Sinusitis: a perspective from Traditional Chinese Medicine

Sinusitis is defined as inflammation of one or more of the paranasal sinuses. It develops when the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract (nose, pharynx, sinuses and throat) become inflamed. When they get inflamed, the swelling obstructs the sinus openings and prevents mucus from draining normally. This creates a moist environment that can breed infection. Inflammation and/or infection creates pain around the nose, eyes and forehead where the sinuses are located.

The mucosa of the nose and sinuses are contagious and symptoms of nasal obstruction and nasal discharge are prominent in sinusitis. 


Rhinitis typically precedes sinusitis and it's very rare to find sinusitis without rhinitis. 

Sinusitis can be either acute or chronic:
  • Acute sinusitis: develops as a result of the common cold virus and it's considered acute if symptoms remain for less than 4 weeks.
  • Chronic sinusitis: considered chronic when it lasts longer than 12 weeks. This is usually a sign of a suppressed immune system which leads to recurrent respiratory infections and chronic inflammation of the sinuses. Smoking, allergies and exposure to irritants can also cause chronic sinusitis. Approximately 1.5% of the population in Ireland have chronic sinusitis.
Most cases of sinusitis rarely require antibiotics. If your GP suspects you have a bacterial infection, then an antibiotic may be necessary though. 

Nasal decongestants such as pseudoephedrine and oxymetazoline can help relieve congestion and nasal stuffiness. However either oral and nasal decongestants might cause side effects as they shouldn't be used longer than a few days. Saline nasal sprays are an alternative which lubricate the nasal passages without the side effects of the decongestants.

Anyway, there are many things that can be done from a dietary and lifestyle perspective to prevent and manage sinusitis. Here some examples:
  • Drink plenty of fluids: dilute the mucus secretions and promote drainage. Herbal teas such as marshmallow, licorice and slippery elm are helpful.
  • Elderberry juice: it's been proven to have antiviral activity.
  • Fish and flaxseed: contain essential fatty acids that help to reduce inflammation.
  • Fruits and vegetables: provide nutrients that support immune function.
  • Horseradish: helps break up mucus. 
Foods to avoid: alcohol, dairy products (worsen mucus secretions), salt (can be dehydrating), sugar (can hamper immune function).

On the other hand, there are natural recommended supplements that have been proven to treat acne naturally such as:
  1. Bromelain: enzyme derived from pineapple with anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown to reduce symptoms of sinusitis.
  2. Echinacea: helps support immune function. It may also help prevent a cold from developing into sinusitis.
  3. Vitamin C: supports immune function and helps prevent oxidative damage to the lungs. Studies have shown to reduce the severity and duration of the common cold, which may reduce the likelihood of complications, such as sinusitis. 
  4. Aged garlic extract: contains antioxidant compounds that help support immune system. It has an antibacterial effect.
  5. American ginseng: helps to prevent and relieve colds and flu.
  6. Fish oils: as mentioned above, contain essential fatty acids that help reduce inflammation.
  7. N-acetyl cysteine (NAC): an amino acid derivative that helps break up mucus and clear the sinuses.
Dosages and recommendations must be established by your therapist, doctor or practitioner.

The sinusitis from a Chinese Medicine perspective

Sinusitis is closely associated with edematous obstruction of the sinus. Poor drainage of the sinus cavities makes swelling the sinus generating the inflammation. If it's not treated, then predisposes to infection, particularly by internal pathogens such as microorganisms.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, either acute and chronic sinusitis are categorized as bi yuan, which means "deep source nasal congestion".

The main cause of sinusitis is repeated external attack of wind-heat or wind-cold with previous Lung and Spleen Qi vacuity. As such, phlegm is produced.

Acupuncture and Herbal treatments are usually very effective. Dietary measures also have to be considered.

Cool and neutral foods should be slightly a larger amount than warming foods on the diet.

Cold and neutral foods might be as follows:
  • Fruits: watermelons, pears.
  • Vegetables: mung beans, radish, tomatoes.
  • Spices such as peppermint.
  • Grain: wheat.
Foods to avoid in case of sinusitis due to Wind-Heat invading the Lung:
  • Sour flavor (lemon).
  • Alcoholic beverages.
  • Very fatty dishes.
  • Diary products.
  • Poultry.
  • Foods with hot and warm nature.
  • Raw, boiled or steamed cooking methods.
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