The Hidden Perp Behind Sinus Infections

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      Story at-a-glance

  • Recent research indicates some cases of nasal congestion may be alleviated by cooling and decreasing the humidity in the air you breathe
  • The ideal level of relative humidity for sinus health, and to prevent growth of mold and fungi in your home, is between 35-45 percent
  • The vast majority of chronic sinusitis cases may be due to exposure to mold or fungi rather than bacteria, which antibiotics cannot treat. Antibiotics are only recommended for short-term use if your sinusitis is in fact caused by a bacterial infection. Using antibiotics for sinusitis caused by viral, mold or fungal infection may have serious long-term health ramifications
  • According to a Mayo Clinic study, as much as 96 percent of people suffering from chronic sinusitis are “fungal sensitized,” meaning they have immune responses triggered by inhaled fungal organisms
  • All-natural treatment options for acute sinusitis includes: drinking hot liquids, applying warm compresses, sinus irrigation, aromatherapy steam bath, certain foods such as horseradish and wasabi, eliminating dust, and elevating your head when sleeping

Nasal congestion is usually caused by infection or allergy, and is one of the most frequent medical complaints in the United States.

A common belief is that nasal congestion or “stuffy nose” is due to a buildup of mucus.

However, congestion is more often due to swelling of the nasal tissues, caused by inflamed blood vessels.

All in all, nasal congestion can be related to a number of ailments, including:

  • Common cold/flu (bacteria or virus)
  • Sinus infection (bacteria, virus, mold or fungus)
  • Hay fever or other allergies
  • Nasal polyps
  • Vasomotor rhinitis (non-allergic condition)
  • Overuse of nasal sprays/drops

In the case of cold or flu and sinus infections, the congestion typically goes away in about a week.

Chronic sinusitis (sinus infection), on the other hand, can last for months or even years if not addressed properly.

I’ll review my treatment recommendations for acute sinusitis below, and special considerations for chronic sinusitis, which is frequently misdiagnosed.

That said, according to a recent study in the journal PLoS Onei, the sensations of nasal congestion may in some cases be related to the temperature and humidity of inhaled air – perhaps more than any other variable.

How Temperature and Humidity Can Make You Feel “Stuffed Up”

Rhinitis is the medical term for “stuffy nose.” Vasomotor rhinitis is a non-allergic condition, characterized by chronic runny nose, sneezing, and nasal congestion. Changes in temperature and humidity have already been identified as a potential triggers. (Other triggers include strong odors, perfumes, smoke, fumes, and bright sunlight.)

The results of the featured study indicate that the sensory feedback from nasal airflow can contribute to the feeling of congestion, and that by altering temperature and humidity levels of inhaled air, you may experience some relief.

The authors of the study suggest that the interaction between temperature and humidity influence “nasal cooling” as the air moves through your nasal cavity. This nasal cooling is detected by “sensors” inside your nose, which stimulate the sensation of air flow being either easy or obstructed, with cooler air resulting in feelings of less obstruction. Essentially, nasal congestion can be sensory related.

According to lead author Kai Zhao, Ph.Dd, a bioengineer, an effective treatment for nasal congestion may need to include restoring optimal humidity and temperature to the patient’s nasal airflow.

What’s the Ideal Level of Humidity?

According to Dr. Robert Ivker, D.O., former President of the American Holistic Medical Association, the ideal level of relative humidity for sinus health is between 35-45 percent. This level is also generally recommended to avoid mold damage in your home. (To accurately determine the relative humidity in your home you would use a hygrometer, available in most home improvement stores.) In the featured study, the two types of air conditions associated with the most effective decrease in feelings of congestion were:

  1. Cold air, and
  2. Dry air at room temperature

If your home or office is too humid (above 45 percent), you may want to consider reducing the amount of moisture in the air, as excessive levels may also cause mold and fungi growth that could wreak havoc on your health – it may even be the root cause if you’re suffering from chronic sinus infections. To decrease humidity, you can:

  • Use a dehumidifier
  • Run the air conditioner
  • Take colder and shorter showers
  • Install a fan in your kitchen and bathrooms, and leave them on for awhile after you’re done cooking or showering

You must be VERY careful about making sure your humidity levels are not too high. This does not need to be due to high outdoor humidity but more commonly is due to some type of water intrusion in the home from a leaky roof, foundation or plumbing. The high humidity will cause mold to grow and could devastate your health as I have written about previously. So the key is to find the cause of the increased humidity and repair it. It would be wise to use a large commercial dehumidifer in your home to lower the humidity until the problem is fixed.

However, very dry air is also known to increase feelings of congestion because drying out your sinus membranes can irritate them further. So depending on your individual circumstances, if the air in your home is excessively dry, then increasing the humidity may help. To increase humidity, you can:

  • Use a vaporizer or humidifier
  • Create a steam bath by taking a hot shower, or filling your sink with hot water, then placing a towel over your head as you lean over the sink
  • Breathe in the steam from a hot cup of tea

Do You Have a Sinus Infection?

Sinus infections (sinusitis) affect over 39 million Americans every year.ii It typically occurs when the mucous membranes in your nose and sinuses become irritated by a cold, allergy, or pollution, for example, which then cause them to become inflamed. Once inflamed, the motion of your cilia (the tiny hairs that coat the mucous membranes and are responsible for moving mucus over their surfaces) slows down. At the same time, the irritation stimulates your mucous glands to secrete more mucus than usual to dilute the bacteria.

As a result, mucus gets trapped in your sinuses, where it can easily become infected.

It’s important to understand that antibiotics can spell disaster for this problem. If used long-term, they can lead to very serious complications that may be very difficult to remediate against, including chronic yeast infections and impaired immune function. Furthermore, as I will discuss below, the vast majority of chronic sinusitis cases may be due to exposure to mold or fungi rather than bacteria, which antibiotics will have no effect on at all. Symptoms of sinus infection include:

Congestion and pressure around your eyes, cheeks and forehead Thick, green or yellow mucus Toothache Cold symptoms lasting more than 10 days Postnasal drip (excess mucus dripping down the back of your throat) Fatigue Beware: Sinusitis is Often Misdiagnosed

The problem with sinus issues is that that they’re very easily misdiagnosed. Sinus problems and post-nasal drip can actually be a tip-off that you’re being affected by mold or fungi.

In fact, research done by the Mayo Clinic in the 1990s that strongly suggests NEARLY ALL chronic sinusitis is caused by fungi, but blamed on bacteria – then mistreated using antibiotics. The findings were published in 1999 in two peer-reviewed journals, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and Mayo Clinic Proceedings.iii Yet, most physicians are still unaware of this study, or at least of its significance. A 1999 Mayo Clinic press releaseiv stated:

“Mayo Clinic researchers say they have found the cause of most chronic sinus infections – an immune system response to fungus.

The Mayo Clinic study suggests that 96 percent of the people who suffer from chronic sinusitis are “fungal sensitized,” meaning they have immune responses triggered by inhaled fungal organisms! This explains why antibiotics are so ineffective for chronic sinusitis as they target bacteria, NOT fungi. Antibiotics and steroids can actually worsen fungal-related infections by destroying your body’s natural biological terrain, creating an internal incubation ground for further fungal growth.