune deficiency 
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Sinus surgery
  • Use of nasal tubes like nasogastric tubes
  • Aspirin insensitivity, asthma, rhinitis (stuffy nose)
  • Tumor or
  • Inflammatory diseases like Sarcoidosis etc

Common Symptoms of a Sinus Infection

Common symptoms of sinus infection are [3,5]

  • Facial pressure or pain (mainly in teeth, ears, around nose, eyes, and forehead)
  • Postnasal drip (excess mucus that drips down the throat)
  • Stuffy nose
  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Cough
  • Thick white to yellowish or greenish mucus discharge from the nose or  as postnasal drip
  • Reduction or loss of smell
  • Headache
  • Bad breath (Halitosis)
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Tiredness

Sinus Benefits of Essential Oils

Why use essential oils for sinus? The main reason for using essential oils for sinus problems is to reduce

  • Inflammation
  • Nasal congestion
  • Coug

Some of the best essential oils for sinus problems are

1. Eucalyptus oil

Eucalyptus oil, marked by notes of wood, resin, and a touch of honey, is a popular essential oil used to treat several conditions, including asthma and nasal congestion.

It contains a compound called eucalyptol made of cineole, which has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties and can help treat sinusitis and rhinitis. It also has antispasmodic properties, which can help relax the overworked chest muscles [6,7,8]. 

Eucalyptol can also be used as an integrative remedy for managing upper respiratory tract symptoms in patients with mild and uncomplicated infections caused by coronaviruses [9].

2. Peppermint oil

It is a known fact that peppermint oil has a cooling effect and can help you feel good if you have a blocked sinus. But can peppermint oil be one of the best essential oils for sinus allergies?

Peppermint oil has a fresh minty sweetish odor and has been widely used in cough drops, toothpaste, mouth fresheners, etc., since time immemorial.

The main active compound in peppermint oil is menthol which has potent anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant, and antispasmodic properties and thus might help manage sinus infections [10,11].

That being said, further human studies are required to prove the efficacy of peppermint oil in treating sinusitis.

3. Tea tree oil

The antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties of tea tree oil make it one of the best essential oils for sinus infection [12].

It can also help clear nasal blockage or congestion like stuffy or runny nose by reducing inflammation.

4. Lavender oil

Lavender doesn’t just have a pleasant fragrance! It is also an antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and analgesic (reduces pain), making it the best essential oil for sinus problems [13].

A double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled clinical study demonstrated the effects of supplementation of lavender extract in people with acute rhinosinusitis. Those treated with lavender extract had reduced symptoms of sinusitis [14].

It is also effective in treating chronic rhinosinusitis [15].

5. Oregano oil

Oregano oil is rich in carvacrol and thymol, which have antibacterial, antifungal, and antioxidant properties [16,17]. 

In theory, it might help in sinusitis due to its antimicrobial properties. 

6. Clary sage oil

Clary sage oil might also help in sinus infections by fighting bacteria due to its antimicrobial activity [18].

7. Rosemary oil

This aromatic oil has amazing analgesic, antispasmodic, expectorant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties, which might just make it the best essential oil for sinus [19,20,21].

Rosemary is also a rich source of antioxidants and can help manage metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions that increase the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases).

8. Lemon essential oil

Lemon essential oil extracted from lemon rind has antibacterial and decongestant properties [22]. 

It may help manage sinus infections and improve immunity since it also has antioxidant properties [23].

9. Clove oil

Clove oil, also known as Eugenol, has potent antibacterial and antifungal properties, which might just make it an excellent fit for one of the best essential oils for sinus issues [24,25].

It is also loaded with antioxidants as a bonus!

Frankincense oil, Chamomile oil, Thyme essential oil, Palmarosa, Cedarwood, Ravinstsara, etc., are also thought to help with sinus infections.

Top 20 Essential Oil Safety Precautions

Now that we know about the best essential oil for sinus issues let’s look at precautions to be taken while using essential oil for sinus.

  1. Talk to a qualified medical/ aromatherapy practitioner before you start using essential oils.
  2. Read labels: Pay heed to any warnings on your essential oil.  
  3. Strictly follow the precaution, dosage, method, length, and frequency of administration.
  4. Patch test: An allergic reaction can never be ruled out, especially if you have sensitive skin. It is best to do a patch test before you incorporate essential oils into your routine.
  5. Always dilute essential oils before use. As a general rule of thumb, dilute and keep the concentration of essential oils below 5% to prevent or minimize severe skin sensitivity.
  6. Avoid specific areas: Always keep away from eyes, inner ears, broken skin, mucous membranes like the nose, and other sensitive areas while applying the essential oil.
  7. Ventilation: Always ensure you diffuse essential oils sensibly with adequate ventilation.
    Since essential oils are concentrated, exposing yourself to such concentrated essential oils might cause headaches and other symptoms.
  8. Intermittent diffusion: Your body can become stressed if you diffuse essential oils continuously. It is best to diffuse intermittently- 30 minutes on and 30 minutes off.
  9. Less is more! A drop or two of essential oil will do the trick.
  10. Beware of photosensitizing oils: Certain oils can pose a risk for sun sensitivity and cause phototoxic symptoms like irritation, redness, blistering, etc., when exposed to sunlight or UV-A rays.
    Always read the label carefully and check for sun-sensitive warnings before you apply the essential oil topically. Wait a total 24 hours before visiting a tanning booth or getting exposed to direct sunlight if you’ve used a photosensitizing oil.
  11. Do not swap essential oils: You should never juggle essential oils if you aren’t familiar with them.
    This is true even for essential oils with similar names. For example, spike lavender and true lavender have identical names but different indications.
  12. Internal use of essential oils: Essential oils are concentrated and must not be taken internally without guidance by a qualified healthcare professional. This holds true even for.
  13. Interactions with medications: If you are on any medications, crosscheck for any interactions with essential oils.
  14. Safe storage: Store the essential oils in tightly sealed dark bottles. Ensure you store your essential oils away from heat and light and out of reach of children and pets.
  15. Essential oils are highly flammable, and thus you should never store essential oils near candles, open fireplaces, or gas stoves.
  16. Avoid using old/ expired, or improperly stored essential oils as they oxidize over time and can increase irritation/ sensitization.
  17. Do not use essential oils unless you’ve consulted a healthcare professional. This is especially important if you are pregnant or have health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, epilepsy, asthma, etc.
  18. Always keep your essential oil in its original packaging. Essential oils might dissolve some plastics.
    The most commonly used and safe packaging materials for essential oils are glass, steel, HDPE (High-density polyethylene), etc.
  19. Wash your hands thoroughly after using essential oils
  20. Stop using essential oils in case you experience severe allergic reactions like redness and irritation.

Ways to Use Essential Oils?

One of the best ways of using essential oil for sinus is by diluting the essential oil and inhaling the scent. Essential oils for sinus have natural compounds which can reduce congestion and buildup by reducing inflammation and help you breathe easier.

A few popular ways to inhale essential oils are

  1. Steam inhalation: It is one of the most popular and effective ways to use essential oils.
    You can add a few drops of essential oil to hot water in a heatproof bowl. Place a towel on your head, close your eyes and breathe through your nose for no more than 2 minutes at a time.
  2. Direct inhalation: You can also directly inhale essential oils from the bottle (provided the essential oil is not too strong).
    You can also add 1-2 drops of essential oil to a tissue, cotton ball, pillow, or inhaler tube and gently breathe it in.
  3. Diffusion: You can use a diffuser for aerosolizing the essential oil into the air. This is a gentle, less potent, but a continuous method of inhalation.
  4. Adding to a bath: You can add a few drops of diluted essential oil to your bath for a relaxing aromatherapy bath.
  5. Topical application: Diluted essential oils can also be applied to the skin for therapeutic fragrance and skin support.
    Combine 3-5 drops of essential oil with an ounce of carrier oil like coconut, avocado, jojoba, olive, apricot kernel, sweet almond, or sesame oil. Shake to mix and store it in a roller bottle. You can apply such diluted oil across the chest or under the nostrils.

You can also add your favorite essential oil to your massage lotion for a soothing aromatherapy massage.

Side Effect of Essential Oils

Essential oils are usually safe if used as directed by the manufacturer and healthcare professional or aromatherapy professional.

However, some essential oils might cause contact dermatitis with symptoms like rashes, itching, blisters, etc. Thus it is crucial to do a patch test if you are using a particular essential oil for the first time.

Applying undiluted essential oils might also cause contact dermatitis or even burns.

Inhaling too much essential oil or for too long can lead to

  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Burning of eyes and throat, if precautions are not taken while inhaling

In most cases, these symptoms generally resolve when the scent is no longer detectable.

While essential oils may be safe for inhalation, some people with asthma might get asthma attacks if they inhale essential oils.

Certain essential oils, especially citrus oils, can increase photosensitivity, thus increasing the risk of sunburn.

Accidentally ingesting essential oils can be toxic and potentially life-threatening.

Wrapping Up

Essential oils have many benefits and have been used to treat a wide range of physical and emotional ailments as early as at least 5000 years ago. Essential oils can also be used for treating or managing sinus infections. 

Though many essential oils have compounds with properties to potentially treat sinusitis and are likely to be safe, they are not approved by FDA to treat any conditions.

Essential oils are not solutions for sinus infections but can be used as a supplemental therapy for sinus issues.

It is also important that you do a patch test and consult a qualified medical or aromatherapy practitioner before you start using essential oils for sinus infections.


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