Sun | Jun 20, 2021

Keep your sinuses healthy

Published:Wednesday | June 6, 2012 | 12:00 AM

I OFTEN hear people complain, "I have sinus", meaning 'I am having a problem with my sinuses'. What is a sinus? In medicine, a sinus is a sac or cavity in any organ or tissue.

The truth is we all have sinuses. The sinuses commonly complained about are found in the skull. The human skull contains four major pairs of hollow air-filled cavities - sinuses. These are connected to the nostrils and nasal passages. Your sinuses reduce the weight of your skull and gives resonance to your voice.

Perhaps, most important, the sinuses provide defences against harmful foreign substances in the air we inhale, like germs, dust, smoke, particles and chemical pollutants. It is not surprising that as the atmosphere and our general environment becomes more polluted, more people develop sinus problems. Our sinuses are, in a sense, part of our immune system, and sinusitis is simply an inflammation of the membranes lining the sinuses in response to an irritation of the immune system.

Sinusitis is one of the leading chronic diseases and, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, more than 37 million Americans have one or more episodes of sinusitis each year. These are caused by allergies or infection which inflame the sinuses. Americans lose more than 73 million days from work and school each year. I wonder about the economic and social cost of sinusitis to Jamaica!

Symptoms of sinusitis

Common symptoms include facial pain/pressure, nasal obstruction, nasal discharge, a diminished sense of smell, irritation of the throat, drainage and cough. Additionally, sufferers may have fever, bad breath, fatigue and even dental pain.

Treatment for sinusitis

Sadly, modern medicine focuses its attention on treating the symptoms of this problem with drugs and even surgery. Little attention is paid to treating the underlying causes or on prevention. Unfortunately our children are particularly prone to chronic drug use (or abuse) for sinusitis. I know patients who have been on 'sinus medication' for over 20 years! Many of those same people have learnt how to eliminate the problem completely or improve it significantly by a simple non-drug approach.

Clean up your diet

A common source of irritation to your sinuses comes from your diet. Avoid chemicals and additives in your food. Minimise your intake of processed foods, sugar and white flour. Most important, take a holiday from all dairy products - milk, butter, cheese, ice cream etc. Dairy products stimulate mucus production from the sinuses. Check food labels carefully for hidden sources of dairy. Consume lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and drink herbal teas (green tea and ginger tea). Keep well hydrated with lots of water.

Clean up your environment

Do all you can to avoid pollutants in your surroundings. Moulds, dust, pollens and chemicals are in the air you breathe. Avoid damp and poorly ventilated areas. Curtains, carpets, mats, pillows pets and toys are sources of allergens. Fresh paint, new carpets and furniture will give off gas toxic chemicals for a long time. Avoid cigarette smoke!

Strengthen the immune system

Take optimal levels of antioxidants, particularly the ACES - vitamin A, C, E and the mineral selenium. I specifically recommend a combination of the antioxidant herbs schizandra and rosemary along with the ACES. These are conveniently available in tablet form. The mineral zinc, as well as the herb echinacea, have antibacterial and antiviral properties and can be used to help prevent infection to the sinuses. The omega-3 fatty acids will offer powerful anti-inflammatory benefits to the sinuses as well. Get plenty of sunshine, as well as supplementing with vitamin D, supports immune function. Learn to manage stress as chronic stress can compromise the immune system.

Wash and humidify your sinuses

For thousands of years, practitioners of yoga have used a technique called neti to keep their sinuses and nostrils in excellent condition. This was particularly important to them as they considered good breathing essential to good health.

I use this method myself and strongly recommend it to sinus sufferers as well as to anyone interested in excellent health. It involves the use of a simple and inexpensive device called a neti pot that looks like a small teapot. The pot is filled with warm salt (natural salt) water and the spout applied to a nostril. By tilting the head, one can allow the water to run into one nostril and out of the other.

The method is easy to learn and the few do's and don'ts are easily understood for safe use. Daily use of this technique cleanses and humidifies the nasal passages, and not only relieves sinus symptoms, but also prevents future attacks.

In my experience, this simple holistic approach designed to have your body do its own healing and prevention, produces great results. It often avoids many of the dangers and problems of drugs and surgery. Of course, medication and surgery have their place, but in my opinion, should be reserved for special situations or when these simple methods have not been effective enough.

You may email Dr Tony Vendryes at or listen to 'An Ounce of Prevention' on POWER 106FM on Fridays at 8 p.m. His new book, 'An Ounce of Prevention, Especially for Women', is available locally and on the Internet.