05 Jul 2010

Sinusitis

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Sinusitis is an infection or inflammation of the sinuses, which are the air-filled spaces in the bones of the skull.

Symptoms

Symptoms experienced may include:

  • Blocked nose, causing difficulty breathing  
  • Thick nasal discharge
  • Pain, swelling and tenderness over the affected sinus 
  • Headache (the terms "pressure headache" or “stuffy head” may be used) 
  • The ears may also feel congested, and may be painful , or hearing may be distorted 
  • Fatigue 
  • Post-nasal drip of thick mucus
  • Cough 
  • Mucus may have a musty or foul smell and is commonly yellow-green in colour 
  • Toothache 
  • Fever or chill may be present 
  • Many people who are affected by sinusitis also experience asthma

Causes

The sinuses and nasal passages are air-filled and contain light mucus, which is produced by the body to trap inhaled dirt and foreign matter. The contaminated mucus is pushed out through tiny openings that serve as drainage passages to the back of the nose and throat. The mucus is then swallowed.

Anything that causes the mucous membranes lining the sinuses to swell may lead to infection by obstructing the body's method of draining foreign matter out of the body.

For example, one common cause of sinusitis is an upper respiratory tract infection such as the common cold. The sinusitis may be due to the cold itself, or may be a secondary bacterial infection that develops as a consequence of the stagnant mucus. Narrow drainage passages from the sinuses, a deviated septum and polyps or tumours can also obstruct drainage from the sinuses.

Nasal congestion due to other factors (e.g. allergy) also increases susceptibility to bacterial sinus infection.

Irritation of the sinuses also causes an increased production of mucus. For example, some people experience sinusitis as a consequence of exposure to cigarette smoke, dust mites or other inhaled irritants. 

Other factors that may contribute to sinusitis include hay fever, food allergy, and tooth infection.

Natural therapies

  • Horseradish has traditionally been used for the relief of symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections such as sinusitis, and may help to clear mucus and relieve sinus congestion. 
  • Garlic is traditionally used to relieve symptoms of sinusitis and other upper respiratory tract infections. It is often taken with echinacea, which supports the functioning of the immune system.  
  • Vitamin C is also important for healthy immune system function.

Diet and lifestyle

  • Improved drainage and quick control of any infection present are the main aims of therapy. To help drain mucus a course of salt-water nasal drops or spray may be useful.
  • The use of a humidifier is recommended to thin the mucus and promote drainage. Alternatively, fill your bathroom sink with hot water, and then breathe in the steam while bending over the sink with a towel over your head to keep the steam from escaping. Be careful not to burn your face by putting your head too close to the water, or by using water that is too hot to tolerate.
  • Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, particularly those rich in immune-boosting vitamin C and bioflavonoids such as citrus, capsicum and pineapple. At the same time, natural therapists often recommend that patients with sinusitis avoid dairy foods as they believe they increase the body’s mucus production.
  • Increase your intake of fluids - filtered water, vegetable and fruit juices, soups and herbal teas. 
  • Cigarette smoke and other inhaled irritants may contribute to sinus problems. Smokers should consider taking a vitamin C supplement to reduce the effects of the smoke on the immune system. 
  • Antibiotics are often prescribed for bacterial sinus infections, but may disrupt the friendly bacteria that reside in the bowel. Taking a probiotic supplement containing Lactobacillus reuteri helps to rebalance the gastrointestinal flora after antibiotic use.
  • Sleep in a well-ventilated room that is clean and free of potential allergens such as pet hair, dust mites, feathers and mould.  Special low-allergy bedding and cleaning products may need to be used.

Important notes

  • See your healthcare professional if the condition is associated with severe pain or smelly mucus - you may have an underlying infection.
  • It is also important to consult with your healthcare professional if symptoms persist for longer than seven days, or recur frequently.