Uggh. Sinusitis? Again? Yes, sinus infections are easy to get. Just about anything that gets in the way of airflow into your sinuses, or in the way of mucus trying to drain out, will easily put you on the sinusitis path. Dried-out nasal passages and irritated sinuses – the by-products of over-heated offices, humidity-free homes and airplane cabins, or just environments filled with dust, allergens and pollution – can set off bouts of nasal misery, no matter the season.
When that mucus sludge stagnates and pools in your sinuses, it creates a space made to order for bacteria, fungi and viruses. Before you know it, the sinus pressure, facial pain and headache are well underway. No wonder most sufferers are quick to call the doctor and beg for something to make it stop. But contrary to popular belief, antibiotics should be your last resort – and definitely not your first. There are a number of healthier ways to keep a clear head year-round, without increasing your risk of antibiotic resistance. Here’s where to start:
1) Get your gut in gear.
If you’re having too many bouts of common ailments, sinusitis among them, that’s a pretty strong clue that your immune system isn’t functioning optimally. Your sinus-saving mission? Get your gut on track. Why? Because most of your immune system lives there. So, the healthier your gut is, the better your immune system will be at fighting off the colds, flus and infections that send mucus-making into overdrive and stuff you up.
To re-boot your immune system, ditch sugar, show processed foods the door and load up on nutrient-rich, preferably organic greens, probiotic foods and other foods and spices that boost your immune system. Add a daily, broad-spectrum probiotic to the mix to repopulate your gut with the beneficial bacteria that helps keep you well, ideally one that contains at least 50 billion viable organisms, and several types of good bacteria, including lactobacillus and bifidobacteria, two of the most well-researched and commonly used strains.
2) Eat with your sinuses in mind.
Got sinusitis? Then lay off the foods that can easily make matters worse. Among the foods that can exacerbate sinus symptoms or trigger trouble include: sugar, processed foods, fried foods, starchy foods, all grains, and dairy, all of which can sometimes trigger inflammation and mucus production.
Try an elimination diet by avoiding all the above foods for 2 weeks to purge allergens from your diet. This often also helps get your digestion back on track and push your gut function – and your immune system – up to optimal levels. And, if you’re up for it, add a little spicy kick to your food to startle your sinuses. Pour on the cayenne pepper, horseradish, wasabi, curry, garlic, onions and chili peppers – these all can help thin out the mucus and ease congestion
3) Rinse your nasal passages.
Though few of us think much about our nasal passages until they’re plugged up and painful, a little TLC during the winter and spring can help reduce and possibly eliminate a lot of your sinus woes. Fact is, you don’t have to even be sick to get sinusitis. You can get a sinus infection just by breathing in a constant onslaught of miscellaneous microscopic particles like pollen, dust, smoke, dust, mold, fungi, pollution and so on. All that stuff flying in irritates the nasal passages, triggers mucus production and over-production, blocking sinuses and leading to infection. But, instead of letting all those irritants pile up and plug you up, how about rinsing them away, making your sinuses a much less hospitable environment for infections to take root? Here are four non-habit-forming, drug-free ways to clear out the crud a few times a week – or even daily if needed – and breathe easier:
Neti Pot: The classic neti pot looks like a miniature Aladdin’s lamp, designed to rinse mucus from your nasal passages with the help of gravity. Gently pour a saline solution made with sterilized or distilled water (never tap, which can lead to fatal infections) into the nose. To do it properly, and hygienically, follow these steps.
Nasal Irrigation: Another way to give your sinuses a rinse is a nasal irrigation, using prepackaged saline rinse packets, sold with squeeze bottles or syringe bulbs. Like the neti pot, nasal irrigation uses sterilized water and saline, but adds a bit more of a power wash effect as the solution is sprayed (versus poured) into the nostrils.
Xylitol Spray: In my practice, I often use Xlear, a spray containing the sugar alcohol. xylitol, with good results. In addition to helping wash out the trouble-making irritants, it has a natural decongestant effect that helps reduce nasal tissue swelling, opens up the airways and moisturizes the area as well.
Saline Aerosol Spray: Not the last word in efficacy, saline aerosol sprays are nonetheless convenient and do an acceptable job of clearing out many of the irritants that may be causing you trouble. If you travel frequently, the premixed aerosol sprays will help you avoid any potential problems with local water sources.
4) Clean up your indoor act.
As I said, there’s no shortage of things flying into our noses every day, a lot of it pretty hard to avoid out and about in the world. However, when you’re at home, you can keep the particulate matter from overwhelming your sinuses by taking a few simple precautions:
Switch to spray bottles filled with green cleaning products. Be kind to your nasal passages and lungs by cleaning with kinder-to-the-earth green cleaning products in spray bottles instead of aerosol cans which coat everything in a thin, irritating, chemical cloud.
Invest in a fancy vacuum. Your home should be your sanctuary, so spend a little extra to get a high-end vacuum that can suck up as many home-based nasal irritants as possible – and not dump it all back into the air when it’s time to empty the thing. Take a look at these recent recommendations from Consumer Reports.
Filter the air with houseplants. Simple, inexpensive and attractive, adding houseplants to your home is an excellent way to improve indoor air quality, pump up oxygen levels, and absorb a number of chemicals that can pollute indoor air. Another appealing way to help clear the air and take some of the strain off your sinuses? Add a high-quality Himalayan salt lamp to your bedroom.
Boost the bedroom air quality with an air purifier. To give your sinuses a rest all night long, add an air purifier with a high-rated HEPA filter to your bedroom and breathe easy.
Take out the wall-to-wall. Maybe not today, or even this week, but if sinusitis is a recurring problem for you, you may want to consider removing the wall-to-wall carpeting at your earliest convenience, to reduce the amount of particulate matter circulating throughout your home as the fibers start to break down.
Declare your home a no-smoking zone. Fortunately, there are fewer people smoking these days, but for those who do, make them smoke outside your home, and downwind of it. Got a partner who loves to barbeque? Banish them to a far-off corner of the yard as well, to keep smoke out of the house
5) Relieve sinusitis without going to the drugstore.
Already stuffed up and nothing is moving? Pressure driving you crazy? Then do it yourself, anywhere and anytime your sinuses are getting you down. Here are a few other ways to loosen up the gunk quick and start breathing again, without having to drive to the nearest 24-hour drug store:
Steam your sinuses – A good steam can also help relieve congestion, so sip on hot tea, hot lemon water or can also help get things moving again, so boost your hot tea drinking. In between tea-times, have a session in a steamy sauna – or treat your sinuses to frequent warm compresses.
Clear your Sinuses – The supplement NAC (N-Acetyl-Cysteine) is wonderful at breaking up mucus and clearing sinus passages. Use 1,000-1500mg two to three times a day
Massage your sinuses – The combination of gentle pressure and warmth from the hands helps stimulate blood flow, which encourages better sinus cavity drainage, in effect, getting things moving again and relieving pressure. Self-administered acupressure or an acupuncture treatment will have a similar, congestion-relieving effect.
Get your sinuses needled – I have been using acupuncture successfully for over 25 years. Although there is not much research, in my experience, it often opens up the nasal passages and relieves pressure. If you are not scared of needles, I highly recommend you try it for yourself.
For more ideas on how to supercharge your immune system, check out 30 Ways to Boost Immunity Right Now.