UGH. IF YOU SU FFER FROM SINUSITIS, YOU’RE NO STR ANGER TO CONGESTION, excess mucus, and uncomfortable pressure caused by a swelling of the sinus cavities. You’re all too familiar with stuffiness and throbbing pain in the cheeks, forehead, and around the eyes, exhaustion, and headaches. Dental problems (e.g., tooth or jaw) can also be an issue. And it’s common—sinusitis, acute and chronic, affects more than 37 million Americans.
Why so many sufferers? Part of the reason is the way the sinuses are constructed. These air-filled cavities behind the bones of the upper face contain cells that produce mucus to trap bacteria and pollutants. The surface of the sinuses is covered with cilia, tiny hairs that move back and forth, designed to push mucus through the sinus openings and into the nose. But when mucus backs up, the narrow passages become clogged and pressure builds up, leading to the headaches characteristic of sinus problems.
The inflammation or infection that causes sinus problems can be triggered by bacteria or viruses, cigarette smoke, environmental toxins, air pollution, mold, airborne allergies, food allergies, tooth infections, dental problems, overgrowth of Candida albicans (yeast infection) or excessive consumption of dairy. Sometimes, structural abnormalities in the sinuses, such as narrow nasal passages or the growth of a nasal polyp, can block the sinuses and prevent normal drainage.
Typical treatments for sinusitis include Sudafed, antihistamines, antibiotics, or steroids. But their side effects—including rapid heart rate, racing pulse, jitteriness and insomnia—make them less than appealing. Happily for sinusitis sufferers, there are many safe and effective remedies for sinus problems. Skip the prescriptions, and breathe easier with these natural treatments. Drinking lots of water helps thin sticky mucous secretions, making them drain more easily from the sinuses, as well as keeps the mucous membranes moist. Plain, filtered water is best, but herbal teas can also help; ginger and peppermint help loosen and thin mucus, holy basil and licorice boost immunity, and marshmallow soothes irritated nasal passageways.
You may also need to humidify. Dry air irritates already-inflamed sinus membranes, slows passage of mucus, and can exacerbate infections. If your home is excessively dry, use a vaporizer or humidifier. But don’t overdo it; too much humidity encourages the growth of mold, a common culprit in chronic sinus problems. The best range is 35 to 45 percent humidity. Or use humid air locally: take a hot shower, fill a sink with hot water and inhale the steam, or breathe in the mist coming from vaporizers (not the steam from humidifiers; it’s too hot and can damage delicate sinus membranes). The Neti pot has been used in India’s system of Ayurveda for thousands of years. Today, its popularity is growing in the West, and it can be found in natural products stores everywhere. Made of glass, ceramic, or plastic, the Neti pot resembles an Aladdin’s lamp. It is designed to be filled with a saline solution and used to wash away pollens, mucus, viruses, and bacteria from nasal passages. The spout of the Neti pot is held to one nostril while leaning over a sink or basin, letting the water drain out of the other nostril. Research shows this technique can help ease allergy and sinus infection symptoms, and may even lower the chances of catching the common cold, according to some research. To make a saline solution for the Neti pot: Dissolve ½ tsp. noniodized salt in 1 cup of warm distilled or previously boiled water. Use once daily until symptoms subside. Spirulina, a blue-green alga that can modulate immune function, is an effective treatment for allergic rhinitis, an inflam-