Simple Self-Test Plus Remedies That Work
Don’t assume that it’s merely a bad cold when you’re stuffed up and feeling lousy for more than the usual seven to 10 days. It could be something worse—and much harder to get rid of. It could be sinusitis.
Sinusitis is a condition where the nasal passages become inflamed and swollen. It’s usually caused by a cold, but it could be triggered by allergies or a bacterial or fungal infection.
Here’s how to tell if you have sinusitis and what to do about it if you do…
STEP 1: MAKE THE DIAGNOSIS
Long-lasting congestion, accompanied by tenderness around the eyes, forehead and/or cheeks, is the hallmark of sinusitis. Mucus will probably be yellow or greenish rather than clear.
Sinusitis can persist for weeks, months or even years. Colds never last that long. Another hint is when you get sick. If your symptoms are predictable—they occur only in the spring or summer, for example, or when you eat certain foods—you might have sinusitis triggered by allergies.
Most people with sinusitis have slow-moving cilia, microscopic filaments in the respiratory tract that propel mucus out through the nose or down the back of the throat. After an allergy or a cold, the cilia slow down. Also, some people with certain conditions such as cystic fibrosis have chronic slow-moving cilia. Impaired mucus transport is what causes congestion, which can become a breeding ground for infection.
STEP 2: IRRIGATE THE NASAL CAVITIES
Irrigation is the best treatment for congestion-related problems, including sinusitis, colds and allergies. It thins and flushes away mucus and helps the sinuses drain. It also washes out allergens and infection-causing bacteria.
Mix about one teaspoon of salt and one-half teaspoon of baking soda in two cups of warm sterile water. Pour it into a squeeze bottle or another type of nasal-irrigation device. (Or you could try a system I invented called the Hydro Pulse Sinus System, available online—it applies the low, steady pressure needed to create suction and pull out mucus.)
Keeping the head centered, put the solution into one nostril. Keep it flowing until the solution begins to flow out the other nostril. Gently blow your nose, then repeat on the other side. Caution: If you’re using a squeeze bottle, try to maintain steady pressure. A University of Pennsylvania study found that infected mucus can backflow into squeeze bottles and cause a reinfection.
STEP 3: SHRINK THE SWELLING
Much of the discomfort of sinusitis comes from swollen mucous membranes. To reduce swelling, apply moist heat to the sinus area. Soak a washcloth in warm-to-hot water, and drape it over the nose and cheeks. When it cools, resoak and reapply. Do this several times a day.
Another way to reduce swelling and congestion is to lift the tip of your nose. It sounds (and looks) silly, but it works because a downward-dipping nose (common in older adults) can block the nasal openings. At night, loop a piece of one-half-inch-wide medical-grade tape under the end of the nose…pull the ends slightly upward…and stick them between the eyes. It will keep the nasal passages open while you sleep.
Also helpful: My Clear-ease natural fruit enzyme tablets. Follow the label directions. Fruit-based enzymes such as bromelain and papain reduce sinus swelling.
STEP 4: CLEAN YOUR HOME
Pollens, molds and dust mites, along with plain old dust, can cause sinusitis.
You don’t have to give your home the “white-glove treatment.” But do wash bedding weekly in hot water to kill dust mites and their eggs. Also consider dust mite–proof mattress and pillow covers. Vacuum carpets once a week, preferably with a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter. It’s also a good idea to keep dogs and cats out of the bedroom to minimize nighttime exposure to dust and dander from their coats.
STEP 5: MORE VITAMIN C
Vitamin C can reduce the intensity and duration of coldlike symptoms, including congestion. It’s a mild antihistamine that reduces mucus production and sinus swelling. When sinusitis flares, increase your dietary intake of vitamin C by eating plenty of salads, leafy green vegetables, citrus, etc.
Caution: Some fresh fruits such as strawberries contain high levels of natural histamines, but canned or cooked do not. If you notice an increase in congestion and/or head pain after eating certain foods, avoid them until you’re feeling better.
STEP 6: USE A DECONGESTANT
I don’t recommend decongestants before trying drug-free treatments. But if you’ve had sinusitis for a few weeks or longer, your body’s defenses are probably exhausted. Using a decongestant spray once or twice will provide relief and give your natural defenses a chance to catch up.
Any decongestant spray, tablet or liquid can help, but I like Patanase Nasal Spray. It’s a prescription spray that quickly clears congestion and doesn’t contain a corticosteroid. Menthol inhalers such as Benzedrex also can provide relief.
STEP 7: DE-STRESS
Doctors have known for a long time that emotional stress can dampen immunity and increase the risk for infection. It also tends to increase the incidence (and discomfort) of colds, allergies and sinusitis.
Stress creates a cycle known as anxiety reinforcement. The more stress you experience, the more likely you are to get sick—and the more you’ll notice the discomfort.
My advice: Practice biofeedback. It’s easy—and effective. Once or twice a day, sit in front of a mirror. Slowly inhale for a count of four, then exhale for a count of six. As you exhale, consciously relax the muscles in the face, jaw and shoulders. It’s physiologically impossible to feel anxiety when your muscles are relaxed.
People who practice this technique soon learn that they can reduce stress-related symptoms at any time, not just when they’re in front of the mirror.
WHEN TO SEE YOUR DOCTOR
By taking the steps in this article, you might be able to avoid a trip to the doctor’s office, which could save you $100 or so. However, if you still have sinusitis symptoms after several weeks, do see your doctor. He/she may recommend other treatments including an antibiotic (usually amoxicillin) if you have a bacterial infection.