Anyone who has suffered through a sinus infection will tell you that the symptoms can be severe and may completely lay you low for weeks. Facial pain, fever, and pressure in your forehead or cheeks are the most common symptoms of a sinus infection. In addition, you may experience a runny or stuffed up nose, loss of ability to smell or taste, sensitive or sore teeth, and bad breath. And the fatigue—many patients know their sinus issues have ramped up into infection status because they feel completely run down and exhausted.
What Causes Sinusitis?
A sinus infection and acute inflammation of your sinuses are conditions that tend to linger. They can last for weeks and even a month or more, and can be acute or chronic. An acute infection of your sinuses is commonly caused from nasal congestion due to a common cold, flu, or allergies. In contrast, chronic sinusitis can last for months or longer, and is most frequently caused by a structural problem, such as a deviated septum, nasal polyps, and swollen sinuses that obstruct drainage.
In Western medicine sinus problems are commonly treated with medications, such as antihistamines, antibiotics, and steroids. In severe cases, surgery may be recommended to repair a structural issue or to open your sinuses.
Natural Solutions for Sinus Pain:
In Chinese medicine, sinusitis is considered to be obstruction of phlegm, which also blocks the circulation of blood and energy in the area. Therefore, treatment for sinusitis is directed toward opening up your sinuses so they can drain, increasing circulation and flow of air, as well as controlling phlegm, which is commonly the original source of your sinus problem. A buildup of phlegm can come from a number of causes that may seem unrelated to your cranky sinuses. Poor digestion, eating too many of the wrong foods for your body constitution, an inability to metabolize fluids well, and a weak immune system may all cause accumulations of phlegm in your body.
Treatment for sinusitis or a sinus infection using Chinese medicine would include acupuncture, with needles placed in specific spots to open and drain your sinuses, as well as points on your body to deal with the phlegm and any other issues contributing to your condition. In addition, there are some very effective herbal formulas that can clear your sinuses and dry out the phlegm. Your practitioner will likely also point you to some diet modifications, such as avoiding lots of sweets, dairy, and very rich or greasy foods, as well as choosing foods specifically suited to your body.
A few at-home steps to help relieve your symptoms include:
- Get and use a Neti pot or some other way to rinse your sinuses. Neti pots or saline nasal sprays can be found at your local drug store. To avoid burning, combine one teaspoon of salt with a pinch of baking soda into two cups of distilled water, then rinse.
- Use a little steam to open up your sinuses. A hot shower or standing over a pan of boiling water (careful not to burn yourself!) can help open things up.
- If you’re very uncomfortable, try moist heat. Place a moist towel or washcloth in the microwave for about 30 seconds. Then place it on your face where you’re feeling pain or pressure. Again, be careful—the cloth should be comfortably warm, not scorching hot.
- Take it easy on the decongestant nasal sprays. They may bring you relief in the short term, but are notorious for causing a rebound effect, making your nasal congestion worse than before.
- Be sure to stay hydrated, which keeps the mucous thin and more likely to drain.
- Give your body the rest it needs to recover and heal.
It’s not a given that you need to live with chronic sinus pain, frequent infections, or be tied to taking antihistamines, antibiotics, or steroids for the rest of your life. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine may be the solution you’ve been looking for in treating your sinus issues—ask your practitioner how they can help.
Daniel Melton is a California board certified acupuncturist and herbalist. He earned a B.S. in biology, completed his Masters in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and is the founder of Melton Acupuncture in Morgan Hill, CA.