Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Inhaling steam ‘not effective’ for sinus congestion


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”

Paul Little

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.

University of Southampton

Inhaling steam ‘not effective’ for blocked sinus

Paul Little

“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.


Readers' comments (3)

  • michael stone

    'Reduced [incidence of] headaches' is valuable, which the piece does point out.

    'Chronic sinus congestion' is probably not a description of the severe hayfever of my younger days (I don't suffer as much these days - I'm assuming this indicates that old age has decreased the activity of my immune system). But I would have days (often several days in a row - and also nights) when my nose 'ran like a dripping tap' and/or became annoyingly congested. I am 100% certain that immediate TEMPORARY relief from those, and most of the other symptoms, of bad hayfever, would occur very rapidly, if I was in a steam-filled bathroom (but, sadly, you cannot live in a steam-filled enviroment, even though [for obvious reasons] it does cure hayfever !).

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Now aged 77 yrs I have frequently had nasal and sinus congestion. I also suffer from hayfever and and have done so for 60 odd years. Without steaming with menthol crystals, at times, I would have had to visit the GP many times, in fact I never have for that problem. Treatment for hayfever has vastly changed over those years and if used well keeps me with few symptoms.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I have to say it has always helped me and I would continue to recommend it. We all know it doesn't cure the problem but eases the symptoms and as for the placebo effect we used to have a horse with a similar condition and used an old fashioned horsemans way of delivering this treatment with effective results every time so no placebo effect with him.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.