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Sinus problems can affect people in different ways. Most people are lucky to have no sinus symptoms while others may have one or multiple infections per year. Still others battle the painful symptoms on a daily basis. The incidence of recurrent acute sinusitis and chronic sinusitis are on the rise as pollution and other irritants increase both outdoors and at home.
Dr. Bennett feels strongly that explaining the characteristics of healthy sinuses, dispelling frequent myths about sinusitis, and suggesting tips to prevent infections, will help you to improve your quality of life!
Most of us are already aware of what unhealthy sinuses feel like. Unhealthy sinuses are linked to nasal pressure, green or yellow mucus, difficulty smelling or tasting and fatigue, but how do we know if our sinuses are healthy? Healthy sinuses mean more than simply not having these symptoms.
Understanding what the sinuses are and how they function is key to maintaining their health. Imagine that the area behind your cheeks, nose and forehead is a large cavern. Now imagine that that within that cavern, there are a series of 8 to 16 smaller caves – these are your sinuses.
Sinuses are thought to help lighten the head and cushion them in case of trauma to the front of the face. Sinuses and the inside of the nose also act as filters, sifting out harmful germs, bacteria and viruses from the air we breathe. Our sinuses are lined with a delicate nasal membrane that is made up of tiny cilia. Think of cilia as similar to the brushes at a car wash. They are tiny hairs that brush the dirty particles from our nose the back of the throat where they can be swallowed. Cilia aid in the filtration system by preventing bacteria from stagnating in our sinuses. Without the cilia, bacteria would enter our sinuses, causing inflammation and thereby affecting the body’s ability to stop infection.
Healthy sinuses are also linked to speech. Think back to the last time you had a sinus infection – you probably remember that it was difficult to pronounce common “nasal” sounds. These alterations in your voice are common. If you notice that when you speak, it sounds like you are pinching your nose, then your sinuses are probably not up to par, and you could be on the verge of a sinus infection.
Clear mucus is a characteristic of healthy sinuses. Clear mucus means clean sinuses and the absence of infection. Many people incorrectly assume that mucus, in any form, is not a good sign. Mucus is important because it creates a proper level of moisture in the nasal membrane. We make about a liter of mucus every day in our noses. Mucus also helps the hairs inside the mucus membrane (cilia) to move freely and to filter out bacteria.
When the sinuses fail to filter out bacteria and these harmful particles enter the nasal membrane, your body’s response is to produce inflammation and excess mucus to drain the bacteria from your nasal cavity. This leads to blockages in the nose, since your body is producing mucus faster than it can drain from your body. Blockages can increase inflammation of the nasal cavity in a cycle that can cause sinus infection symptoms.
Sinus health is inextricably linked to nutrition. We all know that proper nutrition involves eating certain foods, but understanding the types of foods you should avoid is just as important. Dr. Bennett encourages patients to keep an eye on the amount of refined sugar consumed. Products that contain high fructose corn syrup are linked to bacteria growth that can cause illness, including sinus infections.
To help the body detoxify, an elimination diet can be a helpful tool. An elimination diet is a 2-3 week program of restricting one’s diet to mostly fruits, vegetables and protein, and keeping dairy and gluten on the grocery store shelf. Of course you should talk to your doctor to make sure this is appropriate for you.
The goal of the diet is to find out if your body is allergic or sensitive to a certain type of food or food group. A food allergy or sensitivity can lower your immune system and force your body to produce a surplus of mucus (meaning an increased risk of sinus infection.) An overwhelming percentage of people site diary products as the offenders, so if you suspect food sensitivity plays a part in your frequent sinus infections, trying removing dairy from your diet.
Caring for your sinuses can sometimes be as simple as following common, everyday tips for a healthy lifestyle. It’s no myth that staying hydrated by drinking 8 glasses of water a day, keeping a good sleep pattern, avoiding alcohol and tobacco, and exercising 3-4 times weekly is the secret to healthy sinuses, and a healthy body, too.
Studies show that supplements contribute to healthy sinuses. Think about it this way: if you are providing your body with essential nutrients, then you are equipping it with the strength it needs to fight against sinus inflammation. Dr. Bennett recommends taking supplements that fortify the adrenal gland – which is liked to the immune system.
Look for these vitamins when shopping at your local general nutrition shop:
Many people are unaware that their body is allergic to certain foods or environmental irritants like pollen, mold or pet dander. See an allergist, who can perform a non-evasive skin test to determine whether an allergy is contributing to your frequent sinus infections.
If you aren’t in the habit of maintaining a good hygiene regimen, then you may be exposing yourself to germs that may increase the likelihood of a sinus infection
Prevention is half the battle in reducing sinusitis symptoms. Wash your hands after close contact with bacteria. Dr. Bennett suggests keeping a small bottle of anti-bacterial lotion in your bag or briefcase throughout the day. Avoiding contact with bodily fluids and personal items of those around you is helpful. Take care not to share things like make-up, hairbrushes or toothbrushes. Before you touch your nose or eyes, make sure your hands are clean.
When you inhale bacteria, the mucus membrane in your nasal cavity can become inflamed as a response to the foreign agents now present in your nose. Inflammation closes up your nasal passages, preventing proper draining and trapping mucus inside your sinuses. It is important to help clear away the infection-causing agents before your symptoms worsen. It will help you breathe easier and allow the mucus in your nose to drain properly.
See Dr. Bennett’s article entitled “Fighting Sinusitis: Transform Yourself From Neti Pot Novice to Sinus Expert” for more details.
The cilia are the most important tools for fighting infection, so treat them with the love and respect they deserve by giving them what they crave most – warmth and moisture.
Easy tips like inhaling deeply near a hot tea kettle, installing a humidifier or vaporizer in the bedroom, or simply breathing deeply with a warm wash cloth placed over your face are the best gifts for your cilia.