In our region of Pennsylvania, winter can either be a magical season of snow, gift-giving, and general good cheer, and it can also lead to an attack on the sinuses in the form of headaches, nosebleeds, and sore, dry noses.
The sinuses are hollow spaces within the bones of your skull, located around the cheekbones, forehead, between the eyes, and behind your nose. Healthy, happy sinuses are lined with a moist mucus membrane. Unhappy, dry sinuses are dehydrated, which makes them irritated and inflamed, leading to symptoms such as:
- Sinus headaches
- Sinus pain or pressure
- Frequent nosebleeds
- Dry nose and mouth
- Sore throat
- Recurrent sinus infections
How Winter Can Create Sinus Problems
Our winter air is often quite dry and cold which results in many people making good use of their fireplaces or heating units at home. While they may ward off frostbite, heaters tend to dehydrate the air even further. The lack of moisture in the air has consequences for the mucus membranes of the sinuses, causing dryness and congestion, which can even lead to sinus infections. In addition to this, a crackling fireplace tends to release smoke and particles into the air, which can further irritate the sinuses and nasal passages.
Changes to air pressure with the drop in temperature can also alter the pressure within these air-filled cavities of your skull, leading to that ache or sensation of increased pressure in the sinuses.
When it gets cold outside, we like to stay inside. This results in a few factors that may be contributing to your dry sinuses, one being that we end up spending more time in an enclosed space with our beloved furry friends, who can’t help but shed fur and dander, common triggers of irritated sinuses. Spending more time indoors also increases exposure to the dust and irritants that accumulate on those fluffy rugs and thick woollen blankets that make their appearance as the temperature drops.
Keeping the windows tightly shut against the cold during winter months may also be working against your sinuses as it reduces the amount of ventilation and fresh airflow through the house. Using harsh chemical cleaning products in these circumstances can further exacerbate dry sinus irritation as the chemicals can linger longer in the air.
Colds and flu definitely play a part in the state of your sinuses during winter. Not only does the cold or flu virus itself contribute to inflammation and congestion of the sinuses, the medications you take to treat cold symptoms may end up exacerbating your dry sinuses. Your nose may not be running any more thanks to those decongestants, but now your sinuses feel like the Gobi Desert.
What Can You Do to Relieve Dry Sinuses?
Humidifiers are a great way to find dry sinus relief. They add back moisture into the air you breathe through your nose, particularly overnight. Another way of achieving some extra humidity in your environment, at least temporarily, is to take a hot shower. The steam from a hot shower can reinvigorate those dehydrated mucus membranes. Experts recommend an indoor humidity level of 40-60%; however, this ideal humidity lessens with decreasing outdoor temperature.
Before you curl up under a thick winter blanket or lay out your fluffiest rugs, give them a good cycle through the washing machine or a thorough vacuum to remove any dust, allergens, or other irritating particles that may have accumulated during their time in storage. Also be more mindful of how often and thoroughly you may need to clean the house during winter months to keep your sinuses happy, especially if you have pets that tend to disperse dander into the air. If you can tolerate a little chilly wind, crack open a window every now and then to allow some fresh airflow through the house.
If you find your cold and flu medications are causing your sinuses to become dry and irritated, consider asking your ENT doctor for an alternative that may be a little gentler on your mucus membranes. There are also some nasal sprays for dry noses available that are able to restore some moisture to the nasal passages and sinuses.
And if you happen to be unlucky enough to fall victim to sinusitis or a full-blown sinus infection, see your ENT doctor promptly for appropriate prescription antibiotics to get you back into the holiday spirit sooner rather than later.