Sinusitis season is on the way

As many Irish people will tell you, sinusitis (nasal congestion, difficulty breathing through the nose and pronounced pain/tenderness around the cheeks, forehead and top of the head) is the bane of their lives during the autumn and winter and they don’t necessarily have a cold or the flu to start it off – they just find themselves having one bout of sinusitis after another throughout these months, and once an infection develops it usually means a visit to their GP for an antibiotic to clear the infection. For some people the repeated use of antibiotics then causes further problems because of the adverse effects on their gut flora.
Unlike western medicine, Chinese Medicine recognises a close relationship between climate and sinusitis that has nothing to do with colds and flu (upper respiratory tract infections) – although obviously these can be precipitating factors too.  Chinese Medicine also recognises dietary factors as playing a large part in exacerbating a tendency to develop sinusitis. The climatic and dietary factors that cause sinusitis may be summarised as follows:
  1. Damp weather. High moisture levels in the air that we breathe during the autumn and winter affects some people’s airways and causes their sinuses to become blocked with mucous. People who experience this type of reaction to damp weather will report no problems if they spend their autumns and winters in warm, dry climates.
  2. Cold and windy weather, or air-conditioning. Cold, windy weather, or air-conditoning on planes and in offices, causes some people to sneeze and produce a clear nasal discharge, which gradually turns thicker and can then block the sinuses.  However, it’s not a cold or flu virus that causes the sneezing; it’s simply an acute sensitivity to cold that manifests much like a sensitivity to irritants (e.g. cigarette smoke), or an allergy of some kind (e.g. hayfever). Such people will report no problems if they spend their autumns and winters in warm, dry climates.
  3. Sugar, dairy and greasy/fried foods. Some people’s constitutions cannot handle a diet high in sugar, dairy or fatty/oily foods without producing mucous in their noses and back of their throats, which can then block their sinuses. This tendency becomes worse in damp weather, but improves with a better diet.
Prevention of sinusitis is better than cure
In terms of prevention, there are several things you can do to help yourself, starting with the obvious:
  • Cut down on sugar, dairy products and greasy/fried foods if you are inclined to eat a lot of them. This includes sweets, desserts, baked goods with added sugar, cow’s milk, cheese, sweetened yogurts, cream, ice cream, custard, sauces made with milk and cream and take-aways. Alcohol also contains high levels of sugar and so, similarly, heavy drinking can cause congestion with mucous.
  • If you notice that your symptoms start after exposure to cold and windy conditions, or air-conditioning in offices or on airplanes, make sure you wrap up well and wear a scarf and hat, or move your position with respect to the draft.
  • If you are prone to catching colds and flus which lead to sinusitis, taking Echinacea, Zinc and Vitamin C, amongst other supplements, can be effective in reducing the frequency and severity of these infections.  Ask your local Health Food shop.
Treating sinusitis yourself
Once you’ve got sinusitis there are a few things you can do to try and clear it out before an infection develops:
  • Pharmacy products: Over the counter products such as ‘Sudafed’ can be helpful, but a nasal rinse such as ‘Neilmed’ usually gets great reviews from sufferers.
  • Alternative and natural products: A. Vogel’s ‘Sinuforce Nasal Spray’ and supplements like Viridian’s ‘Garlic and Horseradish Complex’ can be helpful. And if you have had to use an antibiotic and feel your digestion has been upset by it, probiotics (or rather ‘after-biotics’) are effective for restoring normal digestive and bowel functions.
Treatment of sinusitis with Chinese Medicine
If your sinusitis is not responding to home administered treatments, just make an appointment and let me help you work out whats going on, and treat both the symptoms and underlying causes. Most likely, you will have other symptoms that once highlighted will reveal the underlying problem.  For example, you may suffer from a feeling of heaviness, drowsiness, poor concentration, loose stools and have a thick greasy coating on your tongue if you are sensitive to damp weather. If you are sensitive to cold you will probably have a pale or even blue-ish tongue and your hands and feet may feel cold most of the year, regardless of what you wear. And of course a discussion about your diet will reveal whether you are eating too many ‘damp-producing’ foods and help you reduce them without compromising your intake of the vital nutrients and vitamins that are found in dairy products.
In short, because of how Chinese Medicine understands the body, it has an excellent record for treating sinusitis, being able to differentiate and address all three of the causes of sinusitis outlined above.  A typical course of treatment with acupuncture for mild to moderately severe sinusitis would be about 3-6 treatments long.

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