Particularly at this time of the year, a very common Jamaican complaint is: "I am having problems with my sinuses."
What is a sinus?
In medicine, a sinus is a sac or a cavity in any organ or tissue.
The human skull contains four major pairs of hollow, air-filled cavities called sinuses. These are connected to the nostrils and the nasal passages. The sinuses reduce the weight of the skull and allow the voice to resonate within it. But most importantly, the sinuses provide a defence against harmful substances in the air like germs, dust, smoke, particles and chemical pollutants. Sinusitis is simply an inflammation of the membranes lining the sinuses.
Not surprisingly, as the air we breathe and our environment become more polluted, more people complain of sinus problems. Sinusitis is one of the leading chronic diseases and, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, over 37 million Americans have one or more episodes of sinusitis each year. These are mostly caused by allergies or colds, which inflame the sinuses. Americans lose more than 73 million days from work and school each year due to sinusitis.
Symptoms of Sinusitis
Common symptoms include pressure or facial pain, nasal obstruction, nasal discharge, diminished sense of smell, irritation of the throat, drainage and cough. Additionally, sufferers may have fever, bad breath, fatigue and even dental pain.
Treatment of Sinusitis
Sadly, modern medicine focuses its attention on treating the symptoms with drugs and surgery. Virtually no attention is paid to treating the underlying causes or on prevention.
I have met people who have been on sinus medication for over 20 years and who have learned how to get rid of the problem or greatly improve it.
The natural approach:
Clean up your diet.
Unburden your system of chemicals and food additives. Minimise your intake of processed foods, including sugar and white flour. Most important, take a holiday from all dairy products - cow's milk, butter, cheese, ice cream. Dairy products stimulate mucus production from the sinuses. Please read food labels carefully. Consume lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and drink more water.
Clean up your environment.
Do all you can to avoid pollutants in your surroundings, such as mould, dust, pollen and chemicals in the air you breathe. Avoid damp, poorly ventilated areas and get rid of curtains, mats, pillows, pets and toys that harbour dust.
Avoid cigarette smoke.
Be aware that paint, new carpets and new furniture will emit toxic chemicals for a long time.
Strengthen your immune system.
Sinusitis reflects an immune system disorder. Take lots of antioxidants especially the ACES - vitamins A, C and E and the mineral selenium. I recommend a combination of the herbs schizandra and rosemary along with the ACES. This is conveniently available in combination in tablet form. The omega-3 fatty acids provide powerful anti-inflammatory benefits as well.
Cleanse and humidify your sinuses.
For thousands of years, practitioners of yoga have used a technique called 'neti' to keep their sinuses and nostrils in great shape. I strongly recommend it not only to sinus sufferers but also to anyone seeking optimal health. It involves the use of a simple device called a neti pot that looks like a small teapot. The pot is filled with warm salt water (made with natural salt) and the spout applied to a nostril. By tilting the head, the water is allowed to run into one nostril and out of the other nostril. The method is easy to use and the few dos and don'ts are easily understood. Daily use of this technique cleanses and humidifies the nasal passages and not only relieves sinus symptoms but also reduces future attacks.
This simple holistic approach helps in the healing and prevention of sinusitis and may help to avoid the dangers and problems of drugs and surgery.
Of course, conventional treatments have their place but should be reserved for special situations or when these simpler methods have not been effective.
You may email Dr Tony Vendryes at firstname.lastname@example.org or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER 106FM on Fridays at 8 p.m. The programme streams live on the Internet.