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Chronic Sinus Congestion

Most of us dread the sinus drainage and congestion that comes with the annual cold. Imagine what a nuisance these symptoms become when they occur on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, patients can have regular sinus issues that interfere with their day-to-day activities. Treatments can be daily medications to ease symptoms, and possibly sinus surgery. For those with structural problems, the inability of the sinuses to drain can cause a build up of pressure. In these cases, surgery can be very successful. For many, surgery is not an option, or not enough to alleviate symptoms. These patients need to evaluate specific factors in their diet, and consider nutrients to improve their sinus symptoms.

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Most patients with chronic sinus difficulties will experience periods throughout the year when their symptoms are worse than others. These typically occur from exacerbations from spring and fall allergens. An individual’s allergies build up until they reach a threshold, at which time symptoms, like nasal congestion, begin. Environmental allergens like pollen and pet dander are not the only contributors. Food triggers, poor digestive health, inadequate sleep and lack of good nutrition can all aggravate sinus problems. By improving each of these factors, the overall allergen load can move below the sensitivity threshold.

Nutrition can be the most important, but underutilized factor. Two main strategies exist: Decreasing refined sugar intake and exploring potential food triggers. Refined sugar (white table sugar and high fructose corn syrup) aggravates the balance of many hormones in the body and promotes the growth of disease-causing bacteria. Consumption should be reduced or eliminated to dramatically improve sinus problems.

Secondly, one should investigate the possibility of the body reacting to foods consumed on a regular basis. Common culprits include dairy and gluten-containing grains (wheat, oats, rye, barley and spelt). Those suffering from chronic sinus problems should consider an elimination diet. A common form of this diet focuses on proteins, fruits and vegetables, while avoiding dairy and gluten-containing grains for a 2-3 week period. Discussions on elimination dieting and food intolerance are covered in the nutrition section of this Web site.

On the next page, find guidelines for sinus care.

Follow these guidelines to maintain sinus health.

  • Drink plenty of water. Good hydration can thin secretions allowing better sinus drainage. A good goal is 8 glasses a day, but more is best.
  • Sleep. Good sleep habits support the immune system by allowing the body to rest and regenerate during the night.
  • Sinus flushing. A great practice to do several times daily, sinus flushing will help promote sinus drainage, and often lead to some temporary relief.
  • Heat. The application of heat, either with a heating pad or hot pack, can help relieve discomfort. Apply to the forehead and cheekbones for fifteen to twenty minutes several times daily.
  • Do not smoke. The damage done by cigarette smoke to the cells lining the sinuses is devastating. Avoid exposure at all costs.
  • Exercise. Regular exercise will help boost the immune system and can promote sinus drainage.

Many nutrients can support the sinuses. The goal of these supplements is to complement overall nutrition, strengthen the adrenal gland (to help balance the immune response) and decrease inflammation.

  • Quercetin. This vitamin has a strong safety record and can be very helpful with symptoms. It does take 7-14 days to reach full effect.
  • Stinging nettles. Nettles have known effects on inflammation and have been studied for sinus problems. Their safety record is also good, and nettles pair well with quercetin.
  • Turmeric. This herbal supplement, taken from curry, is gaining clout as a potent inflammation fighter. Chronic sinus inflammation needs its share of agents such as turmeric to help ease congestion.
  • Xylitol nasal spray. 1-2 sprays per nostril, 2 -3 times per day. Xylitol is a natural sweetener found in some fruit and river birch trees. It has been shown to make the environment inhospitable for bugs that may cause sinus infections. It’s handy to use at the first sign of a sinus infection, or to prevent possible infections when the sinus inflammation worsens.

The body relies on the adrenal gland through times of stress. With significant allergies, the adrenal gland will get overworked which can lead to significant fatigue on top of troubling nasal congestion. Consider the addition of these supplements, as they may have dual roles in helping congestion while supporting the adrenal gland.

  • Vitamin C. 2,000-3,000 mg daily for adults, taken in divided doses throughout the day. Vitamin C is added support to the adrenal gland.
  • B complex. These vitamins support the adrenal gland and help keep it fueled. Excessive B complex can eventually aggravate the sinuses, so avoid more than 1-2 capsules a day.
  • B-5 (pantothenic acid). This vitamin is the MVP of the B vitamins in relation to the adrenal gland, and can be used more aggressively by those with fatigue and ongoing sinus problems. B-5 is extremely safe and is a welcomed addition to B complex.
  • Panax ginseng (200 mg of standardized extract daily) and licorice. These herbs provide great support for the adrenal gland and can therefore provide significant benefit for the fatigue that might come with ongoing sinus issues. Most patients note that these herbs not only help the sinuses, but return their stamina and decrease the symptoms of brain fog. Those with a history of high blood pressure should discuss the use of these herbs with a physician.

What about antibiotics?

Antibiotics have their role in the treatment of some cases of acute sinusitis that have not resolved after 10-14 days. Prior to this, there is rarely any benefit to antibiotics. Candidates for antibiotics have persistent congestion, headaches, facial pain and/or upper tooth pain for more than 10 days.

Most cases of ongoing sinus congestion and inflammation will not respond to antibiotics. In fact, overuse of antibiotics can contribute to the onset of chronic sinus congestion. There is a lot of current literature discussing chronic fungal infection of the sinuses. The fungal overgrowth is most often a result of frequent antibiotic use, diets high in refined sugar and food intolerance. Dietary changes and extended courses of antifungal treatment are recommended in these cases.

Those with chronic sinus congestion would be best served to work with a physician that avoids prescribing antibiotics for sinus congestion. This will generally lead to only appropriate use and sensible choices of specific antibiotics used for an appropriate time frame. This avoidance will lessen the chances of bacterial resistance and fungal overgrowth.

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