Overcoming Winter Sinus Troubles

Hello winter! It's a beautiful time of year. But for many people this is a time of sinus trouble. Dry heater air, cold outside air, and the ever-present seasonal cold and flu can result in some serious sniffles. A runny nose and the often resulting cough from post-nasal drip can make us feel run down and bummed out. Here are my top tips for overcoming sinus-related troubles:

1) Neti Pot sinus rinse. Use morning and evening, or up to every 2 hours when your nose is seriously clogged up. Neti Pot is a doctor-recommended device that can be purchased at most local drug stores, or ordered online. Neti Pot kits include safe-to-use saline packets and a plastic Neti Pot for around $10. Some are more expensive if it is a pot made of metal or other heavier material. Mine is the simple drug store brand, and it works great!

It is VERY important that you read and follow the instructions that come with your Neti Pot. Most importantly, NEVER use regular tap water-- only sterile or previously boiled (at least 1 minute) water. Also, only use the designated saline packets, do not make your own.

An example of instructions about using your Neti Pot is available here.

Many people are able to reduce their sinus and allergy medications with regular Neti Pot use.

2) Aloe vera gel. Look for brands that are as natural as possible-- reliable brands can be found at natural foods stores, Whole Foods, etc. If you make your own, research proper storage and preservation so it doesn't go bad. Aloe is a skin healing gel that can be used around the exterior of irritated nostrils. Also great to dab around your nostrils after a Neti-Pot rinse. Hydrate dry hands and feet by slathering on and sleep with gloves and socks. And you can add into lotion as you apply each day. Speaking of lotions, remember that your skin absorbs what you put on it. Look for lotions that use naturally-derived ingredients. If the ingredients sound too scary to eat, think twice about putting it on your skin!

3) Hydration. Drinking plenty of water isn’t just for summer. All the heated indoor air is dehydrating to our bodies and irritating to sinuses. If you choose to sip hot drinks during winter, remember that caffeinated drinks will cause your body to release water (as urine). So reach for non-caffeinated drinks. An example of a great non-caffeinated energy supplement is available here.

Steam from hot drinks is great for sinuses. Avoid drinking too much sugar in your drinks as this lowers your immune functioning. And remember, artificial sweeteners are chemicals, not food!

4) Decongestant medication and cough suppressants. There are many brands of over the counter medicine, and prescription options. Everybody’s body is different, so one type of medication may not work the same for everyone. Be patient and take note of which one works best for you. Some medications, even common ones such as pseudoephedrine (a.k.a. Sudafed), can cause mental changes in some people, so take note if your thoughts or mood change substantially. Contact your doctor with questions. Always talk to your doctor before taking new medication.

An important note about decongestants, cold/flu medicines, and allergy medications: many brands choose to blend their formula with acetaminophen (a.k.a. Tylenol). While acetaminophen is marketed as a friendly, easy to use pain-reliever, it is also a very toxic substance in doses not much more than the recommended dose. The FDA reports, “In some individuals, taking just a small amount more than the recommended total daily dose of acetaminophen (4 grams per day) may lead to liver injury. Acetaminophen has a narrow safety margin. This means that there is little difference between the maximum recommended daily dose and a potentially harmful dose.” Read the full report here. More info from the FDA here.

This means it is up to you to protect yourself from over consumption of acetaminophen. It is a handy medicine for short-term use for temporary pain relief or lowering a high fever. But other than that, why stress your delicate liver with it? Be smart with your medication purchases and look for brands that relieve only the symptoms you have. Save your liver and don’t over-medicate your body with acetaminophen. Look at the dose of each medication you are buying, and ask your pharmacist or doctor for recommendations.

5) Immune system boosters. Yes, just like your mother said, eat your vegetables! A diet with lots of colorful and dark, leafy veggies is the best way to keep your immune system boosted year-round. There are also helpful supplements, such as Immunoguard which contains Epicor (a yeast blend), immune-boosting vitamins, and mushroom extracts. Talk to a holistic doctor or complimentary medicine professional about helpful herbs, oils, teas, and therapies such as acupuncture that can help boost your immune system. And as always, talk to your doctor before starting any new lifestyle changes or supplements.

Happy holidays, and be well!

Photo credit Sam Edwards via Getty Images

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