Treat Sinusitis Naturally

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Breathe easy and relieve sinus pressure with these remedies

FORTY MILLION AMERICANS suffer from sinusitis, making it the country's number one chronic illness. Some people have such severe symptoms that they resort to surgery to clear their blocked sinuses.

Your sinuses, hollow spaces in your facial bones, drain more than a quart of thin mucus produced by your mucous membranes each day, says Diane Heatley, M.D., associate professor of otolaryngology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. But if you have sinusitis, the lining of your sinuses gets irritated and swells, narrowing or blocking your drainage channels.

If you have chronic sinusitis, symptoms like bad breath, fatigue, facial pain, headaches, greenish or yellowish mucus, and postnasal drip can last for months. Chronic sinusitis occurs when the tiny hairlike cilia in your sinuses (which help move out the mucus) become paralyzed by constant exposure to irritants like allergens, cigarette smoke, and pollution.

Acute sinusitis, a bacterial or viral infection, often develops after a cold. It shares many of the symptoms of chronic sinusitis but can also cause sharp facial pain, severe pain in your upper jaw, or a fever of more than 101 degrees, says Scott Greenberg, M.D., a family practice physician at the Magaziner Center for Wellness and AntiAging Medicine in Cherry Hill, N.J.

If you suffer from either type of sinusitis, our quick fixes offer fast relief. (How long relief lasts depends on the severity of your symptoms and other factors.) And our long-term solutions can help you control or eliminate sinusitis within a few weeks.

Quick Fix 1: Get steamy
Dry air can cause or irritate sinus problems, but inhaling moisture can help. Simply breathing the steam from a hot shower will ease congestion.

You can also enhance the steam you breathe with sinus-clearing essential oils. Once or twice a day, add five drops of eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), or sandalwood (Santalum album) essential oils (or a combination) to a large bowl of steaming-hot water, suggests Sylvia Goldfarb, Ph.D., of Wyncote, Pa., author of Allergy Relief (Avery Penguin Putnam, 2000). Drape a towel over your head and the bowl, and breathe deeply for 10 minutes. You'll feel relief within that time.

To treat acute sinusitis, substitute tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) and repeat the sinus steam three to four times daily. Tea tree oil's powerful antibacterial properties fight the bacteria that cause many infections, says Karen Barnes, N.D., a naturopath in Burlington, Ontario, and author of Naturopathic First Aid (Quarry Press, 2001). Your symptoms should clear up within a few days.

Quick Fix 2: Press to Relieve Pain
Massaging certain acupressure points on your body can quickly relieve facial pain, says Susan Padberg, M.D., a medical acupuncturist in Madison, Wis.

Use your right thumb and index finger to grasp the skin between your left thumb and index finger. Press gently to find where the muscles make a V shape on the top of your hand. Massage this small indentation with firm but gentle pressure for 10 to 15 seconds; repeat on your right hand. Do this as needed. Pregnant women should not use this technique; it may stimulate uterine contractions.

You can also massage your face directly. Firmly and gently press your index fingers above the center of each eyebrow or between them. Massage for 10 to 15 seconds and repeat as needed.

Quick Fix 3: Flush Your Sinuses
Rinsing your sinuses with saltwater helps them drain mucus. Studies show that this significantly reduced symptoms like pain and inflammation in more than 2/3 of sinusitis sufferers. Heatley says recommending nasal irrigation to her patients cut the number of sinus surgeries she performed in half.

To rinse your sinuses, use a neti pot, a small teapotlike device sold at most natural food stores. Combine three parts noniodized salt and one part baking soda, and add ½ teaspoon of this mixture to ½ cup of warm water in the pot. This solution matches your body's salinity, and baking soda makes it less irritating to your sinuses.

Lean over a sink and insert the spout of the pot into your left nostril. Tilt your head and the pot to the right and let the solution flow out your right nostril. Exhale forcefully through both nostrils and repeat on the other side. Repeat as needed.

Quick Fix 4: Eat Spicy Food
The zing of certain spices opens clogged sinuses and promotes drainage. As condiments, use hot salsas or chutneys that contain chiles, or sprinkle cayenne pepper on your food, recommends Goldfarb.

Long-Term Solution 1: Sleep and Eat Well
Sleep and good nutrition strengthen your immune system. A healthy immune system allows you to fight off or avoid acute sinus infections, and some researchers believe chronic sinusitis may be linked to your immune response to certain fungi.

Experts recommend that you go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Also avoid exercising, eating heavy meals, and doing stressful activities like balancing your checkbook less than three hours before bedtime.

Consider shunning certain foods as well. For example, sugar weakens your immune system and can make you more susceptible to sinusitis, while dairy products thicken mucus, causing congestion and increasing your risk of developing an acute infection. If you have chronic sinusitis, Greenberg recommends eliminating dairy products and foods with added sugars for at least one month. If this helps, you can reintroduce these foods one at a time every four days to find if there is a level you can tolerate.

Long-Term Solution 2: Treat Allergies Naturally
Allergies contribute to chronic sinusitis by inflaming sinuses and narrowing drainage channels. If you have chronic sinusitis, see a doctor for allergy testing. If you do have allergies, be aware that conventional allergy medications can cause even more problems, like thickening your mucus and interfering with sinus drainage. Greenberg suggests taking quercetin, a bioflavonoid that fights the inflammatory chemical involved in the allergic response, instead. Take 500 mg three times a day with meals.

Long-Term Solution 3: Try Acupuncture
Acupuncture can ease symptoms like sinus pain and pressure, as well as strengthen your immune system and combat allergies. Padberg says an acupuncture treatment for chronic sinusitis generally relieves symptoms within 24 to 48 hours, but you may need 10 or 12 weekly treatments to clear up underlying problems like allergies. If you see an acupuncturist at the first sign of a sinus infection, Padberg says, one or two treatments may heal it.

Long-Term solution 4: Freshen Your Air
Try a negative ion generator, recommends Robert Ivker, D.O., an osteopath in Littleton, Colo., and author of Sinus Survival (Putnam, 2000). Negative ions (air molecules with extra electrons) clean your air by attracting airborne allergens and other irritating particles and causing them to clump together and fall to the ground. Some experts believe that negative ions in the air enhance the ability of your cilia to move out mucus and filter out inhaled pollutants.

PHOTO (COLOR): Steam from a hot shower promotes sinus drainage and brings relief to sinusitis sufferers.

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By Chris Ott

Is Your Sinusitis Life-Threatening?
Consider This
In addition to being painful, an acute sinus infection can be dangerous because it can spread to your eyes or brain and may cause blindness or even death. Though rare, that danger is one reason why doctors prescribe antibiotics for sinus infections.

When do you need antibiotics? If you've tried our solutions with no success, or if you have symptoms like an incapacitating headache, severe pain in your upper jaw, a fever of more than 101 degrees, or swelling around your eyes, see a physician. You might need antibiotics to treat a possibly life-or vision-threatening infection.

Unfortunately, antibiotics can also kills the helpful bacteria that aid digestion, causing gastrointestinal upset. To deal with this problem, Robert Ivker, D.O., an osteopath in Littleton, Colo., suggests taking probiotics like L. acidophilus and L bifidus along with antibiotics and continuing this for two weeks after you finish your course of antibiotics. Take either ½ teaspoon of powder or liquid or 2 capsules three times a day with water, between meals and before bed. The bacteria will multiply on their own after you take them, so the number of organisms per dose is not significant. However, he says, you should buy only a refrigerated brand and use it within 10 months of your purchase.

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