Since his teens, 38-year-old high school teacher Mike Musialowski has carried a handkerchief. "I blow my nose probably five times a day and even more frequently on bad pollen days," the Colorado resident says. Over the years, allergy shots and antihistamines have become progressively ineffective for him, and during pollen season, his sinusitis symptoms get so bad that he can hardly function. But according to Roger W. Wicke, PhD, founder of the Rocky Mountain Herbal Institute in Hot Springs, Montana, the natural diet, environment, and treatment tips here can help Musialowski, and others, breathe freely.

Q. Mike Musialowski: What changes could I make in my diet that might help with my sinus issues?

A. Roger W. Wicke, PhD: Food allergies can significantly aggravate pollen allergies. In the majority of sinusitis and allergy cases I've seen, food sensitivities are the number-one issue. So, start by eliminating common food allergens such as dairy products, soyfoods, corn, wheat, eggs, peanuts, and shellfish. Also nix junk foods, genetically engineered foods, microwaveable meals, and lower-quality oils such as hydrogenated oils, as well as nonorganic canola, safflower, and cottonseed oils. By eliminating particular foods, you may notice that a good percentage of your symptoms will resolve within a few weeks.

Q. Could environmental factors other than airborne allergens affect my sinus problems?

A. Yes. Many petrochemicals found in carpet, furniture, cleaning compounds, waxes and polishes, disinfectants, and insecticides can cause immune suppression. Likewise, exposure to heavy metals, such as mercury, lead, arsenic, and cadmium, may impair your immunity and increase susceptibility to a wide range of inflammatory conditions, such as sinusitis. As a general rule, examine your body's response when you eliminate potential toxins.

Q. Are there gentle techniques you'd recommend for cleansing or irrigating my sinuses?

A. Nasal cleansing can be helpful for dislodging thick mucus that would otherwise require prodigious nose blowing to eject. Make a salt-water solution by mixing 1/4 teaspoon sea salt in 1 cup of warm water. Because it matches the body's own salinity, this solution is gentler than straight water. Put the cup to your nose, hold one nostril shut, and then tip the cup toward the open nostril, gently snorting the water up the nose; or use a neti pot. Allow the fluid to drain through the other nostril or down the back of the throat, then spit. Switch to the other nostril and repeat. ¦ Anne Burnett writes about health and teaches science in Denver.

Q. Should I also take some herbs to help with my sinus problems?

A. Unless the chronic sinusitis is acutely aggravated and needs immediate attention, I would avoid herbal formulas until dietary and environmental problems have been assessed. If you're still experiencing symptoms after several weeks, consult a trained herbalist who can match a formula for your particular needs. Some possible Chinese formulas include magnolia flower powder (xin yi san) for profuse nasal discharge with loss of smell, headache, and tendency to become chilled easily; or jade windscreen powder (yu ping feng san) for allergic rhinitis with spontaneous sweating, recurrent upper respiratory infections, and susceptibility to infection especially when fatigued and sleep-deprived.


Anne Burnett writes about health and teaches science in Denver.