By Steve Goodman
Still locked in the troughs of winter in much of the country, many of us continue a daily battle with head colds and sinusitis. Yet, with the coming of spring, for these same individuals there is not necessarily relief in sight. As spring blooms, it bring with it allergies, hay fever, and continued sinus pressure and pain for patients.
It is estimated that some 30 million Americans suffer from sinus problems. Sinus infections are usually the result of a cold, a sudden change in weather conditions, or an allergic reaction. No matter the cause, the resulting condition, sinusitis, is a swelling of the mucous membranes and increases production of mucus. This swelling and increased mucous production causes the symptoms most associated with sinus congestion, the pressure and pain of sinus headaches along with an annoying stuffy and/or runny nose.
In Western medicine, typical treatment for sinusitis is the prescription of antihistamines or antibiotics that may relieve the symptoms, but do little to get at the cause of the condition. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been effectively treating sinusitis naturally for centuries with herbal and acupuncture modalities.
Sinusitis in many individuals tends to become a chronic condition. The reason is that after each recurring infection, most methods of treatment fail to drain the sinus cavities completely of mucus and discharge. This creates an ongoing pattern of infection after infection. Continually treating the infections with antibiotics can weaken the immune system, casing further problems. TCM modalities can break this pattern, and are actually designed to boost, not damage, the body’s immune response.
In TCM, sinusitis is the result usually of a wind pathogen, wind cold or wind heat, that has entered and concentrated in the head. Acupuncture can be very effective in opening up the nasal passages, and allowing patients with sinusitis to breathe more easily. The most common acupuncture point for sinusitis is the Bitong point, which literally means “opening up the nose.”
Herbal medications indicated for the treatment of sinusitis include Xanthium Powder, magnolia flower, Angelica root, and field mint or peppermint. These are considered “warm herbs.” If the sinusitis is accompanied by a fever, which is often the case, herbal formations will likely be used in conjunction with “cooling” herbs by TCM practitioners. Cooling formulations may include honeysuckle flowers and Scutellaria root. Since sinusitis can also be caused by floral or pollen allergies, TCM practitioners must take particular care when prescribing herbal medications for sinusitis, and as always in TCM, evaluate the patient overall, basing his or her treatment on a detailed patient history.
As in all modes of TCM, observation is very important to make a proper diagnosis and determine a course of treatment. To the TCM practitioner, the color and nature of the mucus and nasal discharges are indicative of the qi disharmonies causing the sinus condition.
Once the sinus infection has been cleared, to prevent recurrence the patient is given treatment to strengthen Spleen Qi. Strong spleen Qi prevents the build up of mucous and improves the immune system overall, preventing colds and other infections which can lead to sinusitis.