Steam inhalation is not effective as a technique for relieving the symptoms of chronic sinus congestion, according to UK researchers.
However, they found that advice to use nasal irrigation, which is when the nasal cavity is washed to flush out mucus, did help relieve symptoms but had less impact than previous studies have shown.
“The threat of global antibiotics resistance is very real”
The latest research was carried out by the University of Southampton and published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
The researchers noted that steam inhalation and nasal irrigation were widely suggested as ways of alleviating the symptoms of chronic rhinosinusitis or sinus infections – and as alternatives to antibiotics.
They conducted a trial involving 871 patients from 72 practices who were randomised to receive either steam inhalation alone, saline nasal irrigation supported by an advice video, both interventions or usual care.
Patients who were instructed to use nasal irrigation showed improvement at three and six months, as measured by the Rhinosinusitis Disabilty Index.
However, steam inhalation did not appear to alleviate sinusitis symptoms apart from reducing headaches.
Lead author Paul Little, professor of primary care research at Southampton, said: “The threat of global antibiotics resistance is very real and we need to find alternative ways of educating and treating people who do not need to have antibiotics.
Inhaling steam ‘not effective’ for blocked sinus
“We have found that even a very brief intervention of a video showing patients how to use saline nasal irrigation can improve symptoms, help people feel they do not need to see the doctor to manage the problem and reduce the amount of over the counter medication the get.”
He added: “We found potentially important changes in other outcomes – particularly reduced headaches, reduced use of over the counter medication and reduced medicalisation, for example the belief in the need to see the doctor in future episodes.
“The evidence of reduced medicalisation is important in the longer term, given most consultations result in an antibiotic prescription and the attendant dangers of antibiotic resistance,” he said.
Earlier this year, UK researchers also said practice nurses and GPs should no longer recommend steam inhalation as a remedy for children with colds, because of the risk of burns.