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Heal Your Sinuses

Types of Treatment

How to Test the Cilia for Normal Functioning

"The treatment of choice for sinus disease is to have the body return the cilia to their normal function, beating 16 times per second," says Dr. Murray Grossan, a Los Angeles-based internist and author of "The Sinus Cure," to be issued by Bantam Books early in 2001. "When the cilia are normal, people do not have sinusitis; they don't even have [sinus related] allergies."

Dr. Grossan is also the developer of a special nasal irrigation attachment for the Water Pik, a device that he says can help heal many cases of sinusitis. To prove it, he tests his patients' cilia function before and after irrigation by placing a grain of saccharin in their nose, then times how long it takes the particle to travel from the front of the nose to the back, where it's swallowed. (Do not try this at home.)

"If they taste [the saccharin] in five minutes, cilia function is probably normal," Dr. Grossan explains. "If it takes 30 minutes, then the probability is that even using all the different gadgets I have, the patient will not be cured." What that means, says Dr. Grossan, is that the patient will need to irrigate his or her sinuses on a regular basis for the rest of his life to make up for the absence of the cilia's sweeping action.

Other remedies thought to jump-start these little hairs or "brushes" are hot tea (not coffee) first thing in the morning and chicken soup — Dr. Grossan's "breakfast in bed cure." "By drinking hot tea before you get out of bed, the body gets warmed up, the cilia speed up, and you avoid sneezing and coughing."

A recently discovered threat to cilia health is the toxicity of most preservatives in saline sprays. Ironically, over-the-counter saline sprays have long been advised for sinus sufferers as a portable way to hydrate inflamed, dried-out respiratory passages and encourage cilia movement. But in 1995, researchers discovered that saline spray additives, particularly one called benzalkonium, could actually destroy the mucus lining, taking the cilia with it. Now there are several preservative-free saline sprays on the market, including Rhinocourt Aqua and Dr. Grossan's own product, Breathe-Ease.

Candida — An Overlooked Cause of Sinusitis

But say you've tried all these remedies and continue to be plagued with bouts of sinus infections. What next? A diagnosis gaining increasing respect in medical circles is that of candidiasis, an overgrowth of candida yeast in the body. Dr. William Crook, a physician in Jackson, Tenn., says he has successfully treated hundreds of patients for candida with antifungal medications, immune system support, and a sugar-free diet. He has also written several books on the subject, including "The Yeast Connection Handbook" (Professional Books, 2000).

Dr. Ivker agrees that addressing candidiasis is the missing link for many of his sinus-compromised patients and has made its treatment part of his program as well. The notion of a connection between candida and sinusitis gained a great deal of credence in 1999 after a Mayo Clinic study was published that showed subjects with sinusitis obtained significant relief from their illness via long courses of antifungal drugs.

Repeated courses of antibiotics are thought to promote yeast overgrowth by killing friendly bacteria in the body along with invading pathogens. The candida itself isn't considered harmful, but the toxins it's suspected of emitting as it runs rampant are thought to cause a host of problems, including fatigue, recurrent vaginitis, depression and chronic infections such as sinusitis.

To make matters worse, "almost without exception, every person with a yeast-related problem is bothered by food sensitivities," Dr. Crook says. Of course, most people don't know their body is bothered by particular foods, so they continue to eat them freely, putting even more strain on what is often an already overburdened immune system. It becomes a vicious cycle, similar to that of antibiotics for the treatment of sinusitis. If you think this is a problem for you, you may want to consider getting tested for food sensitivities, usually through a dietitian or a nutritionally oriented physician.

Clearly, sinusitis treatment demands constant vigilance and usually a complete overhaul in lifestyle, but the payoffs can be major. Dr. Ivker, 53, continues to practice most aspects of his program every day and says he's never felt healthier or been in better shape in his life. "It just gets better and better." He hasn't had a sinus infection in more than 12 years. "Yes, it's a long road to recovery, but I think it's worth it," he says.