Imagine spending every day enduring facial pain, headaches and difficulty breathing with little relief from decongestants, nasal sprays or other standard medications.
If you have chronic sinusitis, this is your frustrating reality.
But a new study offers hope through an East-meets-West philosophy, adding ancient Chinese techniques to modern medical practice to produce big changes for these beleaguered folks.
The research, done at the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine in Los Angeles, was the first to explore the potential of a holistic approach for those with chronic rhinosinusitis, a group that numbers about 30 million Americans.
Unlike “acute” (or temporary) sinus infections, which typically last no more than a few weeks, chronic rhinosinusitis can last indefinitely. Chronic rhinosinusitis can be triggered by a combination of environmental causes (such as seasonal allergies) and physical issues (such as a deviated septum or nasal polyps), as well as bacteria, viruses or fungi, despite medical treatment and even surgery.
But no matter how it comes about, chronic rhinosinusitis is a drag. Here’s how researchers thwarted it . . .
EAST MEETS WEST…IN YOUR SINUSES
For the study, researchers assessed the symptoms of 11 men and women with chronic rhinosinusitis, noting not only physical effects such as pain and stuffiness, but also overall vitality, mental effects such as difficulty concentrating and psychological effects (such as frustration, restlessness and irritability). And each participant rated his or her overall physical functioning and social functioning.
Participants were then told to continue whatever regimen of standard medications and nasal irrigation that they had used over the many years that they suffered with the condition. But on top of that, several traditional Chinese medicine treatments were administered, including…
- Weekly acupuncture sessions: Some acupuncture points are known to be sinus-specific…while others affect quality-of-life issues that are related to sinusitis—such as difficulty concentrating and feeling irritable. Acupuncturists targeted both types in 20-minute sessions.
- Weekly acupressure treatments: For 15 to 20 minutes, licensed therapists applied firm pressure or kneading techniques along the muscles and soft tissues of the face, head, neck and shoulders. Participants were also taught how to do self-acupressure at home.
- Individualized dietary advice: Traditional Chinese medicine relies on a holistic diagnosis of a person’s energy—or qi (pronounced chee)—based on the look of the skin and tongue, among other factors. So researchers examined the subjects’ symptoms to determine whether they exhibited what are called “hot” or “cold” patterns. Those with “hot” patterns—who became easily overheated or sweaty, had thick nasal discharge, had a red complexion and/or experienced insomnia—were instructed to eat “cooling foods” such as melons. Those with “cold” patterns—anyone with clear, profuse nasal discharge, cold intolerance (meaning needing higher heat or thicker clothing to feel comfortable) and/or susceptibility to frequent head colds—were told to consume “warming foods” such as ginger tea and soups. All patients were counseled to avoid dairy products, which tend to increase mucus production.
- Stress-management advice: This instruction blended increased exercise (mostly cardio) with lifestyle moderations such as taking frequent work breaks, stretching and being mindful of stress triggers.
After eight weeks of these treatments, researchers again assessed participants’ symptoms. And what they found was pretty remarkable…
- Participants needed to blow their noses 44% less often, on average
- Their ability to concentrate improved by 34%
- They had runny noses 34% less frequently
- They felt frustrated, restless or irritable 31% less frequently
- Their social functioning improved by 20%
- They felt 15% fewer general aches and pains
- Their vitality improved by 13%
- Their overall physical functioning improved by 2%
When I spoke with study author Jeffrey Suh, MD, an assistant professor of rhinology and skull base surgery at UCLA, I pointed out that this was a tiny study (only 11 people, remember) and that there was no control group, making it impossible to say whether just the general act of participating in a study might have given participants a physical and emotional lift. Dr. Suh didn’t disagree. But on the other hand, it’s intriguing to think that adding some well-tested, safe Eastern treatments to a traditional Western approach might help people who have been suffering from sinusitis for years on end.
If you or someone you know suffers with chronic sinusitis and you’d like to try one or more of these techniques, Dr. Suh suggested finding a licensed therapist through the National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (www.nccaom.org)—on the site, you can locate one in your region by entering your zip code.