Cold season means runny noses, nagging pressure around the eyes and recurring infections drive chronic sinusitis sufferers to the pharmacy in droves. Little do they know they're likely exacerbating their problems with pharmaceutical approaches, said Dr. Robert Ivker, author of SinusSurvival. In reality, much of what they need can be found on the stores at their local health food store.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 14 percent of adults suffer from sinusitis (recurring or months-long sinus infections or irritation) making it one of the nation's most common chronic health conditions. The lining of these air-filled cavities behind our cheeks and brows gets inflamed, from a lingering cold, allergies or environmental irritants; the passages narrow; and mucus (naturally meant to be a beneficial cleanser) backs up like a clogged drain. In some cases, microbes settle in causing infection. In others, inflammation alone causes pressure. For chronic sufferers, winter is the worst.
"The capillaries in your nasal passage decide it is so dry they need to get engorged and keep the area moist," said Shawna Kiker, a naturopathic doctor with Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy.
Western medicine may exacerbate sinusitis
For years, conventional medicine's answer has been a mixture of antibiotics, nasal sprays and decongestants. But mounting research indicates they may not help and possibly hurt.
One study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2007 found that neither antibiotics nor nasal sprays worked better than placebo in resolving sinus problems. On the flip side, said Ivker, overuse of antibiotics can decimate good bacteria and allow for fungal overgrowth in the sinus cavities, making them swell. Meanwhile, using over-the counter nasal sprays for more than three days can lead to a “rebound” effect, in which the nasal passages respond by producing more mucous. And decongestants can be sedating.
Natural remedies for sinusitis
Kiker and Ivker recommend these natural approaches:
To keep the nasal and sinus cavities clear of airborne irritants and microbes, clean your nose out at least twice daily with a saline rinse. To make it easy, buy a Neti Pot, with salt included.
Instead of opting for prescription antibiotics, take the natural anti-microbial allicin (a compound found in garlic) at the first sign of a cold.
Kinder, gentler nasal sprays
Try a nasal spray including the anti-microbials Xylitol and grapeseed extract such as the brand Xlear. They are said to keep the nasal passages more moist than traditional sprays and prevent microbes from adhering to the nasal passage. Other sprays include healing aloe, calendula and yarrow leaf.
Humidifiers and air purifiers
Consider a humidifier to keep the nasal passages moist at night and an air purifier to keep them clean.
Try natural options for congestion
Some studies suggest that bromelain, an enzyme-derived from pineapples, can reduce sinus swelling; and quercetin, a flavonoid found in colorful fruits and vegetables, acts as a natural antihistamine. The antioxidant amino acid N-acetylcysteine thins mucus.
Refresh your nostrils
Carry some diluted peppermint or eucalyptus oil with you and dab some around your nostrils periodically. It can boost blood flow to the mucus membrane.
Get tested for yeast
Have a stool culture to determine if you have an overgrowth of yeast. If it's in your gut, chances are, it's in your sinuses, too. Anti-fungal herbs may help.