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Tips on Dealing with Sinusitis

by Beckie Takacs
August 1998

Sinusitis is an inflammation of the mucous membranes that line the sinuses. This inflammation is usually the result of a viral infection, an allergy (pollen, dust, pet dander, molds, and food), or an environmental irritant such as air pollution, perfume, cigarette smoke, etc. This inflamed tissue can be easily infected with bacteria. Sinus infections are not uncommon among people with immune problems. Unfortunately, the treatment can be almost impossible for someone with environmental illness to comply with. At least three weeks of antibiotics, nasal sprays, and decongestants/expectorants must be used.

I have had severe EI for nine years. A lot of my sensitivities were made worse because of an undiagnosed, low-grade, sinus infection. Five years ago the infection became very bad and quite obvious. Unfortunately, the infection did not respond to treatment and I had to have surgery. The surgeon, who theoretically was one of the best, removed most of the structures in my nose, leaving my sinuses wide open for anything and everything to get in. This just caused more infections and more damage to the mucosa. This led to more surgery to remove the resultant diseased tissue (usually seen in a CT scan as thickened mucosa. Bacteria thrive in it). There were a few antibiotics I could survive on so I was on these for a couple years. Having viral infections every couple weeks, which was the kiss of death for my sinuses, insured I was never going to be free of a sinus infection. A couple years ago I began finding ways to help prevent and treat these without having to resort to antibiotics. The following suggestions are based on my personal experience:

  1. First you should consult an allergist and be tested to plants in your area, molds, dust mites, cockroaches, animals and foods. Skin testing is accurate. Remember, however, that what you are tested for is usually far from the number of plants and molds present in your environment, so if it appears from the test that you have no allergies, this may not be true at all. This testing will determine if IgE antibodies are involved which are responsible for histamine release. Histamine causes swelling and inflammation in tissue. If this tissue is the sinus, and it probably is if you suffer sinus-related problems, then exposure to these things can cause sinusitis and set you up for infection. Consider allergy injections and try to get your allergies under control. Someone with EI can react to all sorts of things that have nothing to do with standard allergies, but if it doesn't cause histamine release or act as a particulate or chemical irritant on the mucosa, then it probably won't cause sinus problems, at least not directly.

  2. Most important for me was preventing upper respiratory viral infections. After years of getting these viruses at the rate of at least two each month, I have not become ill from any for two years. Please refer to my article, Preventing Viral Infections, if you are interested.

  3. Nasal irrigation. Elizabeth Dover has posted an excellent article on this. Gently irrigate if possible. I cannot do this because I react to physiological saline. Yes it is "natural" but since when does that stop an EI from reacting? It gives me migraines and sometimes it can trigger my neuritis, especially if I've had a mold exposure, which sensitizes you to everything. (Not too long ago John Stossel from the TV program 20/20 did a segment on EI showing it to be just a psychological disorder afflicting well-educated caucasian women who were sue-happy. One of the researchers interviewed "proved" that EI didn't exist in a double-blind study using saline as a placebo. Unfortunately, no one knew enough to tell him that many EI's can react as strongly to saline as any chemical).

  4. Use the personal steam inhaler by KAZ (a drug store or pharmacy should have it). To the water I add a few drops of a mixture of eucalyptus oil (20 drops), peppermint oil (12 drops), pine needle oil (8 drops) and camphor oil (8 drops) in a base of 2 teaspoons castor oil. This has been incredibly effective. You can use it for 5-15 minutes throughout the day as you feel the need to. This actually cured my daughter's long-standing sinus infection. (She was juggling antibiotics for weeks and finally went allergic to the entire family of cephalosporin antibiotics that were beginning to help her). Breathing the steam with the fumes from these oils open the sinus passages and are sterilizing. (I do not react to them even though most things I inhale trigger problems for me.) Probably just a mixture of eucalyptus and peppermint would be adequate and these are easily found at the health food store. Avoid using menthol. This is contained in many inhalant rubs i.e., Vicks, Tiger Balm, etc. Menthol is toxic and a known irritant. Menthol actually swells the nasal passages a little but its cooling effect makes one think it is opening them.

  5. Colloidal silver nasal spray by Innovative Natural Products (800-893-7467) can be helpful.

  6. Garlic supplements. Each day take a total of six capsules of Kyolic garlic or Garlicin (I think this may be more tolerable for an EI because it doesn't dissolve in the stomach. I tend to find bypassing the stomach helpful even though I have no stomach problems). My girlfriend told me about how this stopped her from getting sinus infections. I found it to be quite helpful.

  7. Inhaling garlic fumes. An old herbal book that looked at the folklore of herbs throughout the ages listed two methods for using garlic in treating sinus infections. One way is to chop it up and put it in the steamer and inhale the fumes. The second way is to place one or two cloves between your cheek and gum. Leave it in for a few hours to a few days (don't sleep with it). Replace these cloves with fresh ones every few hours or when you think they are losing their potency. Make sure you bite down slightly on the clove from time to time in order to release their active ingredients. This is also good for throat and lung problems. I've tried this for only as long as a few hours and as long as you don't mind the smell of garlic, it seems to be very effective.

  8. Everyone with sinus problems must use a HEPA air purifier. I like the Austin Healthmate but I only use the HEPA filter, not the carbon plus HEPA filter, because I react to carbon. All I care about is removing particulate irritants (i.e. pollen, mold) and a HEPA filter does this. I don't need to worry about inhaling chemicals in my house because I have taken great pains to eliminate them (this is what the carbon removes). I also use an air filter for the car. I have not met anyone with sinuses as reactive to pollens and chemicals as mine (this is because the surgery I had was so terribly radical) so I need to resort to things that many people might find funny or extreme. I often use a nose clip if I am outside around the house, in the car or doing something in the house that may hurt me (i.e. cleaning). This way my hands are free to work and the air can bypass my sinuses about 99%. To go into buildings I wet a washcloth, put it to my nose and mouth, pinch off my nose and breath through my mouth, through the wet cloth. This allows me to safely stay for hours in a place where just one breath through my nose would result in an infection. I cannot use a mask because I react to what the mask is made of.

  9. Along with the sinusitis there is often pain. I have found that the herb feverfew is highly effective in eliminating this sinus-induced pain. If left untreated, this pain eventually leads to a migraine. Since using the feverfew I have vastly reduced the number of migraines I get Usually I take 3 each day of the Nature's Way brand but if I have a pain that is particularly tenacious, taking feverfew every hour keeps the pain dulled and prevents it from becoming a migraine. (This usually resolves in a day, however, if it goes on and on I usually end up finding mold somewhere that is at the root of the problem). I usually do quite poorly on herbs but to my surprise I have absolutely no problems with feverfew. Also, it seems that I'm not as allergic to things since I've been taking this herb. I react poorly to OTC and prescription pain-killers and could not use enough of them to help adequately.

  10. I realize this seems drastic but get rid of all carpets if possible. All they are good for is collecting the very things that make sinuses worse. At the very least get rid of it in your bedroom.

  11. If you have a dust mite allergy, and this is the most common allergy, make sure your bed and pillows are covered with a barrier cloth. Wash your sheets weekly and blankets every two weeks in hot water. If you use a comforter, they have barrier cloths for these as well. A good product comes from Allergy Control Products (800-422-DUST). After several washings of their barrier covers, I have no problems with them (even though my EI is severe) but my mother, who also has severe EI still reacts to them and can't use them. We vacuum often to remove allergens from the floor. We never did find a portable vacuum cleaner that didn't smell too much even though we bought two especially made for EI people. We finally got central vac and it is perfect for us. One of the lovely perks of this disease is the money one can throw away just looking for something to use.

  12. If you are allergic to mold, which most people are, get rid of it in your house. The sad truth is that if it's a mold you are allergic to and it's big enough to see, it's big enough to hurt your sinuses. Chemical exposure is relatively easy to control but mold presents an ongoing challenge. Clean out your ventilation system because mold thrives here. Have a professional clean your air ducts (which builders frequently confuse with waste receptacles during construction) and clean the condensation coils and pan of the air conditioner. Have your car's air conditioner cleaned or don't use it at all. Install some sort of central air cleaner. In my opinion, you still need a portable HEPA filter for use in your room at night and to back up your central system during the day.

    Most of my mold problems come from food in the refrigerator. We have an extra refrigerator which we keep outside that we put all our perishables in, particularly vegetables. Make sure you examine and trim away all bad parts before storing them. I find that if a portion of the food has mold on it, it is best to through not only the whole thing away but all foods stored in the bag with it. Do not keep garbage in your house for more than 24 hours. Transfer it to the trash outside (keep this far from the house) within this time. Be careful of gardening as there is a lot of mold in the soil. If you must dig in the dirt or water the plants you need to consider some sort of mask.

    Mold can also be in walls, old furniture, drains, house plants, laundry rooms, basements, bathrooms, humidifiers, swamp coolers, grout, toilets, and bathroom fans. Throw it out, seal it up, or kill it. A mold-free home/car is important for someone with EI for reasons other than their sinuses. Mold exposure, even one breath each day, has the ability to increase your sensitivity to everything else. It usually takes me a good two or three days in a totally mold-free environment before I begin to lose some of this extreme sensitivity after removing the mold.

  13. People with recurrent infections can have an immune disorder called specific antibody deficiency. Basically, it means that if your body is invaded by a bacteria or a virus, it would just as soon shake hands with it as to kill it. I saw many immunologists/allergists (even one at the Mayo Clinic) and not one thought to test me for this. No EI doctor tested me either. Finally I found an immunologist at UCI who did and, sure enough, I had it. The treatment for this condition is gamma globulin infusions and it is covered by insurance, including Medicare. Virtually everyone I have met with this problem have recurrent sinus infections. If you haven't been checked for this and you get a lot of infections, make your doctor test you for this and don't take "no" for an answer. I get 20 grams every three weeks and it helps with sinus inflammation and infection.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach me at btakacs1@yahoo.com.

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