Fiona O’Farrell from the Gate Clinic in Greystones, Co. Wicklow guides us through the most common causes of sinus problems, and some easy natural solutions.
If you are suffering from a chronic sinus problem, you will be familiar with the persistent feelings of congestion, pressure and pain.
Sinus problems are extremely common. The sinuses are spaces within the skull that connect the nasal passages. The main sinuses are located behind the eyebrows (frontal), cheekbones (maxillary) and nose (ethmoid and sphenoid). Generally, these sinuses are filled only with air, and are lined with a delicate skin tissue known as the mucous membranes. The job of the sinus cavities and mucous membranes is to clean and moisten the air we breathe before it gets to our lungs. Through the sinuses, particles in the air that may irritate our lungs, such as pollen or dust, are picked up and removed by the mucous membranes. The air is also gently warmed and moistened so as not to irritate the delicate tissue of the lungs. The air-filled quality of the sinuses also serves to lighten the weight of the skull, and they also help regulate sound formation for speech.
So it is little wonder that congested, blocked or infected sinuses can be very uncomfortable. Sinusitis is the term used for inflammation of the sinus cavities, be it from an acute infection or chronic congestion. Symptoms of sinusitis include blocked nose, copious nasal discharge, headaches, pressure in the head, facial pain, swollen and irritated eyes, and an inability to smell.
The sinuses are a difficult area for the body to keep clean. The fact that these cavities are in direct contact with our environment means they are an obvious place for viruses and bacteria to attack and multiply. The body will respond to this infection by producing more mucous.
However, there are many other factors that can irritate the mucous membranes, thus creating an excessive inflammatory response. Many of these factors can be linked to diet. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we consider a number of common foods as ‘damp’, or mucous-forming, in nature. These foods - including cow’s dairy; excessive cold, raw, oily and greasy foods; refined carbohydrates and sugary snacks - are considered inflammatory, creating a strong immune, mucous-forming reaction in sensitive people. You may notice, after consuming certain foods, you will feel phlegm forming in the throat shortly afterwards, or the pressure in your sinuses will increase. These are signs your body is reacting negatively to these foods, and you may do well avoiding them until your sinuses have cleared.
Being air-filled cavities, it can be difficult for the body to ‘patrol’ the sinuses. In order to help keep your sinuses clear from mucous build-up and infection, daily nasal rinses using a Neti-pot and a mild saline solution can be very helpful. In fact, this a daily part of many traditional yoga practices, and the quality of the air you breathe is so critical for forming good energy, or ‘prana’. Another helpful tip is to use your morning shower as a vapour room, adding a few drops of Oil of Oregano essential oil to the shower floor and letting the hot water create a decongesting, anti-viral vapour for you to inhale as you wash.
Acupuncture is very well known for helping with chronic sinus issues. Your acupuncturist can also show you a number of easy acupressure points that you can use yourself to relieve sinus pressure and pain.
Another fascinating option is breathing practice, known as the Buteyko Method, which is aimed at restoring normal sinus breathing. It has been shown to relieve a range of conditions thought to be linked to excessive mouth-breathing, such as sinusitis, asthma, recurrent bronchitis, insomnia and fatigue.
Fiona O’Farrell is a licensed acupuncturist and naturopath and runs The Gate Clinic in Greystones, Co. Wicklow. For more information call 01 201 7210 or visit
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