One thing I commonly see in the clinic this time of year is sinus infections. Our sinuses go through a rough time when we’re inside our homes with the heat on, as well as outside in the cold temperatures.
Our sinuses are lined with small hair-like structures called, cilia. Their purpose is to clear out toxins, dust, debri and pathogens like viruses and bacteria. In other words, they “sweep” these common air-born substances out of the nose and prevents them from sticking to the surfaces of the mucous membranes. Once these substances take hold, they proliferate and cause inflammation, swelling, redness and pressure. Dry mucous membranes are a conducive environment for infections to start. Other causes include colds, allergies, nasal polyps, a deviated septum, smoking, air pollution and low humidity.
The drainage system in the sinuses is what causes the problem. We actually have 4 sets of sinuses. The “ostia” is the small hole (only 2 mm!) that separates the nasal passages from the maxillary sinus which sits right under your cheekbone. The fact that we produce about a quart of mucous per day, it’s easy to see how mucous could build up at that 2 mm space. That’s why it’s important to keep mucous thin and clean.
Symptoms of sinus infections include headache and pressure around the eyes, runny nose with thick yellow-green discharge, congestion, post-nasal drip and pain in the back of your teeth.
Here are the Best things to do to save those sinuses:
1. Nasal washes– This may not sound like fun, but by flushing normal saline in the nose 1-2 times daily, you will clear out the “stuff” that’s sitting in the mucous membranes. It also increases blood flow to the area for healing and allows the cilia to function again. It will also help with post-nasal drip which often happens due to our sinuses trying to make more mucous to clear out pollutants and pathogens. It’s best to use something called a “Nettie Pot” that you can now get at the local grocery store. You can make your own nasal saline: 1/4 tsp of sea salt in 1 cup of warm water and add a pinch of baking soda. Rinse each side of the sinuses for a full flush, then blow your nose. It’s best to do this to prevent an infection, but it is essential to do these flushes when treating an infection.
2. Allergies– many of us are cooped up in the house and can become more sensitive to airborn allergies. Use air filters in your bedroom or other rooms where you spend most of your time. Carpet and air-duct cleaning is important if you have forced air. Vitamin C, Quercetin and Stinging Nettles are natural remedies that help with allergies. Otherwise, you can try over the counter or prescription anti-histamines.
3. Mucolytics– Guaifenesin is the most popular over the counter agent that thins mucous. You can find Mucinex or Mucinex-D at your local grocery store which has a combination of guaifenesin and pseudoephedrine HCL (decongestant) in it to help sinus congestion. Using a humidifier in the bedroom also helps. Make sure it’s clean before using and try to keep the humidity around 30%.
4. Immune enhancers– There are alot of herbs and anti-oxidants you can use to help strengthen the immune system and shorten the course of infection. Mullein flower, licorice, echinacea, propolis, golden seal, and garlic help with decreasing microbes and inflammation. Sambucol or black elderberry extract has been researched to reduce viruses. Ginger compresses (grate 1 Tbsp fresh ginger in 1 cup of water and simmer on stove top. Strain ginger and use ginger water with washcloth as a compress on sinuses) work extremely well.
If symptoms persist, or you have fever, asthma symptoms, a recent molar extraction, smoke, or have facial pain, see your doctor for further evaluation. Sometimes antibiotics and/or nasal steroids are necessary to treat bacterial infections.