ARGH! The dreaded season is upon us. Yes, the dreaded cold and flu season. Those horrible last few months of winter where everything is dull and miserable. A big part of dealing with SAD (Seasonal affective disorder) is dealing with sinus infections, colds, and flu.
Staying healthy is always the ultimate goal, so if a sinus infection (also known as acute sinusitis) starts creeping up on you, there are a number of things you can do to help clear your sinuses naturally and boost your immune system to help fight the virus. Feeling strong and healthy also gives us a better mental state and ability to fight winter depression. Nobody wants to go outside and have fun if you are feeling sick.
Acute sinusitis is almost always the result of the common cold and, in most cases, home remedies are all you need to shake it within 10 days or less. To tell you the truth, I have never had any luck asking a doctor to miraculously heal my sore throat or stuffed nose. They always tell you to get enough rest, take it easy for a few days, drink lots of fluids and drain those sinuses. And even though they might give you something for the symptoms, you still need to listen to your doctor (and your mom) and do those things anyway.
According to The Mayo Clinic, “acute sinusitis (acute rhinosinusitis) causes the cavities around your nasal passages (sinuses) to become inflamed and swollen. This interferes with drainage and causes mucus to build up.” Over the counter medications can relieve the symptoms, I know. But its best to let your body tell you when it needs downtime and don’t try to mask these symptoms. If you do take medications that might make you feel better or you ignore these symptoms, you might overwork and exhaust yourself, ending up worse than you are feeling now.
If you’re already congested or feel any of the above symptoms, there are a number of surprisingly effective, natural things you can do. You do not have to get dressed, leave your cozy home, or brace the cold to get better. Unless you feel that you have tried everything, and your situation is getting worse. Then, always go see a medical professional.
Below are a few of the best natural remedies for clearing your sinuses, and I’ll begin with the loudest, and easily the most fun of all…singing your heart out! Whether you’re a touring professional or a carpool karaoke legend, singing or humming on a daily basis has a ton of health benefits – and keeping your sinuses clear is one of them. Crazy, right? Let’s see why it works…
The whole idea revolves around keeping your air passageways clear. Sinus infections occur when the sinuses are inflamed, clogged, and trapping air, germs, bacteria, and pus inside the nasal cavity. The New York Times suggests you clear your sinuses naturally by humming or singing to alleviate the pressure. Singing forces you to control your breathing and take deeper breaths which naturally improve ventilation in your nostrils.
A study published by The American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine found that humming, and by extension singing, “greatly increases nasal nitric oxide.” As one of the most important molecules for blood vessel health, every cell in our body produces nitric oxide. It relaxes the inner muscles of our blood vessels causing them to expand which increases blood flow and lowers blood pressure.
By extension, nNO is produced in the upper airways and directly aids natural defenses against germs, bacteria, and other pathogens by preventing buildup as well as helping regulate mucus production. Rightly so, the study suggested the therapeutic effects of humming and singing should be investigated further.
And that’s exactly what happened a year later when a second study was published by the European Respiratory Journal and concluded that humming on a daily basis increases nNO production and decreases the risk of having chronic sinus problems.
Humming also plays a role in certain meditation practices. For example, some yoga practitioners use a breathwork technique called Brahmari, or “the bee.” Essentially, this technique involves taking a series of slow, deep breaths through the nose with tightly sealed lips. On each exhalation, the person makes a humming sound similar to a bee buzzing. This technique is often recommended for calming the mind and relieving stress.
For those of us lacking a singing voice, or if you are just not feeling it today, you may still be asking yourself, “how can I unblock my sinuses?” Lucky for you, there is a myriad of safe and natural home remedies to help answer that question!
Take a shower
Taking a hot shower can help clear your sinuses. The heat and steam from a hot shower do wonders for congestion and sinus pressure. Close the bathroom door and run the shower on super-hot for a few minutes, staying in the bathroom to breathe in the steam. Lower the temp and hop in, allowing the hot water to gently massage your sensitive sinuses. If you don’t want to get in the shower, you can also place a towel over your head, and lean over a pot of hot water, breathing in the vapor.
Using Aromatherapy oils when steaming always enhances the experience. Here are a few Aromatherapy oils to try for sinus clearing –
What you will need
A bowl to hold the water
Boiling hot water
If you’re going to go with only one essential oil for steam inhalation, then this would be the one. It acts as an expectorant, un-bunging your sinuses and clearing mucus from the lungs, but also simultaneously soothes the mucous membranes. It ’s anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral and a potent anti-oxidant. If your sinus congestion is due to an allergic response then oregano oil is also anti-allergenic, helping reduce the effects of an allergic reaction.
Tea Tree oil
There have been over three hundred scientific studies into the anti-microbial effectiveness of tea tree oil, and a study in the British Medical Journal found that tea tree oil was a ‘powerful disinfectant and non-poisonous and gentle to the body.’ Tea Tree oil is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-microbial, and boosts immunity. If you’re suffering from a sinus infection, then this is definitely an essential oil you want to be using.
One of the benefits of using Rosemary essential oil is its powerful anti-inflammatory action. If you’re using steam inhalation to help control an allergenic exposure, then rosemary can help reduce any inflammation that has been created. Essential oil of rosemary is also a diuretic, helping flush out toxins that have accumulated in the body. Important if you’ve been feeling under the weather. And rosemary is also anti-bacterial, specifically for preventing the growth of H.pylori.
Thyme is an essential oil I turn to whenever I feel I’m coming down with a cold. It’s antibacterial, antiseptic, and boosts immunity. It’s also a potent expectorant, so used in steam inhalation, can help shift stubborn, trapped mucous.
A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial in 2004 showed that Eucalyptus oil was effective in treating rhino-sinusitis and should be considered before the use of antibiotics. Eucalyptus oil is antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antimicrobial and a natural decongestant. It’s amazing for steam inhalation and also has the added benefit of increasing blood flow around the body and stimulating brain function.
Peppermint oil is a common flavoring in breath mints, chewing gum, toothpaste, and mouthwash, traditionally used for digestion as well as the relief of headaches. However, peppermint is full of the active ingredient menthol, which is an expectorant, helping to clear the sinuses and chest of gunk. It’s also anti-inflammatory and has been shown to be powerfully antiviral, antibacterial and anti-fungal, resistant to some bacterial strains such as salmonella and E. coli. Peppermint oil also increases blood circulation and is an oil that most people love.
What you’ll do
Boil a kettle. Fill a large bowl with a small amount of cold water (approx. 200-400ml) and place it on a table. If you are using essential oils, have them to hand, next to the bowl with the lids off. Pour enough boiling water into the bowl to create vapor, but not so much heat that it burns your skin. Sit comfortably at the table and place a towel over your head and the bowl so the water vapor is trapped inside. If you are using essential oils, carefully drop 1-4 drops into the bowl (under the towel so the volatile oils don’t escape) Keep your eyes closed and take long, slow breaths in and out of your nose for at least ten minutes to open up your sinuses easily.
Tips & Warnings
You may need to top the water up with more boiling water or add some more essential oils. You can still get many benefits from steam inhalation without the use of essential oils, as the steam will still help to shift mucous, but essential oils have many other beneficial properties.
When you have finished, clean the bowl thoroughly and make sure that you keep warm. If you live in a cold climate, try and avoid going outside for a few hours. Essential oils are powerful things and most cannot be used neat on the skin. Do not use any product other than the pure essential oil. There are many contraindications for essential oils, especially when pregnant, so when choosing the right essential oil to use, research to see if there are any contraindications for you.
Limiting inflammatory and mucus-causing foods like dairy, sugar, and alcohol, while increasing consumption of anti-inflammatory foods, such as turmeric, will help relieve your sinuses. Curcuminoids is the ingredient in raw turmeric that is responsible for its anti-inflammatory actions. Additionally, adding a bit of lemon or lime juice to your water may also help break up the mucus, and upping your water intake, in general, will also help break down mucus.
Your tongue and your thumb
This may sound silly, but Reddit user Adam Dachis purports that applying the right pressure with your tongue and thumb may alleviate your sinus pressure. After exhaling all of the air from your lungs Adam advises you to, “push your tongue against the top of your mouth and place a finger between your eyebrows and apply pressure. Hold it for about 20 seconds (or as long as you can) and your sinuses will begin to drain.”
While this may sound like a snake-oil remedy, the explanation for why it works is about as simple as it gets. Creating mechanical pressure on the sinuses will hopefully force the clogged mucous to drain. However, the technique’s success will be dependent on how thick the mucus in your nasal passageways is.
Many pressure points on the body have been accessed to provide relief for several ailments. The V point between your thumb and forefinger is directly tied to your large intestine but can also help with sinus congestion. However, don’t access this point if you ’re pregnant. Directly below the center of the eye above the cheekbone is another point that can help drain the sinuses. A third helpful pressure point that can help clear the sinuses and alleviate pressure around the eyes, a symptom of acute sinusitis, is found on the inside corner of the eyebrows. Having an Indian head massage for sinus relief is a great idea and will help boost your immune system as well.
Spicy foods will offer short-term relief causing your nose to run and your sinuses to drain. However, researchers David S. Cameron MD, and Raul M. Cruz MD, both from the Department of Head and Neck Surgery at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center on Oakland, CA explain that when they tested the effects of wasabi consumption on the sinuses the relief was temporary and that “while there is a trend towards a subjective increase in the sensation of nasal airflow, and certainly a widely held misconception by the general public that eating wasabi decongests the nose, it actually congests the nasal mucosa.” So, wasabi can actually increase mucus production over time, making it less of a cure, and more a short-term reliever of acute sinusitis symptoms. If you need that short-term relief, or just want to taste something again, spicy food may be the ticket, but don’t count on it as a cure.
Steam It Out
The Neti pot is a time-honored way to help your body break up the mucus, but if you don’t have one you could “MacGyver” one out of a cotton ball, a humidifier, and essential oils. Put a drop or two of the essential oil on the cotton ball and set the cotton ball over the humidifier. The humidifier and cotton will diffuse the essential oil, hopefully alleviating your congestion and generally making your space smell delightful.
While most candles are currently made of paraffin, a byproduct of crude oil production (and not surprisingly bad for sinus and respiratory health), 100% beeswax candles have the purported opposite effect. This is because beeswax produces negative ions in the air, which act as natural air purifiers, cleaning dust, mold, bacteria, viruses, and other pollutants.
Whenever you feel acute sinusitis symptoms and find yourself pondering “how do I unblock my sinuses naturally,” rest assured there are plenty of safe and natural options (such as singing, taking a shower, and acupressure) without having to consult your physician.
Acute sinusitis usually clears up naturally within 10 days. But if it doesn’t, that’s when your acute sinusitis may be making a turn towards being chronic and you should head to the doctor.