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Ugh!If you suffer from sinusitis, you’re no stranger to congestion, excess mucus, and uncomfortable pressure caused by a swelling of the sinus cavities. You’re all too familiar with stuffiness and throbbing pain in the cheeks, forehead, and around the eyes; exhaustion; and headaches. Dental problems in the teeth or jaw can also be an issue. And it’s common-sinusitis, acute and chronic, affects more than 37 million Americans.
Why so many sufferers? Part of the reason is the way the sinuses are constructed. These air-filled cavities behind the bones of the upper face contain cells that produce mucus to trap bacteria and pollutants. The surface of the sinuses is covered with cilia, tiny hairs that move back and forth and push mucus through the sinus openings into the nose. But when mucus backs up, the narrow passages become clogged and pressure builds up, leading to the headaches characteristic of sinus problems.
The inflammation or infection that causes sinus problems can be triggered by bacteria or viruses, cigarette smoke, environmental toxins, air pollution, mold, airborne allergies, food allergies, tooth infections, dental problems, overgrowth of Candida albicans (yeast infection), or excessive consumption of dairy. Sometimes, structural abnormalities in the sinuses, such as narrow nasal passages or the growth of a nasal polyp, can prevent normal drainage.
Typical treatments for sinusitis include Sudafed, antihistamines, antibiotics, or steroids. But their side effects-including rapid heart rate, racing pulse, jitteriness, and insomnia-make them less than appealing. Happily for sinusitis sufferers, there are many safe and effective remedies for sinus problems. Skip the prescriptions, and breathe easier with these natural treatments.
1. Hydrate & Humidify
Drinking lots of water helps thin sticky mucous secretions, making them drain more easily from the sinuses. It also keeps the mucous membranes moist. Plain, filtered water is best, but herbal teas can also help; ginger and peppermint help loosen and thin mucus, holy basil and licorice boost immunity, and marshmallow soothes irritated nasal passageways.
You may also need to humidify. Dry air irritates already-inflamed sinus membranes, slows passage of mucus, and can exacerbate infections. If your home is excessively dry, use a vaporizer or humidifier. But don’t overdo it; too much humidity encourages the growth of mold, a common culprit in chronic sinus problems. The best range is 35-45 percent humidity. Or use humid air locally: take a hot shower, fill a sink with hot water and inhale the steam, or breathe in the mist coming from vaporizers (not the steam from humidifiers; it’s too hot and can damage delicate sinus membranes).
2. Rinse & Repeat
The Neti pot has been used in the Ayurvedic tradition for thousands of years. Today, its popularity is growing in the West, and it can be found in natural products stores everywhere. Made of glass, ceramic, or plastic, the Neti pot resembles an Aladdin’s lamp. It is designed to be filled with a saline solution and used to wash away pollens, mucus, viruses, and bacteria from nasal passages. The spout of the Neti pot is held to one nostril while leaning over a sink or basin, letting the water drain out of the other nostril. Research shows this technique can help ease allergy and sinus infection symptoms, and may even lower the chances of catching the common cold. To make a saline solution for a Neti pot, dissolve ½ tsp. noniodized salt in 1 cup of warm distilled or previously boiled water.
Use once daily until symptoms subside.
3. Go (Blue) Green
Spirulina, a blue-green alga that can modulate immune function, is an effective treatment for allergic rhinitis-an inflammation of the nasal membranes that’s characterized by sneezing, nasal congestion, and nasal itching-that’s linked to sinusitis. In one study, spirulina significantly improved symptoms, including nasal discharge, sneezing, and congestion. It’s thought to protect against sinusitis via its antimicrobial actions. Look for it in powders, tablets, or capsules, and be sure to choose high-quality varieties that have been tested to be free of heavy metals.
4. Bid Adieu to Dairy
It has long been thought that dairy increases congestion and mucous production, and can exacerbate respiratory problems. Until recently, scientific studies failed to show a relationship between dairy and mucus production. More recent studies suggest that the type of milk may be the culprit. Certain breeds of cows produce milk that contains beta-CM-7, a protein that can stimulate mucus glands in the sinuses, respiratory tract, and digestive tract in certain susceptible people. If you’re plagued by sinus problems, try getting rid of dairy for a few weeks to see if symptoms improve.
5. Clean House
Besides mold, other sources of indoor air pollution are often to blame for sinus woes. Generally, anything with fumes or a very strong odor-cigarette smoke, hairspray, oven cleaners, and other cleaning products-can exacerbate (or even cause) sinus problems. Keep indoor air clean: get rid of chemical-based cleaning products, and switch to natural, unscented products. An air purifier can help, or try an ozone generator. Ozone has been shown to remove airborne toxins and kill mold.
6. Tame the Flame
Quercetin, an antioxidant found in apples, onions, citrus fruits, red wine, parsley, and tea, acts an antihistamine and can help reduce inflammation and modulate allergic reactions that lead to sinus problems.
Or try quercetin supplements, especially those that also contain bromelain, a naturally occurring enzyme that has anti-inflammatory benefits. In one study, bromelain was effective in reducing symptoms in people with chronic sinusitis.
Another enzyme to try for sinus issues is serrapeptase. This remedy is becoming increasingly popular for addressing different types of pain and inflammatory conditions, including sinusitis. The enzyme has been clinically shown to break down mucus and promote a normal inflammatory response in the body.
7. Avoid Mycotoxins
Mycotoxins, chemical compounds produced by certain fungi, can exacerbate many sinus problems, especially those related to molds. Because they occur in common foods, they’re an often-missed source of sinus woes. If you suffer from chronic sinusitis, consider avoiding foods that are likely to contain mycotoxins, including peanuts, corn, wheat, barley, sugar, alcohol, cottonseed oil, aged cheese, and mushrooms or other fungi.
8. Take Butterbur
The butterbur plant has been used for hundreds of years to treat headache, fever, and allergies. Many modern studies show that it can alleviate respiratory problems that lead to sinus issues.
You’ll find butterbur in tinctures and capsules; look for a formula that’s standardized for petasin and isopetasin, the active components. Because the plant contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), chemicals that can damage the liver, also choose products that are certified and labeled “PA-free.”
9. Get Some Sun
It’s the best way to increase the body’s levels of vitamin D, which may alleviate sinus problems by enhancing immune function. More specifically, vitamin D suppresses inflammatory response, and helps the body prevent viruses and infections in the sinuses. Studies have also shown that people with chronic sinusitis have lower levels of vitamin D. About 10-15 minutes of direct sun three to four times a week is enough to help the body produce sufficient vitamin D. If you live in the northern United States, have darker skin, are over 70, or spend very little time in the sun, consider a vitamin D3 supplement.
10. Spray Away Sinus Woes
Most commonly used as a natural, lower-calorie sugar substitute, xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is found in many fruits and vegetables, including berries, plums, lettuce, and mushrooms. But there’s a whole lot more to this sweet ingredient-xylitol’s unique molecular structure enables it to effectively stop bacteria in their tracks. Here’s how: bacteria and yeast like to “eat” xylitol as they would sugar, but unlike sugar, they can’t digest it. Therefore, the bacteria essentially starve to death and do not reproduce.
Research has demonstrated that when used in nasal sprays, xylitol reduces bacteria in sinuses. Additionally, it works via osmosis to pull fluid into airways and helps moisturize and thin mucus. Studies show that a xylitol nasal spray (sold under the brand name Xlear) reduces bacteria, and helps to hydrate nasal passages, shrink swollen membranes, and flush out airborne pollutants that may trigger asthma and allergies.
Get Rid of Mold, Save Your Sinuses
Fungal infection is a leading cause of chronic sinus problems, though it’s rarely identified as the culprit. One important study from the Mayo Clinic suggested that fungi, not bacteria or viruses, cause almost all chronic sinus problems. The first line of defense: get rid of mold in the home. First, take steps to prevent it: be sure your indoor air isn’t too humid, ensure good ventilation in bathrooms and attics, stop leaks, keep crawlspaces dry, and route water away from your home’s foundation. Find details on dealing with household mold at EPA.gov.
If you suspect you have mold-related sinusitis, try an antifungal nasal spray and antifungal herbs such as garlic and oregano.