Herbal Sinus Remedies

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Sinus problems affect at least 35 million Americans, and are one of the most common complaints of patients seeking medical attention.

Sinus infections can be both acute and chronic. Usually, the infection starts with a cold due to factors such as weather changes; or an allergy episode that causes swelling of the mucous membranes and increased production of watery mucus. The classic sinusitis symptoms are nasal congestion, thick yellow nasal discharge (or thin and clear discharge in mild cases), frontal headache, and possibly fever with a sore throat.

Western Medical treatments for sinus include prescribing decongestants, mucolytics (drugs that thin mucus secretions), pain relievers, and antibiotics. Nasal decongestants can become ineffective and can lead to dependency if used for a long time. Antibiotics work well in some conditions but not all. There are often cases that do not respond to them at all. As a last resort, surgery may be used to clean out and drain thick secretions that are blocking the sinuses if drug therapy is not effective, or if there are structural abnormalities.

Ancient healing traditions such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believe that in order to treat any condition, the body as a whole should be analyzed. Any ‘imbalances’ can be corrected by using herbs and/or acupuncture. According to Ayurvedic Principles, the digestive power or agni can be weakened by cold temperatures. This leads to a weakened immune system and creates a fertile environment for viruses and bacteria to attack. Drinking hot liquids (herbal teas, soups etc.) and dressing warmly helps keep agni strong. One of the best-proven Ayurvedic herbs for fighting winter infections is Andrographis paniculata. It is indicated in bacterial and viral respiratory infections including common cold, pharyngotonsillitis, and acute sinusitis.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) many of the symptoms that manifested as a sinus infection could be due to an imbalance of other organs. A commonly seen condition is where a patient suffers from sinusitis and constipation. If the intestines are not able to fully eliminate waste, it leads to imbalance in the upper body, producing phlegm. The herbal formula used in this case would be tailored to treat both these conditions simultaneously. Chinese herbal prescriptions are quite complex. Rarely is a single herb used to treat a condition.

A typical formula for a person with symptoms of stuffy nose, profuse nasal discharge, difficulty breathing is Xin Yi San which includes the following herbs: Xin Yi Hua (Magnolia Flower),Xi Xin (Asarum), Gao Ben (Straw Seed),Fang feng (Ledbouriella),Bai zhi (Angelica), Chuan xiong (Ligusticum),Sheng ma (Cimicifuga), Mu tong (Akebia) and Gan cao (Licorice). Pharmacological and Clinical research has established some of the facts about these herbs: Fang feng and Gao Ben have an inhibitory effect against some influenza viruses like staphylococcus aureus, pseudomonas aeruginosa and shigella sp. Preparation of Xin Yi Hua applied topically to the nasal mucosa causes a decrease in secretions.

Xi Xin has an antipyretic effect as well as an antibiotic effect against Streptococcus, Shigella, and Salmonella typhi. Dosages of these herbs depend upon upon a person’s size, age, and specific conditions, such as pregnancy, metabolic rate, and particular allergies. Self-medication of herbs can be harmful and it is best to see an herbalist for the right prescription.

Changes in the diet are also very helpful. It is best to avoid foods that produce phlegm and this includes dairy products such as such as cheese, ice cream, and milk. A diet low in red meat and fried foods is ideal.

Supplements that help with sinus infections:

• Bromelain, an enzyme derived from pineapple, has been reported to relieve symptoms of acute sinusitis

• Vitamin C supplementation (1,000 mg three times per day) reduced histamine levels in people with either high histamine levels or low blood levels of vitamin C. Histamine is associated with increased nasal and sinus congestion.

• Eucalyptus oil can be used in a steam inhalation to help clear nasal and sinus congestion. Eucalyptus oil is said to function in a fashion similar to menthol by acting on receptors in the nasal mucous membranes, leading to a reduction in the symptoms of nasal stuffiness.

• Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) has been shown to increase nearly every phase of immune-system activity. One study showed that astragalus increases the production and storage of interferon, a substance that alerts the body to invading viruses and bacteria and stimulates cells to begin their defense, and to increase interferon’s effects in fighting illnesses such as the common cold.

• Garlic (Allium sativum) contains allicin, which makes it a a potent antibacterial agent. It is a natural antibiotic that is effective against bacteria and viruses, and it is easily accessible.

• Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia), is effective if taken during the early stage of a cold or the flu. Echinacea is not an antibiotic; it does not kill germs. Instead, it works by stimulating the production of white blood cells, accelerating their maturation within the lymphatic tissue, and speeding their travel to the area of infection, where they help fight the invaders.

• Goldenseal, (Hydrastis Canadensis) is believed to help reduce

inflammation of the mucous membranes, such as those lining the throat, sinuses, and lungs enabling the tissues to resume their protective role.

A yogic practice for clearing the sinuses is also very effective and is recommended for people suffering from chronic sinusitis. A ceramic pot, known as a ‘neti pot’, is filled with a warm salt-water solution and poured through the nose to clear out sinus congestion. Neti Pots are available at most natural food stores.

Self Acupressure at certain Acupoints can also be beneficial. Use the tips of the index fingers to massage these points three times a day.

Bitong (Extra Point): Located on each side of the nose, at the bottom edge of the nasal bones.

Hegu (LI-4): Located at the highest spot of the muscle between the thumb and index finger on the back of the hand when the thumb and index finger are close together.

Using Herbal Medicine and other Integrative therapies can decrease the use of antibiotics, thus avoiding their abuse and side-effects. It is important that the society is aware of the options available to them so that they can make an informed and educated decision. Best wishes for a healthy winter!

Leena Sikand Cook
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Leena Cook, L.Ac.,  is a licensed Acupuncturist and Certified Herbalist in NC and GA.  She taught at Acupuncture Schools for over 10 years and is a published author.  www.healthybodysoul.net

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