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Ask the Naturopathic Doctor

Solutions for Chronic Sinusitis

Clear your head the natural way-without the side effects of over-the-counter decongestants or antibiotics.

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Q: I keep getting prescribed antibiotics for my congested sinuses. This can’t be the solution!
-Terri A., Silver Spring, MD

A: You are correct. Chronic sinusitis is usually caused by allergic irritation or a fungal (not bacterial) infection. Many doctors prescribe antibiotics, which may help in cases of a secondary bacterial infection, but usually aren’t a good idea. Why? Because they can damage our microbiome-the trillions of “good” bacteria that live on and in our bodies that are vital to our health.

Helpful Therapies for Chronic Sinusitis

If you have a fungal infection, using a Neti pot with a variety of volatile oils will eventually clear your sinus passages. Some of my favorite antifungal essential oils include bitter orange, oregano, thyme, tea tree, and lavender. These oils are very potent-a little goes a long way. Make a Neti pot solution with 1 cup of warm water, ½ tsp. sea salt, and 4-5 drops of one of these essential oils. Place your Neti pot mix in a jar with a lid and shake vigorously right before use. This will “mycelize” the oil into tiny droplets so you don’t get a big blob on your sensitive nasal mucosa. You can use a traditional Neti pot or some kind of bulb syringe. I like the in-the-shower type called NasoPure. It’s easy to use and travel-friendly too.

Using a Neti pot with bitter orange, oregano, thyme, tea tree, or lavender oils can help clear your sinus passages.

Steam inhalation also works-same solution but you don’t need the salt. Put hot water and a little volatile oil in a big bowl; sit at a comfortable table with a towel draped over your head, and lean over the bowl. Breathe deeply. Your nasal passages should clear fairly quickly. If you are completely blocked (can only breathe through your mouth), a Neti pot won’t work at first.

Flush It Out – Using Hydrotherapy for Chronic Sinusitis

Contrast hydrotherapy is a marvelous tool for any kind of congestion, sinusitis included. The principle idea is that warm/hot water is vasodilating-that is, it brings blood flow and nutrients, including oxygen, to the target area. Chasing warm water with cold water will help flush out the congestion and force the inflammatory debris and edema into the lymphatic system.

Chasing warm water with cold water will help flush out congestion and inflammatory debris.

For treating sinusitis, all you need is a bowl, two washcloths, and a sink with running hot and cold water. Ice is ideal. Put a bowl of ice water and a washcloth on the side of the sink. Run water until nice and hot, but not so hot it will burn your hands. Wring out a hot washcloth and fold lengthwise in thirds, placing over the bridge of your nose so the heat touches nearly between the eyebrows, and under the eyes on the cheekbones as well. Count 30 seconds: one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, etc. As you approach 30 seconds, use one hand to squeeze excess water out of the very cold washcloth, and fold. As quickly as possible, switch the hot washcloth for the cold. Count 10 seconds. Repeat this whole sequence at least 3 times-30 seconds hot, 10 seconds cold. And always end on cold for the final flush.

If you’re really congested, it’s best to do this morning and night until you get some relief. Many people find that they need to blow their noses after contrast hydro and Neti pot or steam inhalation. Remember to blow your nose gently. Don’t hold one nostril closed and honk through the other one. This can generate vector forces equivalent to 100 miles an hour, which is very tough on those delicate tissues.

Avoiding Irritants

If your bedroom is carpeted, you need to vacuum 2-3 times a week to remove possible sinus irritants.

Of course, the best way to control sinusitis in the long term is to eliminate the sources of irritation. If you find that your stuffy nose is worst in the morning, suspect something in your bedroom environment. Do you let your pets sleep in the bedroom? Bad idea. Is your bedroom carpeted? You need to vacuum 2-3 times a week, wearing a bandana or silk mask (check out I dislike memory foam-it’s full of nasty chemicals-so get rid of that memory foam pillow. And change your pillow regularly if you’re a mouth breather during the night. All that moist air falling into your pillow can quickly build a thriving fungal colony. Change your pillowcases every week, and wash them in hot water.

Did You Know?

Cow’s milk is by far the top food irritant for nasal congestion.

The top food irritant for nasal congestion, hands down, is dairy. Cow’s milk, even from happy organic pasture-fed cows, is really for babies only. Adults have no need to drink milk. It will give you acne and stuff up your respiratory system. Yogurt and cheese in moderation may be OK, because these are partially enzymatically digested. However if you suffer from chronic nasal/sinus congestion, do yourself a favor and abstain from all dairy for 6-12 weeks. If that changes nothing, your congestion could be due to wheat, corn, soy, or any number of other common foods. Work with a naturopathic physician or well-trained nutritionist to weed out the offending food(s).