The sinus is air-filled cavities within the skull that are connected to the nasal passages. They are lined with a special type of mucous-secreting membrane (the nasal mucosa), which is continuous with the lining of the rest of the nose. They help to make the skull lighter, and also give the voice a rich resonant tone.
Sinusitis is the inflammation of the membrane lining and characterized by fever, headache, blocked nose, nasal discharge and pain over the eyes, nose and forehead. Predisposing factors include nasal infection, allergy, structural changes that interfere with the drainage of the sinus, localized dental abscess, and general debility.
Hay fever is an allergic disorder of the nasal mucous membrane caused by contract with air borne substances (called allergens) to which one is sensitive. This results in inflammation, sneezing, discharge of mucus, nasal blockage, watering of the eyes and headache. If severe, there may also be difficulty in breathing similar to asthma. Hay fever also leads to sinusitis in many cases, as the nasal mucus becomes swollen and blocks the sinus, preventing proper drainage.
Common allergens includes pollen, dust, house dust (i.e., the fecal matter of the house-dust mite), fungal spores and animal hairs. Non-specific substances may also irritate the nasal mucosa in sensitive people. These include cigarette smoking, petrol fumes and perfumes.
Conventional treatments are often inadequate, with the exception of surgery for severe nasal obstruction. This is because these treatments are directed at the symptoms only and do not address the underlying causes or predisposing factors.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective
In traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) sinusitis, rhinitis and hay fever are all regarded as similar disorders in that they share the same or similar underlying causes.
There are two basic mechanisms involved, one of ‘excess’ and the other of ‘deficiency’. These are technical terms that refer to conditions of oversupply and weakness respectively.
These may be generalized, in that they affect the whole body, or localized to a specific organ or body area. When exposed to a triggering factor, such as infection or contact with an allergen, the underlying imbalances of the body will be expressed in the form of an over reaction of the nasal and sinus mucous membranes.
There is usually always a condition of deficiency underlying these disorders. The Lung and the Kidney are both concerned with the maintenance of the body’s defences as well as the normal functioning of the nose and its related structures. If these organs become weak (i.e. ‘deficient’) there will be increased susceptibility to upper respiratory infection as well as increased sensitivity to irritants.
The Spleen is also involved in the body’s production of excessive amounts of mucus. The Spleen’s function pertains to digestion, and when it is weak and unable to perform these functions adequately, there is a residue of incompletely digested too much mucous, particularly in the respiratory tract (i.e. Nose, throat and lungs).
The excess conditions natural follow on from the deficiencies. Repeated attacks of the common cold or influenza result in the retention by the body of pathogens from the external environment. In Western medical terms, these are viruses and bacteria. The Chinese refer to these as ‘wind and cold’ or ‘wind and heat’. These interfere with the normal function of the QI (vital energy) and Blood in the nose.
Another consequence of Lung deficiency is that the Liver and Gall Bladder, which are normally controlled or restrained by the Lung, will become overactive and produce a condition of internal Heat.
The treatment is usually using Chinese herbal medicine or combined with acupuncture.
Chinese herbal medicine mainly includes dry herbs and herbal tablets. Dry herbs are to be prepared after a consultation and vary on individuals. Herbal tablets may be purchased at counter.
- As far as possible, avoid any know allergens
- Stop smoking and avoid inhaling tobacco smoke
- Avoid food that may increase mucous secretion such as dairy foods and refined carbohydrates. Some people also find that eggs, wheat, oats, rye, barley and some starchy vegetables aggravate their condition. If so, then these should also be avoided.
- Reduce consumption of oils, fats, tea, coffee and alcoholic beverages.
- Avoid artificial food additives such as colouring agents, preservatives and flavouring agents.
- Take a wholesome well balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals, including whole grain cereals such as rice, corn and buckwheat (which are low-allergenic), vegetables, beans, and fruits.
- Take regular exercise in the fresh air and avoid heavily polluted areas as much as possible.