“The ability to breathe” is not a characteristic that we often think of for ourselves. Anyone who has suffered from any type of sinus ailment, however, knows not to take this ability for granted. Like any chronic condition, sinus pain can be debilitating, causing a range of symptoms ranging from headaches and facial pain to nasal pressure and aching teeth. Loss of taste and smell, along with an abundance of green or yellow mucus are also common signs of sinusitis.
Think of your sinuses like a network of caves that just happen to be located inside your face – behind your cheeks, forehead, and nose. All in all, most people have about eight sinuses, though some people have an extra, mischievous cavity that offers only further opportunities for blockage. While their exact purpose is somewhat debated, the evidence suggests that healthy sinuses help us filter out dirt and pollutants. They are also an essential part of pronouncing nasal sounds like “mmm” or “nnnn” (try saying “Mama, hand me some bananas” when your nose is blocked!) Clear mucus lines the sinuses to keep them moist, and little hairs called cilia move the mucus along and filtering out bacteria.
Sinus health is compromised when mucus is produced faster than it can drain. This is often caused by the common cold and seasonal or food allergies, particularly dairy intolerances. When reacting to bodies it interprets as being foreign or hostile, the immune system sets its mucosal production into hyper-drive. You may have thought you were merely eating a piece of cheese, but in reality you just told your body to stockpile defences.
These issues are often made worse by underlying structural problems. Some people are born with very narrow sinuses or connecting passageways. If one becomes blocked, the whole system jams up, preventing mucus from draining through the nostrils. Similarly, when the septum – the little piece of cartilage that separates our nasal passages – is deviated, one nasal passage is made bigger than the other, leading to problems with drainage. As the pressure in your sinuses increases, the tissues become inflamed causing further blockage.
There are a number of steps you can take to address sinusitis. First and foremost, consult your doctor. If you have an infection or are having an allergic reaction, you will want to start using an antibiotic, anti-histamine or nasal steroid spray to kill bacteria, encourage the flow of mucus, and alleviate inflammation. Consider using an over the counter saline spray with these remedies to prevent any further inflammation that may arise from drying out the passages.
If you are still experiencing congestion and pain after several weeks or months, it may be time to consider either endoscopic surgery or Balloon Sinuplasty, but this is only a last resort and is rare. In endoscopic surgery, an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist inserts an endoscope with a tiny camera into the sinuses and widens them by removing any excess bone or tissue that might be narrowing the airway. In Balloon Sinuplasty, a catheter is inserted into the patient’s nose and a tiny balloon is inflated to help widen the airway. Both have long-term benefits, though an endoscopic surgery is slightly more painful and its recovery time is longer. Still, surgery may well be worth it if you simply cannot get rid of congestion in any other way.
Preferable to surgery, of course, is maintaining healthy sinuses in the first place. Consider these five tips:
- Avoid food or environmental allergy triggers
- Practice good hygiene to prevent the spread of colds
- Consider using a daily saline nasal wash to flush bacteria, dried mucus and any scar tissue out of the system
- Keep a saline solution or anti-histamines on hand to keep mucus flowing should you experience any congestion
- Use the steam from a vaporiser or a bowl of hot water to break up any minor congestion
Sinuses are a delicate yet complicated area of our bodies. With these tips, you will be well on your way to maintaining better sinus health and alleviating sinus pain.
Image Credit: Balloon Sinuplasty