The sinuses are hollow bones, as narrow as a pencil lead, in the bony structure of the head. They are lined with mucous membranes, like the rest of the respiratory system. Sinusitis is sometimes referred to as ‘asthma of the nose’. Indeed, many asthmatics also suffer sinusitis and the mechanisms of the conditions are similar. In response to a trigger such as an allergy or a head cold, nasal and sinus mucous membranes can become swollen and secrete mucus. This is what causes the pain of sinusitis; since the sinus cavities are tiny, any build-up is bound to increase pressure.
The main symptom of sinus is a headache (usually painful, often throbbing) behind or above the eyes. Sinus headaches are worse when you bend forward. Other symptoms include eyestrain and eye pain; a congested nose; tenderness, swelling and puffiness especially under the eyes; bad breath and a post-nasal drip (mucus dripping down the back of the throat).
What causes sinusitis?
- Allergy is the most common cause.
- A mechanical problem in the nose, such as a deviated septum, is possible. If so, surgery may be necessary. An ear, nose and throat specialist will be your guide in this case.
- Some people are born with extra-narrow sinuses that clog easily when an allergy or cold occurs.
- Changeable outdoor temperatures, indoor air pollution and dryness caused by dehumidifying air-conditioning systems can be a trigger for sinus problems
- Exposure to pollution, second-hand smoke, or chemical sensitivities. Considering we breathe an average of 23,000 times a day, and if the air we’re breathing is laden with such allergens, the act of breathing itself creates chronic irritation to the mucous membranes and makes us more susceptible to sinusitis, colds and viruses.
- Moulds and mould toxins are a common culprit
- When infections are recurrent, it is likely that your body never completely expels all the bacteria during recovery, leaving a small residue in the upper respiratory tract, possibly made worse by biofilms, which are commonly found in the sinuses.
- Teeth infections may also be the source to a sinus problem or chronic sinusitis. Never forget about your dental health!
- Food intolerances such as dairy, wheat and salicylic acid
- Histamine intolerance
- A lesser known cause can be reflux, where stomach acid irritates the oesophagus, triggering a cascade of inflammation up into the sinuses.
- An ENT specialist should also check for structural abnormalities in children, which can impair drainage of the eustachian tubes, causing ear infections and sinus problems including sinusitis.
How can I find out what is causing my sinusitis?
What to Do
- Drink at least three litres of clear fluids daily. Liquid, particularly if warm and clear, stops mucus from becoming too thick, which is when it tends to become infected.
- Include garlic, onions, horseradish, chilli, ginger, fenugreek, wasabi and nasturtiums in your diet. These also help to reduce inflammation.
- Try bone broths to heal the bowel and boost immunity.
- Eat foods rich in quercetin (onion, dark cherries, dark berries, sage, apples, raw cacao, dill, capers, buckwheat) to help dissolve mucus, which allows the sinuses and eustachian tubes to drain better.
- Take coconut oil daily for its antibacterial and antifungal properties, and cod liver oil, which provides vitamins A and D to heal mucous membranes.
- Eat foods high in zinc (peas, pumpkin seeds, seafood, sesame seeds, kidney beans, turkey, beef, cashews, mushrooms) to support immune defence and tissue healing.
- Avoid milk products and sugar to decrease mucus production.
- Avoid any known food allergy, paying particular attention to milk, wheat, peanuts, corn, oranges, tomatoes and tartrazine.
- Avoid alcohol as it swells mucous membranes (alcohol can increase histamine).
Natural remedies for Sinus problems and Sinusitis
The following natural remedies will help ease the pain and discomfort and make you feel better:
- Effective herbs for sinusitis include eyebright, echinacea, elderberry, golden seal, myrrh, goldenrod, ribwort and fenugreek. Try MediHerb’s Eyebright Complex tablets and Echinacea Premium tablets.
- Take 1 g of vitamin C every 2-3 hours. Vitamin C will stem an infection and is an effective natural antihistamine, alongside bioflavonoids such as quercetin.
- Mucous membranes in the sinuses are closely connected to those in the digestive tract: if mucous membranes are inadequate or unstable in one of these areas, it will be true for the other. The largest part of the immune system is found in the gut and bowel, where the right balance of ‘good’ bacteria is needed for a healthy immune system amongst other important roles in health. N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and Adalase by BioMedica (available from the Ilkley Healing Centre) are excellent for mucosal health.
- If you are sinus-prone, take horseradish and garlic tablets throughout the year. Garlic is a known ‘mucolytic’ herb.
- For immediate relief, wring out a hot wet cloth, and place it over your nose and forehead.
- If you are having problems breathing at night, place a vaporiser in your bedroom.
- Using a neti pot each morning filled with salt water is also very helpful, because it keeps the mucous membranes moist, washes out inhaled particles and pollen, and has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. D-I-Y: Antibacterial rinse: combine 5ml of goldenseal tincture with 75ml of warm water in a neti pot, and use as a nasal rinse to remove thickened, infected mucus that has lodged in the sinus cavities. This also makes an excellent mouthwash to counter bacteria that causes the bad breath often associated with sinusitis.
- Inhale eucalyptus oil from a tissue held over your nose or through a steam inhaler.
- MindBody: there is a need to release pent up negative emotions.
Did you know?
Mucous membranes thrive and maintain a strong defence against outer attacks when the air you’re breathing is clean, moist, warm, oxygen-rich, and filled with negative ions – these are created in nature by the effects of water, air, and sunlight, such as beside the ocean or a waterfall. (Fun fact: Niagara Falls on the border of New York and Canada is the largest waterfall in the world, with an average of about 7,000 cubic metres of water per second, and is packed with these feel-good ions.) So, if your sinuses are suffering, take yourself off to the beach or anywhere near rushing water for some relief.