Snuff Out Sinus Infections

I’m not prone to sinus infections, but the few I’ve had in my life have been doozies. What sticks in my memory is painful pressure when bending down to tie my shoes, constant post-nasal drip, and running a fever. Also known as sinusitis, sinus infections can exhibit a wide variety of symptoms such as overall fatigue, headaches, tooth pain, coughing, sore throat, stuffiness, and lots of funky-colored phlegm. Yuck!

Your sinuses are great little air purifiers. They warm and moisten the air you breathe and filter out bacteria. Unfortunately, a cold, flu, or allergies can cause the lining of your sinuses to swell, clogging things up. Congested sinuses can create a back-up of mucous, causing bacteria to breed, ultimately triggering a sinus infection.

Sinusitis and acupunctureIn Chinese medicine, a sinus infection is always considered to be a kind of blockage, as in Western biomedicine. However, the Chinese make a little more distinction when it comes to diagnosing and determining how to treat this condition. At the most superficial level, sinusitis always involves a diagnosis of phlegm, but there’s usually more to the picture than that. Phlegm plus cold often presents as stuffy and clogged sinuses, but not necessarily an infection. In this case, you would not be running a fever, and if you are able to blow your nose, the phlegm is likely to be clear or white. Phlegm plus heat is a straight up sinus infection. The mucous will be yellow or green, you are likely to feel like you’ve been hit by a bus, and in many cases you may be running a fever.

The beauty of Chinese medicine is that it looks a little deeper into why you are having phlegmy sinuses in the first place—and there are a number of reasons. A common cause is that your immunity is low and you’re getting a lot of colds, which can wreak havoc on your sinuses. In Chinese medicine, this is a function of your Lung system, which keeps outside invaders like bacteria, viruses, pollen, and molds from making you sick. In order to keep your immune system strong, you need to be in good health and have enough energy to fight off invading pathogens.

A second common cause for sinusitis, especially if it’s chronic, is your diet. This take a little more explaining, but in general too many sweets, fatty foods, dairy, and rich meals can bog down your digestion to the point where it creates a condition called dampness. What this means is that your body becomes less able to metabolize fluids and you form something similar to puddles. These puddles may appear in the form of water retention, yeast infections, athlete’s foot, and even excess weight. When dampness sits around long enough, it can congeal and form phlegm. When that phlegm congregates in your sinuses, the conditions are ripe for sinusitis.

Using Chinese medicine to deal with your chronic sinus problems can be effective because your practitioner has a number of tools to help deal with this condition. First, they can perform acupuncture to open up your sinuses fairly quickly, while also treating the underlying cause of your problem. In addition, Chinese herbs are also extremely helpful, as some have antimicrobial properties, some can disperse phlegm, and others can be used to strengthen your immune function. Finally, if your diet is the culprit behind your sinus problems, your practitioner can help you develop a diet that’s based on your needs.

There are also some things you can do at home too, to help keep your sinusitis under control, including:

-Use steam to keep your sinuses open. While it may seem counterintuitive to use moisture when your sinuses are so clogged with phlegm, keeping your sinus passages moist will actually keep the swelling down and help to keep them clear. Get into a hot, steamy shower twice a day, put a pot of boiling water on the stove and breathe the steam (careful not to burn yourself), and get a humidifier for your home.

-Along the same line, make sure you stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids, and if you’re nursing a sinus infection, go for soup, which hydrates as well as steams your sinuses.

-Clean out your sinuses by either using a Neti pot (follow directions included) or sniff up some water and then blow your nose. For a nasal wash recipe, dissolve one teaspoon of salt and a pinch of baking soda into two cups distilled water.

-Apply some moist heat to your sinuses. Wet a washcloth with warm water and place it over your sinuses. Keep it there until it cools. Repeat. The heat will help expand your sinuses and help get things moving.

-Go easy on the decongestant nasal sprays. While these products shrink the tissue lining your sinuses at first, they quickly cause a rebound reaction, making things worse in the long run.

-Choose spicy food. Acrid, spicy foods cause your nose to run, and that’s what you want in order to get your sinuses to drain. Dishes that contain garlic, scallions, horseradish, and hot peppers can be your friend during a sinus infection.

-Rest. When you’re sick and your body is trying to heal, it takes a great deal of your energy. While you may want to power through a sinus infection, you will heal faster and feel better if you give your body the rest it needs.

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