Can Humidity Cause Sinus Infections?

Man laying down in pain from a sinus infection pinching his painful sinuses

There’s that old cliche: it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. And it’s true. Humidity is oppressive and inescapable; breathing is hard when the weather is muggy and nothing’s quite as fun. And, it turns out, this very same (miserable) humidity can sometimes lead to an increased risk of developing sinus infections.

How do you know you have a sinus infection?

In many ways, a sinus infection (medically known as sinusitis) is a very general sort of illness. They occur when fluid builds up in the air pockets behind your face (called sinuses, as you may have guessed). This fluid can then become infected–usually by viruses, but sometimes by bacteria as well. With that infection comes more symptoms (and more fluid)–and usually a fair bit of discomfort.

The symptoms of sinus infections include the following:

  • Nasal congestion that doesn’t go away. Most often, sinus infection-caused congestion will last for ten days or longer.
  • Headaches (especially those that feel like they’re caused by “pressure”).
  • Tooth pain (pressure from your sinuses can make your teeth hurt).
  • Sinus drainage that just doesn’t seem to stop.
  • A persistent fever or high temperature.

Not every sinus infection will present with every one of these symptoms. The general rule of thumb is that if any cold-like symptoms persist or seem especially severe, you should follow up with your primary care doctor to see if you have a sinus infection.

Can humidity really cause sinus infections?

A wide variety of underlying conditions can cause a sinus infection. Sometimes a common cold can cause excess fluid to become entrenched–fluid that then becomes infected and leads to a protracted illness.

But humidity? It seems like a stretch, right?

It’s not! Extreme humidity really can cause sinus infections. That’s because when the air becomes sticky, your respiratory system’s defense mechanisms don’t function quite as well as normal.

That’s especially true for something called cilia. These tiny hairs are found throughout your nose and mainly move protective mucus around where it’s needed. Cilia also help filter out harmful pathogens, dirt, dust, and other irritants. But when the air becomes incredibly humid, your cilia cease working at their best (I mean, let’s face–don’t we all). And that can lead to more sinus infections.

And it’s not just because more germs get through your defenses. Even something as simple as extra dust or more prolonged exposure to allergens can cause the kind of fluid buildup that leads to sinus infections.

How much humidity is too much?

It’s worth pointing out that your defensive mucus and cilia need a certain amount of humidity to function properly. Typically, you won’t need to worry about this too much. But when you see dew points rising into the 70s, it’s a good idea to take a little care.

Can you protect yourself from humidity-caused sinus infections?

You can minimize your risk of getting a humidity-driven sinus infection–but you can’t eliminate it. Still, there are some steps you can take to keep your sinuses healthier and less prone to infection. Some of the most common include the following:

    • Avoid allergens and irritants: If there are things you know irritate your nose–stay away from them when it’s humid. If you’re allergic to tree pollen, for example, avoid a walk through the woods when the dew points are very high. Likewise, if you know that smoke makes your nostrils burn, avoid that afternoon barbecue at the neighbors (at least until the grill is off).
    • Use nasal sprays to keep your cilia healthy and working: If your cilia get too dry, for example, they won’t be able to protect you any better than if things get too humid. Nasal sprays can provide–and maintain–just the right amount of moisture.

If you notice that you’re getting a lot of sinus infections–including when it’s humid–then it might be a good idea to talk to a specialist. Sometimes the shape of your sinuses can make you more susceptible to infection. In other cases, we may be able to recommend specific medications that can help prevent a recurrence of your symptoms and keep your sinuses healthy.

Get back to enjoying summer

Summer is one of those special times of the year–there’s a lot to do and enjoy. And the last thing you want is to be inside nursing a sinus infection when you could be out on a hike, swimming at the beach, or watching a baseball game.

But humidity can be a factor in developing sinus infections. If you’re especially worried about sinus infections, schedule an appointment with a qualified specialist to talk about preventative steps you can take when the air gets a little extra sticky!

Want more information?

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