Sinus Problems During Menopause: What You Should Know

Last updated 12.06.2023 | by Dr. Karen Pike | 10 Minutes Read

This article has been reviewed and fact checked by Dr. Karen Pike, a senior physician administrator and board-certified emergency room doctor actively working in northern California. Read more at our medical disclaimer page.


Millions of people around the world suffer with sinus problems, but during menopause, hormonal changes mean that these symptoms can become even more pronounced.

Sinus issues can cause significant discomfort and interfere with your daily life. So, identifying the problem and understanding how menopause can affect your symptoms is essential in order to find relief.

When I first began researching menopause, I was unaware that hormonal shifts and sinus issues were linked. After all, when most of us think about menopause, we imagine symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings. But I soon discovered that there are a whole host of other lesser known symptoms that can arise during this transformative stage in a woman’s life, including sinus problems.

Do you regularly feel blocked up, congested, and suffer from sinus headaches? Menopause could be causing these symptoms, or making them worse.

So, in this post, I’ll explain the connection between menopause and sinus health. Then, I’ll discuss the best ways to treat the problem and find long-lasting relief.

The Connection Between Menopause and Sinus Problems

Estrogen is the reproductive hormone that regulates our menstrual cycles, but it also plays a huge role in many other bodily processes, including our sinus health.

During menopause, our estrogen levels fall dramatically, and this profound shift can cause sinus problems.

Sinuses are small spaces within the facial bone structure. They sit at the center of your forehead, above the eyes, at the top of your cheekbones, and extend down across either side of the nose

Here’s how a reduction in estrogen during menopause can lead to sinus problems:

Dryness

When estrogen levels drop, the nasal passages are more likely to dry out. The body compensates for this dryness by overproducing mucus, which leads to congestion.

Inflammation

Declining estrogen can also cause an increase in inflammation around the body. When this inflammation is concentrated in the sinuses and nasal passages, it can lead to symptoms such as congestion and sinus headaches.

Allergies

One of the less common side effects of menopause is a heightened sensitivity to allergens. Many women develop environmental allergies during this phase of their lives. So, even if you’ve never been sensitive to things like dust mites, pollen, pets, or mold before, you may find yourself experiencing allergy symptoms for the first time during menopause.

Stress

Stress is a well-known side effect of menopause, and during the menopausal transition, the body tends to produce more of the stress hormone cortisol[1].

Higher levels of cortisol in the body are associated with decreased immune function and an increase in inflammation. This means your body is less able to fight off invaders and repeat sinus infections become more likely.

Certain Medications

Many menopausal women take over-the-counter and prescription medications to manage symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings.

However, some of these medications cause side effects such as headaches and migraines. While the sinuses are not usually directly affected, the sensation can mimic that of a sinus headache.

A Weakened Immune System

Hormonal fluctuations that occur during menopause can also temporarily weaken the immune system. When our immune system isn’t working as it should, we become more susceptible to viruses such as the common cold. This increases the chances of a sinus infection.

However, it’s important to remember that there are many other reasons why our immunity levels might be compromised, including poor diet, low levels of vitamins and minerals, and insufficient sleep.

Other Causes of Sinus Problems During Menopause

So we know that hormones can cause sinus issues in some menopausal women. However, of all the women I’ve talked to during my research, only a relatively small percentage have menopause related sinus issues. So, it’s important to rule out these other potential causes, too.

The Natural Aging Process

As we get older, the structure of our sinus passages can change. These changes can affect the way our sinuses function, causing draining issues that lead to further congestion.

A Deviated Septum

If you have a deviated or crooked septum, this can cause the sinus drainage channels to become blocked[2]. Even a minor deviation can lead to frequent sinus infections.

Nasal Polyps

Nasal polyps are benign, painless growths that develop in the tissues that line the nasal passages. Though they are generally harmless, they can cause symptoms such as consistent congestion, a chronic runny nose, and blocked nasal passages.

Chronic Conditions

Several chronic conditions can cause sinus issues, including asthma, cystic fibrosis, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and lupus, just to name a few. If you suspect your sinus issues could be due to an underlying condition, visit your doctor.

What Are the Symptoms of Sinus Issues During Menopause?

Sinus issues cause sinusitis, the medical term for swelling of the sinuses. Sinusitis is often due to an infection, but it can also be associated with environmental allergies.

Here are the most common symptoms of sinusitis:

  • Pain and tenderness around the eyes, forehead, and cheeks
  • Blocked nose
  • Dry nasal passages
  • Sneezing
  • Impaired sense of smell
  • Sinus headaches and migraines
  • Excess mucus from the nose
  • An increased temperature

How to Find Relief from Sinus Problems During Menopause

How to Find Relief from Sinus Problems During Menopause

If you’re struggling with this lesser-known side effect of menopause, there are several things you can do to find relief.

Try a Nasal Spray

There are various brands of medicated nasal sprays available on the market. Most are designed to open up the nasal passages, relieve congestion, and enable you to breathe more freely and comfortably.

Harness the Power of Essential Oils

Certain essential oils, particularly peppermint, menthol, and eucalyptus, can help to open up the nasal passages when they’re inhaled. These all-natural remedies can have similar effects to medicated nasal sprays.

Try Steaming

Inhaling steam through the nasal passages can break up congestion and help you breathe more easily.

You can buy specially designed facial steaming machines for this purpose. However, you can also achieve the same results by using the old-fashioned method of filling a bowl with hot water, placing a towel over your head, and inhaling the water vapor. For best results, I like to add a few drops of the essential oils mentioned above.

Boost Your Immunity

Menopause can cause your immune system to become weaker, so it’s important to keep your immune function as high as possible.

I recommend my patients try echinacea a well-known herbal supplement that has been shown to boost immunity and help prevent the common cold which can lead to sinus infections.

Lifestyle factors also play a big role in the health of our immune system. So, be sure to eat a balanced diet and avoid sugar and ultra-processed foods. Spend time outside in the sun to boost your vitamin D levels, and consider supplementing with zinc and vitamin C.

Consider Food Intolerances

Certain foods are known to trigger inflammation and excess mucus. Two common culprits are dairy products and wheat. Many women can consume these foods without an issue, but for some, it can cause an overproduction of mucus, leaving you with a chronic runny nose and other sinus-related issues. So, consider cutting out these foods for a while to see if it makes a difference.

Try a Sinus Wash

Also known as nasal irrigation, sinus washing utilizes simple salt water to clear out your nasal passages and help you breathe easier.

To perform a sinus wash, you’ll need a tool such as a neti pot or a bulb syringe. When done correctly, it can help to remove excess mucus, and also clear away any irritants and allergens, helping to reduce any further mucus production.

Stay Hydrated

A dip in estrogen can cause your sinuses to dry out, which leads to discomfort and inflammation. So, it’s important to ensure you’re properly hydrated throughout the day.

Along with drinking plenty of water, avoid consuming too much caffeine and alcohol. These substances can further dehydrate you and can make sinus issues worse.

Avoid Allergens

If you suspect that your sinus issues are allergy-related, it’s important to identify the allergen responsible for your symptoms so that you can remove it from your environment.

Common allergens include pet dander, mold, and dust mites. So, deep cleaning your home regularly can make a huge difference.

Try an Air Purifier

Air purifiers absorb and decompose all kinds of pollutants and allergens. So, if menopause-related allergies are to blame for your sinus issues, using an air purifier in your bedroom, office, or living space can drastically reduce your symptoms.

Visit Your Doctor

If you’ve tried to relieve sinus symptoms at home but still haven’t found relief, it’s time to visit your doctor.

They can help you determine the cause of your sinus issues, and rule out any underlying conditions. Then, they can help you find a treatment plan that works for you.

For more severe and chronic sinus issues, your doctor may recommend a treatment known as a balloon sinuplasty[3]. Also known as the OPEN procedure, this minimally invasive procedure works by inserting a small balloon up the nose using an endoscope and catheter. The balloon is then inflated to enlarge the sinus passages and help you breathe more easily.

FAQs

Are there any long-term implications of sinus problems during menopause?

Most sinus issues are uncomfortable and annoying; however, they’re unlikely to impact your long-term health. But in some cases, chronic sinus infections can have serious consequences.
Chronic sinusitis can make it hard to breathe, which starves your organs of vital oxygen and nutrients. Left untreated, a sinus infection can also spread to the eyes, skin, bones, and brain.

Will my sinus issues improve once I pass menopause?

The answer depends on the underlying cause of your sinus issues.
If hormonal fluctuations are to blame, then you will likely find relief once you enter the post-menopausal phase. However, certain risk factors for chronic sinus issues may remain, for example, allergies, reduced immune function, and underlying medical conditions.

Can hormone replacement therapy (HRT) help to relieve menopause-related sinus issues?

If your sinus problems are directly caused by hormonal changes during menopause, you may find relief using HRT. However, HRT comes with the risk of serious side effects, and the decision to use these medications shouldn’t be taken lightly. 
Be sure to discuss the risks vs. benefits of HRT with your doctor before deciding whether this treatment plan is right for you.

Conclusion

Most women I’ve spoken to don’t realize that sinus problems are a potential symptom of menopause. Instead, they assume that their chronic congestion, runny nose, and sinus headaches are caused by factors such as allergies, the common cold, or other conditions.

However, throughout my research, I’ve discovered that sinus issues and menopause are directly linked, and even women who have never suffered from sinus problems before may begin to notice symptoms once they reach their menopausal years.

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to ease bothersome sinus symptoms, and in some cases, you can even eliminate them entirely.

Remember, if you’re suffering from sinus issues and home remedies aren’t helping, talk to your doctor. They can assess your symptoms, rule out any underlying causes, and prescribe or advise on a treatment plan that can help you find relief.

Author

  • Dr. Karen Pike

    Dr. Pike is a senior physician administrator and board-certified emergency room doctor actively working in northern California. She received her undergraduate degree at Dartmouth College, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and played collegiate soccer. She attended Georgetown University for medical school and performed her residency in emergency medicine at Stanford University. She was part of the first-ever, women-majority emergency medicine program in United States. Dr. Pike is also the primary medical consultant for “Grey’s Anatomy,” a role she has held since the pilot episode when she partnered with Shonda Rhimes as the show’s original medical consultant. At her hospital, she was the second woman Chief of Staff. Today serves as the Director of the Emergency Department. Whether in leadership or direct patient care, her dedication to excellence in communication, quality, and collaboration is unwavering.