Sinusitis is a general term for inflammation of the sinus, commonly caused by bacterial or viral infection or allergy. Other causes include blockage from polyps, enlarged turbinates, scar tissue, dental infections or a deviated septum, all of which require surgical intervention. This condition is often far more complex than it appears. Often overlooked, for example, are chronic low-level fungal infections of the sinus cavity, found in almost all cases. In my home state of Delaware, due to the high level of fungus in the air, I see lots of these chronic cases. Bacterial sinus infections can occur periodically and exacerbate the chronic condition, in which case there will be symptoms of pain in the forehead, upper jaw and face, as well as increased discharge of colored mucus. If left untreated, it can cause many symptoms such as constant hacking and clearing of the throat, painful burning eyes, and asthma-like symptoms.
Simple use of antihistamines will easily calm down allergy and sinus symptoms, as long as there is no bacterial sinus infection. However, because simply suppressing the immune system does not deal with the underlying issues, and after a time these usually stop working. The next step is usually steroid sprays with their concomitant side effects, or allergy shots requiring frequent injections at the doctor's office.
Natual Medicine Treatment for Chronic Sinusitis
The first step is to reduce as much as possible allergy triggers, such as pets, molds, fungus and poor indoor air. This important step is covered in our article on the basics of respiratory system treatment.
Because of the underlying fungal issues, I developed a special nasal massage oil which addressed this issue. It contains wild asparagus oil, sandalwood drops and some natural anti-fungals. This often has dramatic effects because it simultaneously moistens and heals the sinus membrane, while eliminating inflammation and infection.
Chinese doctors routinely use Pe Min Kan Wan (“Allergic sinus nose pills”), over-the-counter pills that decrease sinusitis symptoms and fight sinus infections. They can be used to fight infections already in progress, on an as-needed basis for control of occasional symptoms, or continuously during a course of six to 12 weeks for a generalized anti-inflammatory and membrane healing effect. After two courses, it is advised to stop use of the pills to determine if the symptoms will return. Many patients report that the relief lasts for a few months up to half a year before they need to use the pills again. These world famous pills, formulated at factories in Mainland China, contain chrysanthemum flowers, honeysuckle flower, scute root and about 10 other herbal medicines. They exert anti-allergy and anti-inflammatory actions, and help reduce post-nasal drip. Authentic Pe Min Kan Wan includes small amounts of an alkaline extract of animal bile, famed for its strong anti-inflammatory action. Exercise caution when purchasing these products, because low-cost brands sometimes substitute less expensive ingredients and chemical drugs such as Tylenol and anti-histamines for the high quality herbal ingredients (see section on adulterants in safety chapter). To be sure you are getting a good quality product, you may want to see a TCM doctor who has a trusted source.
In our clinic we also use the Neti Pot, a small teapot-shaped vessel which can be filled with salt water. Originally used by Indian Yogis to clean the nostrils, the design of the pot allows control of the water flow to help break loose and remove all foreign matter, opening sinus blockage. The neti pot is especially useful if there is severe blockage or heavy mucus. It is a superior treatment to salt nasal sprays because it allows greater control of water pressure and deeper penetration into the sinus cavities. After a few weeks of practice, many patients find they can pour a thin stream of salt water into one nostril until the stream comes out the other nostril into the sink. Removing mucus and opening clogged sinus cavities during the “off” seasons can calm immune response and aid in reduced allergies the following year. Use the Neti pot once each week during that time for a preventive effect.
• TAM doctors make nose drops by adding small amounts of herbs to pure sesame oil. For general inflammation, add five or ten drops white sandalwood oil to a one-ounce dropper bottle. I have developed a more complex formulationsfor use with my patients, mentioned above. Make sure to use nasal oil preparations after use of the neti pot to prevent the drying effect of the salt water.
• You can also use nose drops made with xylitol, also used for ear infections, to kill sinus infections in the early stages. Snort 3-6 drops every two to three hours into each nostril. In severe cases, antibiotics may be needed, but I have found that use of bromelain or over-the-counter Mucinex to thin the mucus is usually enough. Always
• Gel Masks, available at drug stores, are used for warm heat application and can often open sinuses, especially during early stages of infection.
• Use of eyebright tincture (Euphrasia officinalis) is very effective for short term symptomatic relief of allergy-related persistent burning itching eyes with copious discharge of watery mucus (Felter, 1922).
• Butterbur (Petasites frigida) is useful for relaxing the smooth muscles of the sinus, and is also used for headaches and sensitivity to light. It must be properly prepared to remove certain chemicals, so make sure to get this from an herbalist.