Angela Kerchner MD, ABFM, ABIHM

Family, Integrative & Holistic Medicine Resources for the Whole Family   

The nose is an often under-appreciated part of the body. Yes, I said the nose. You can find information on your heart or your brain all over the internet, but what about that nose of yours? When it is working, everyone is happy! When something comes along to figuratively gum-up the works, it isn’t much fun.


So, what’s the big deal about the nose? I used to think it was just that big thing on my face that I inherited from my Grandma Meta Mae. However, besides defining what we look like and letting us smell dinner simmering on the stove, the nose performs some very important functions.


If you suffer from chronic nasal and sinus congestion, you are not alone. In fact, chronic sinusitis is the most common chronic disease worldwide, and it affects approximately 40 million Americans1. That means 1 out of every 7 people are suffering with sinus problems – that is a lot of people. Chances are you are either one of those people or you know someone who is.


The nose and the nasal passages that lie directly behind your nose and above the roof of your mouth act as an air filter, pulling dust, germs, and pollutants out of air you breath before the microscopic invaders can make it into your lungs. Second, the nose acts as an air temperature regulator, turning cold air warm and moist before it hits the lungs. This helps your lungs to stay healthy and free from irritation. 


Needless to say, when your nose isn’t at its best you likely don’t feel very good. When your nose is irritated for more than a day or two, your sinuses may also become inflamed and congested because these pockets of air found in the bones of your face are closely connected to the nose.When we welcome in the cold and dry weather each winter, I tend to see more nose and sinus complaints in the emergency room. During the summer, people (especially those with seasonal allergies or who spend all of their time in air conditioned places) can struggle with sinus problems, too.


Tips and at-home treatments to keep your nose and sinuses in working order:


1. Saline Rinse!  I love this treatment for most problems that lead to nasal congestion, including colds, allergies, and sinus infections. It is easy to use at home, costs little, and is very safe. Not to mention, it works! Saline rinses began centuries ago in the Ayurvedic healing tradition, and continued into modern times. Saline rinses are one of the few ancient therapies that were so well accepted that they made it through into the “modern medicine” era2-4


In fact, there was a research article published about saline sinus rinses in the prestigious medical journal, “The Lancet,” way back in 1902, and even now over 87% of family doctors surveyed routinely recommend their use5,6


So, what is a saline rinse? The two most popular types are the neti-pot, which works by running a saline water solution through the nasal passages using gravity as a tool, or the saline rinse bottle, which is squeezed to gently flush saline solution into the nasal passages. Note, these are not the same as saline sprays, which are not as effective for treating sinus trouble as the rinses. 


Neti pots and saline rinse bottles are widely available, along with the proper salt used in them, at pharmacies. Saline rinses are effective in clearing the nasal passages so that the tiny hairs inside, called “cilia” are able to move and keep the nose and sinuses clear of germs and dust. They also help to moisten the area to help mucus drain and keep the cells that line the nasal sinuses healthy7,8,9


Saline rinses should only be used by people who are able to do the treatment themselves. If there are problems with swallowing that might cause choking or if there has ever been sinus or facial bone surgery performed it is important to only use sinus rinses under the direction of a physician. Saline drops can be used safely in infants and young children, but do not use a neti pot or saline irrigation with a baby or young child. Follow all instructions on the label of any device you choose to use carefully to ensure your saline rinse is safe and effective. 


2. Keep the air moist! When the inside air is dry, running a cool-mist air humidifier can help avoid sinus dryness and irritation. These are available at any big-box store or online, and are simple to use. Adding a few drops of eucalyptus or peppermint oil* to the water in the humidifier may be helpful, too10

*follow manufacturer instructions


3. Stay hydrated! Drink, drink, drink, especially if you are sick. Keeping your body well hydrated will help your sinuses and nose drain so that you can breathe. 


A good rule of thumb (unless you have a condition that requires you to limit your fluid intake) to determine how much to drink each day: Your body weight in pounds divided by 2 = number of ounces of fluid to drink daily.


For example, if you weigh 120 pounds, divide 120 by 2: 120/2 = 60. You should aim to drink 60 ounces of fluid each day. 


4. Chronic sinus problems (i.e. you seem to get a lot of sinus infections)? Cut the sugar!  You might have a yeast problem. A study done by the Mayo Clinic in September 1999 found that out of 210 patients with chronic sinus infections, 96% of them had fungus, including yeast, living in their sinus and nasal passages11. Using saline rinses daily can help flush out the yeast, but an even better way to get rid of them is to starve them to death. Yeast love sugar, so cutting way back on sugar in your diet for at least 3-6 months can help to decrease the number of sinus infections that trouble you21,22,23.


There are other ways to help cut the yeast growing in your body, but these should only be done under thedirection of a physician. If infections are severe, prescription medications that kill yeast may be necessary. Natural remedies, including garlic, can also help, but a doctor’s diagnosis and assistance is highly recommended.


5. Eat your vitamins! Getting the recommended 9-13 servings of fruits and vegetable into your diet each day will help to ensure you are getting enough vitamins. This might be hard to do if you are under-the-weather, but keep on doing your best. If you are not able to eat a well-balanced diet while you are ill, taking vitamin C, E, D, B-complex vitamins, and Omega 3 Fatty Acids (commonly found in fish oil or flax seed oil), can all help to boost your immune system and fight infection12-20


Since vitamin D largely comes from exposing the skin to sunlight, it can be hard to get enough in the winter months, and keeping up through diet is also a challenge for many. Your doctor can check your vitamin D levels and recommend the correct dose for a supplement if you are concerned. In addition to helping keep your immune system running strong, vitamin D is also important for mood and bone health. I encourage patients to get levels checked so that the exact dose for their needs can be recommended. This is what I recommend for you, too.


There is more to nose and sinus health that I have listed here, but I hope that these tips, which are safe and effective for most otherwise healthy people, can help you to keep your sinuses in good health.


Welcome to your Next Chapter.  - Angela Kerchner M.D.


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