Aromatherapy A-Z: Sinusitis
Sinusitis (also called rhinosinusitis) is a common problem that occurs when the lining of the sinuses becomes inflamed, usually after an upper respiratory tract infection such as a cold or flu. It may also be causing by other issues that stop the sinuses draining such as allergic rhinitis (e.g. hay fever), non-allergic rhinitis, nasal obstruction and changes in air pressure.
The sinuses are small, air-filled cavities behind your cheekbones and forehead, that are lined with mucous membrane similar to the lining of the nose. Their main function is to produce mucous to moisturise the inside of the nose and protect against pollutants, micro-organisms, dirt and dust. The mucus produced by your sinuses usually drains into your nose through small, narrow channels. When sinusitis occurs however, the sinus lining becomes inflamed and blocks the narrow channels. Symptoms of sinusitis include sinus pain, a blocked nose, runny nose with a green / yellow discharge, headaches, puffiness, pain and tenderness around the cheeks, eyes or forehead, toothache, a high temperature, reduced sense of smell and bad breath. The condition can be extremely painful and can cause a person to feel quite ill, however symptoms will usually clear up without medication within a couple of weeks.
For very severe or persistent symptoms that haven’t improved after a week, it is advisable to see your GP, as due to the proximity to the brain, there is a very small risk of infection spreading inwards and causing meningitis or abscesses which could be fatal so close to brain tissue.
Treating sinusitis holistically
Frequent use of antibiotics can create resistant strains of bacteria, and exacerbate the likelihood of re-infection by creating candidiasis. This is where the intestinal flora balance of the gut is upset, causing an excess growth of candida albicans - leading to lowered immunity, digestive problems and bloating, tiredness and possibly triggering other health problems.
As with all conditions/weaknesses - a holistic approach is vital to identify individual triggers and long-term solutions. The classic causes or elements that are likely to worsen the predisposition to sinusitis (other than a genetic link) are as follows:-
- Food allergies (especially dairy produce and wheat)
- Respiratory sensitivity
- Nasal obstruction (polyps or deviated septum following broken nose)
- Nutritional deficiencies
A classic plan of action will involve prevention as well as treatment - so working with your doctor to ensure there is no physical obstruction leaves your way clear to follow a natural treatment plan - resorting to medication only if necessary, rather than as a first "port of call".
Natural remedies for sinusitis
- Sinus flushing with salt water can help to kill bacteria, reduce pain and inflammation and clear out allergens and mucous. If you are prone to sinusitis it is worth investing in a nasal douche (or neti pot) to flush the sinuses through with a saline solution (saline is usually sold in sachets with the douche). Alternatively, you can make your own saline solution by dissolving 1 tsp of Dead Sea Salt and a pinch of baking soda in 500ml warm water (distilled or previously boiled). Using a clean nasal douche, bulb syringe or a squeezy bottle, lean over a sink with your head tilted down and mouth open, then squirt the solution with moderate force into one nostril. The saline will pass through the nasal passages and out of your mouth. If you find this particularly unpleasant or if it hurts your ears, you can squirt the solution in more gently and it should trickle back out through the nose. Mucous may be expelled with the saline, so repeat the process in the same nostril until the expelled saline runs clear. Then repeat the entire process in the other nostril. If you have a prescription nasal spray ensure that you wait 30 to 60 minutes after rinsing before using the spray. It is best not to flush sinuses prior to going to bed as excess saline may drain down the throat. Discontinue flushing if you experience any pain or bleeding. Always ensure that your equipment is hygienically clean to avoid further risk of infection.
- Frequent steam inhalations (up to 4 or 6 times a day if necessary) with essential oils can help to relieve congestion, soothe pain, boost your immunity and fight infection especially if started at the onset of symptoms. Eucalyptus, Lavender, Lemon, Peppermint, Pine, Rosemary, Thyme and Tea Tree are some of the best oils to use, and it is worth alternating between a few of these. Lavender and Thyme are particularly good for relieving pain, Eucalyptus, Peppermint and Pine for congestion and Lemon and Tea Tree for fighting infection. Steam inhalation is the quickest and most effective way of introducing the therapeutic oils into the blood stream via the blood rich lining of the lungs. By inhaling the steam through the nose, the oil molecules will also pass directly over the site of the infection, where they can start to take effect. Add 2 drops Eucalyptus essential oil, 2 Thyme, 4 Tea Tree and 4 Lavender to a bowl of steaming hot water. Lean over the bowl, place a towel over your head and inhale the steam for 5-10 minutes. If there is a great deal of facial puffiness replace the Eucalyptus with Peppermint, especially if there is also a raised temperature. You can also vaporise in an aromatherapy diffuser in between inhalations. Use 4 drops each of Pine, Eucalyptus and Tea Tree.
- Applying warm compresses on forehead and side of nose can help ease congestion and pain.
- Colloidal Silver Spray is a highly effective anti-microbial agent - can be sprayed up into the nostrils 2-3 times daily if infection is present.
- Avoid mucous forming foods. As mentioned above certain foods such as dairy produce and wheat can pre-dispose some people to sinusitis, by causing excessive mucous production. It is worth excluding these foods for a few days during an attack or avoiding them completely for several months if you experience regular attacks. You can then try reintroducing these foods in small amounts if desired. Chocolate and orange juice should be avoided for the same reason.
- Raw garlic is one of the most powerfully potent remedies for acute sinusitis! This helps to decongest, detoxify and disinfect. Peel a medium sized clove and chop it into pieces and swallow (do this after a meal or it can be a bit tough on the digestion). Drink a good half litre of water to swallow it down and avoid putting strain on your gut. Adding garlic to your regular diet can also work as a preventative measure.
- Quercetin and Vitamin C (1 gram 3 times daily for the average adult) can help to ease symptoms.
- Turmeric is also an excellent anti-inflammatory and immunity booster.
- B vitamins (especially B5), Ginseng and Liquorice are supportive of the adrenal glands, which can be helpful when immunity/energy is low.
- Keeping hydrated with ‘clean’ fluids will help loosen and thin mucous and assist with sinus drainage.
- Exercise (as long as you don’t have a high temperature) can help stimulate sinus drainage.
- Facial Massage: Special techniques can be used to encourage mucous drainage during an attack, as long as it isn’t too uncomfortable. If the sinuses are really painful it may be advisable to try the steam inhalations for a couple of days to reduce congestion, before attempting massage. A light drumming technique can be used over the sinus area, together with acupressure on appropriate points and sweeping circles around the eyebrow ridge and cheekbones.
- Acupuncture and reflexology can also be effective in treating sinusitis and can be used in conjunction with the aromatherapy oils.
- De-stress: Remember - stress will lower your resistance to infection - and if your weak point is your sinuses - then prevention is better than cure. Have a lovely stress relieving aromatherapy massage on a regular basis with aromatherapy oils that will boost your immunity at the same time as relaxing both your body and mind. The choice of oils will vary according to each individual, but Frankincense is warming, calming and helps dry up excess mucus/catarrh, Neroli is a supreme stress reliever, and Bergamot and Lavender ease physical tension, boost immunity and lighten the mood.