By Linda Melone
The headaches, the stuffiness, the pressure—cranky sinuses can make you feel just plain awful.
And if this sounds like you, especially now during spring pollen season, you have plenty of company: Roughly 37 million Americans sneeze and sniffle their way through sinus troubles every year.
Fortunately, there are natural ways to help relieve sinus symptoms and let you get back to living your best life.
Ow, My Aching Head
Although it doesn’t feel that way when you’re constantly blowing your nose, sinuses do actually serve a purpose (other than making you miserable).
These air-filled cavities, all of which are connected to the nasal passageway, help filter and moisturize air as it enters the body. Their location makes them prone to blockages and infections, leading to sinus irritation, or sinusitis.
One of the most common forms of sinus congestion crops up during a head cold.
“Acute sinus problems are usually due to viral infections. These typically include other symptoms such as a cough, chills, sore throat and fever,” says upper respiratory system specialist Omid Mehdizadeh, MD. These uncomfortable symptoms usually last about 10 days.
Sinusitis that continues for three months or longer is considered chronic. According to Mehdizadeh, such infections include at least two out of four symptoms: nasal congestion, drainage, a sensation of fullness and a decreased or absent sense of smell. Additional symptoms may include pressure, headaches, pain in forehead or cheeks, and difficulty breathing.
Typically, sinus congestion is treated with oral antibiotics and nasal sprays. However, steroid sprays can take up to 10 days to start working, says Mehdizadeh.
Non-drug sinusitis management includes nasal irrigation with a neti pot, which helps remove pollen and dust from the nasal passages; for best results, use filtered, distilled, sterile or previously boiled water. According to research in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, people who used nasal irrigation experienced fewer symptoms, and they didn’t visit the doctor as often if sinus problems recurred.†
When stuffy sinuses make it hard to breathe, often the simplest solutions such as running a hot shower can be very effective.
“Steam inhalation is an excellent home remedy to alleviate sinus pressure,” says Bethany Tennant, ND, a naturopathic physician in Portland. “Use a hot shower or even heat water in a bowl, and place a towel over your head and the bowl to create an intense steam treatment.”†
Essential oils can also work well to lessen sinus symptoms. Tennant suggests using a few drops of eucalyptus, tea tree or thyme “at the base of a hot shower for a dual-purpose steam/essential oil treatment.” An oil diffuser is another option.†
Making changes to your household environment can reduce the frequency or intensity of symptoms.
Tennant recommends deep-cleaning your living space to eliminate pet dander, dust mites and mold, all common sinusitis culprits. She suggests using hypoallergenic cleaning supplies, explaining that “dyes, chemicals or perfumes used in laundry or dish detergent or any other home-cleaning products can worsen symptoms.”
Quercetin is found in foods such as citrus and broccoli, and can also be taken in supplemental form. “Quercetin contains anti-histamine properties,” says Tennant.†
Botanical options include stinging nettles, which have been used for hundreds of years to address runny nose, eczema and arthritis. Nettle leaf is often mixed with peppermint leaf or red raspberry leaf to make a tea. “Better yet, having this as a hot tea can also double as a steam inhalation treatment as well,” Tennant adds.†
What you eat can impact sinus symptoms indirectly.
“Some foods are helpful for patients to avoid,” says Olivia Rose, ND, who practices in Toronto. She notes that dairy, including cheese and yogurt, tends to increase mucus production, and it can make expelling mucus a challenge.
“Alternatively, other foods can help,” Rose notes, “such as spicy dishes that contain capsicum and ginger, which can work to clear blocked sinuses.” Other sinus-loving foods include pineapple, apple and onions.†
Many people turn to apple cider vinegar; its array of B vitamins, calcium and magnesium are believed to help clear sinuses and treat allergy symptoms. And chicken soup, a longtime folk remedy for colds, may in fact help relieve sinus congestion.†
Boosting Immunity Naturally
One of the best ways to avoid sinus problems is to defend yourself against upper respiratory infections. Lifestyle helps, such as washing your hands frequently, not touching your nose and mouth too much, and cleaning surfaces such as keyboards and door handles. So does eating a healthy diet, and getting enough exercise and sleep.
You can also bolster your immune defenses through sound supplementation.
For example, Andrographis paniculata, an herb that grows throughout the tropical regions of Asia, contains compounds that have been found to activate substances within the body that help regulate immunity.† A special type of fiber, arabinogalactan (ARA), helps stimulate the immune system, allowing it to fend off infections and other health threats.† And olive leaf contains oleuropein, which has been found to be effective against a number of microbes.†
†The information provided is not an endorsement of any product, and is intended for educational purposes only. NaturesPlus does not provide medical advice and does not offer diagnosis of any conditions. Current research on this topic is not conclusive and further research may be needed in order to prove the benefits described.