Chronic sinusitis is a common health condition that affects more than 37 million people in the United States annually, particularly this time of year and into the summer season. What’s more, these numbers have skyrocketed in recent years. Equally concerning, most cases of sinus trouble may be misdiagnosed as bacterial infections, leading to an overuse (and misuse) of antibiotics. More recent data suggests, however, that sinus infections and chronic sinus problems often come from mold, other fungi, dust mites or environmental pollutants.
Long-term sinus problems can be more serious beyond the pain and discomfort they produce. They can signal imbalances in other systems, specifically immunity and digestion. A recent study from St. Louis University showed that some sinus problems may stem from an inflammatory immune reaction to harmless microorganisms in the sinus membranes — in other words, a specific type of allergy. This study also supports the finding that most sinusitis cases are due to inflammation in the membranes and not specifically harmful bacteria. Chronic sinusitis can be addressed using natural remedies, since antibiotics may not actually treat the underlying cause (even if there is a bacterial culprit) and usually provide only temporary relief, along with potential side effects.
Testing For Underlying Sinus Problems
It’s actually very easy to know if you are suffering from an ongoing hidden sinus infection (caused by bacterial, fungal or other sources) by performing a simple test that anyone can do: Push your three middle fingers into your maxillary sinuses (just under the bone under your eyes) or frontal sinuses (in your forehead) and see if you feel pressure or pain. If you do, keep applying the same pressure and wait. If the pressure or pain increases over time, you may have chronic sinusitis, in which case you should follow up with a holistic health professional for further diagnosis and treatment.
Causes And Treatments
Acute sinusitis can become chronic, leading to an abnormal production of sinus fluid, ongoing sinus pain and respiratory issues. The transition into chronic sinusitis occurs in a smaller percentage of cases and can result from physiological and environmental factors, immune system imbalances, allergies and infectious agents.
The inflammation and congestion present in an acute sinus infection, coupled with the warm, moist environment of the nasal passages, is a perfect environment for pathogens to thrive. Often, the progression to chronic sinusitis involves the presence of these bugs, which are usually embedded in their own protective biofilm coating, making treatment even more difficult.
The holistic treatment of chronic sinusitis addresses multiple areas of health: the digestive system, allergies and inflammation, immunity, circulation and sinus drainage. Treatments can include manual therapies like massage and cranio-sacral therapy, detoxification, acupuncture, dietary changes, herbs, supplements and homeopathic remedies. These approaches can offer long-term support not just for sinuses, but for overall health as well.
Allergies And Digestion
Allergy symptoms and digestive function are closely interconnected. In traditional Chinese medicine, issues with the stomach and large intestine are known to affect the sinuses. In Western functional medicine, we can identify inflammation in the digestive tract as a source of food allergies, which trigger symptoms like sinus and respiratory problems.
In fact, it’s believed that one of the most common sources of allergies in general is inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, which allows large food molecules to enter the circulation (leaky gut syndrome). When the immune system encounters these foreign molecules, it launches an attack against them.
The result is an allergic reaction that initiates an inflammatory process that can also affect the sinuses. Two of the well-known dietary allergens implicated in sinus congestion and allergies are dairy products and gluten (found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt and kamut). Avoiding these two foods often ameliorates sinus problems and provides relief from allergies.
Circulation And Drainage
To support optimal sinus, respiratory, immune and overall health, we have to increase the circulation and help the body clear excess mucus and toxins.
Some helpful treatments:
- Infrared sauna: An infrared sauna gives off infrared heat that can be absorbed by the body, promoting circulation in the sinuses.
- Neti pot: Irrigating the sinuses with a traditional Ayurvedic neti pot is a simple and inexpensive way to promote drainage. A 5 percent salt solution may be used, or a tiny drop of tea tree oil may be added to the water. Another option is to add herbal extracts of Hydrastis canadensis, Berberis vulgaris or Berberis aquifolium.These herbs contain berberine, a plant alkaloid with antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties. For instructions on use of a neti pot, click here. Note that sterilized or distilled water should always be used when irrigating the sinuses.
- Cranial sacral therapy: Cranial-sacral therapy by a trained practitioner can help improve sinus conditions by creating more space between the cranial bones, promoting normal drainage and relieving sinus pressure.
Poor air quality plays a role in promoting chronic sinusitis. Research has shown that reducing fungal air concentrations using a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration system helps restore sinus mucosa. You can also lower your exposure to other allergens, such as dust mites and animal dander, by removing carpeting and feather bedding.
Supplements And Herbs
A variety of herbs and supplements can be useful in reducing allergic reactions, decreasing inflammation, and helping to thin and expel mucous in chronic sinusitis.
- Vitamin C has been shown to have an antihistamine effect.
- Zinc is a nutrient necessary for the operation of the immune system; a deficiency can impair immune system functioning.
- Quercetin and hesperidin are plant flavonoids that inhibit inflammation-producing enzymes and inhibit the release of histamine from immune cells.
- Bromelain, a pineapple enzyme, has anti-inflammatory properties and helps thin and expel mucous. Clinical trials have shown that bromelain helps reduce inflammation of the nasal mucosa in acute sinusitis patients.
- Tibetan Herbal Formula is a well-researched botanical combination with neem, Icelandic moss and other herbs. It has been the subject of dozens of clinical studies over recent decades, and it is shown to reduce inflammation and support a balanced immune response.
Chronic sinusitis is an uncomfortable and potentially debilitating disorder not often treated successfully by conventional medicine. Fortunately, chronic sinusitis can be addressed with an integrative, holistic approach to digestion, inflammation control and immune support, promoting and sustaining multiple areas of health and vitality.