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How to stave off sinusitis through food

Sinusitis is a painful condition that can cause considerable discomfort. We explore the foods that can help to alleviate the symptoms and what to avoid.

How to stave off sinusitis through food

Sinusitis is inflammation of the sinuses, which are air-filled cavities in the skull. Its characteristic symptom is pressure, a result of congestion caused by a mucus build-up. It may also involve thick purulent nasal discharge, frontal headache, slight fever and redness, pain or tenderness over the involved sinus.

The nose and sinuses trap irritants and airborne particles to filter the air we breathe. Normally these would be moved on by mucociliary clearance – when tiny cilia (cellular strands) move in a wave-like motion to move particles along the membrane and away from the site of contact. This encourages drainage of the sinus cavity and allows the cavity to remain clear.

There are four sets of paired sinuses: the maxillary sinuses beneath the cheeks and under the eyes; the frontal sinuses above the eyes behind the forehead; the ethmoid sinuses between the eyes; and the sphenoid sinuses behind the nose.

Each of these drain through an opening into
the nose. They can become inflamed, inhibiting normal sinus drainage, which leads to a blockage and the retention of mucus with decreased mucociliary clearance.

The cause of sinusitis can be infectious, such as viral or fungal infections, or noninfectious triggers, such as allergies.

In any case, the resulting mucus presents an ideal environment for opportunistic bacteria. Acute bacterial sinusitis in adults most often presents with more than seven days of nasal congestion, thick nasal discharge, postnasal drip, and facial pain and pressure, alone or with referred pain to ears and teeth.

Children with acute sinusitis might not be able to relay a history of postnasal drainage or headaches, so a cough and runny nose are the most commonly reported symptoms. Other symptoms can include mild fever, slight nausea, fatigue, impairments of smell and taste, and bad breath.

Chronic sinusitis can cause symptoms that are slow to develop or heal, which may persist for months. Nasal congestion and postnasal drainage are the most common. A chronic cough that is worse at night or on waking in the morning is also a symptom.

Vitamin A works to improve the integrity of mucous membranes. Consume foods high in vitamin A, such as pumpkin and squash, to help repair the damage caused by irritants, reduce inflammation of the membrane that lines the sinus cavity, and ensure future protection from opportunistic microbes. Cod liver oil provides a very high therapeutic dose.

Foods such as garlic and onion have strong anti-inflammatory and decongesting qualities so consume them in high amounts during a flare-up. Chilli will initially help to decongest the area, but don’t consume too much – it may promote further congestion due to the process of its digestion.

Eating a diet high in anti-inflammatory foods, such as foods that are dense in omega-3 fatty acid such as oily fish, will help reduce mucus production.

Citrus fruit provides high amounts of vitamin C and are great decongestants to consume regularly.

Avoid dehydration to lessen the risk of mucous membranes becoming dry. As the body will always attempt to restore balance, its response to this is to produce more mucus. Consuming hot drinks will encourage the opening of the drainage holes.

As the mucous membrane lining the nasal cavity is a continuation of the same one that lines the digestive tract, it is important to keep a healthy digestive system.

Stay away from damp environments and maintain an optimal balance of the right bacteria in your digestive tract. Including probiotics or probiotic-rich food such as sauerkraut in the diet is beneficial.

Steering clear of the culprits that promote inflammation in the body will help to reduce the onset and severity of sinusitis. These are dairy, sugars and refined carbohydrates as well as red meat, and any known allergens as previously mentioned. Air pollutants such as dust, sprays and strong perfumes can also irritate the nasal cavity membrane.

Avoid foods that promote a damp environment such as mushrooms. This is important if a fungal infection is suspected, as mushrooms are a fungus.

Nutritionist: Susan Buxton

Sinusitis is a condition that causes symptoms such as facial pressure and pain, thick mucus and congestion. Sinusitis can be caused by an infection, but also by an allergy.

Allergic reactions occur when the body’s immune system over-responds. This can be triggered by mould, animals and even food. During allergic reactions, antibodies attach to cells in the lungs, skin and mucous membranes and cause a release of chemicals, which in turn initiates swelling of these membranes, causing inflamed sinuses.

If your sinusitis is due to a food allergy, finding out what causes it is the first step. Use a symptom and food diary to help understand what is causing flare-ups. Eliminate a potential offender from your diet for three weeks or until your symptoms have disappeared. Once you are symptom-free, reintroduce this food. If it causes symptoms you know what is triggering your sinus issues. If it doesn’t, repeat the process with another food. Only eliminate one food at a time to truly determine the cause.

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