Sinusitis: A Holistic Understanding and Approach


Your doctor divides sinusitis into 2 broad categories: acute and chronic.

Acute sinusitis is generally triggered by seasonal allergens such as tree pollen, or the common cold.  

Chronic sinusitis is a little more complex. It may be caused by pollution or allergens which you are continually exposed to such as: animal dander, dust mites, household moulds, etc. It may be the result of a previous infection, such as a cold. Most often chronic sinusitis has roots in both these causes as well as causes that lay deeper in your body.











An Overview of the Sinus


Like all parts of our body that open to the outside world, the sinus is lined with a mucous membrane. The mucous membrane, whether in the respiratory tract, urinary tract, or digestive tract, is a part of the non-specific immune system. It protects the body from things getting into the body from outer openings. For example, the mucous membrane lining the sinus protects the lungs from virus that travel on the air entering the nose.

Here’s how it does this:

  1. The mucous’ gooey, sticky texture traps bacteria, viruses, allergens and particles of pollutions. This stops them from traveling deeper into the body. The runny nature of mucous then flushes out the unwanted.

  2. Mucous contains IgE anti-bodies. These antibodies detect unwanted visitors trying to enter our body and trigger the release inflammatory molecules such as histamines. Often IgE anti-bodies are considered the cause of sinusitis, whether acute or chronic. But it is the allergen or the infection that is causing the condition, not the histamine response triggered by the antibody.

  3. Mucous protects underlying tissues. Mucous helps keep the underlying tissue moist and limits their exposure to unwelcome visitors such as pollen and bacteria. This keeps the unwanted on the surface of the body and the underlying tissue intact.

  4. The mucous membrane is home to the body’s flora, good bacteria. This bacteria we have a symbiotic relationship with. It protects us from unwanted bacteria and parasites as well breaks down many of our nutrients in the gut.








The Relationship between the gut and the sinus

Now let’s consider the relationship between the digestive tract and the respiratory tract. They are both lined with mucous membranes that are similar in structure sharing the same flora and tubing the body.

For example: post nasal drip, drips into the stomach. Once in the stomach, the acids in the stomach kill off any unwanted bacteria, deconstruct the proteins found in the mucous and then sends remains on to the small intestine where nutrients are reabsorbed while the wastes travel onto the bowel to be eliminated.


The relationship between the digestive tract and the sinus is important to understand when taking a wholistic approach to sinusitis.


General Recommendations

Here are some recommendations as herbalist will make:

  1. Recolonize the gut with friendly bacteria. I generally recommend fermented foods to do this, however, a good probiotic can help.

  2. Avoid foods that aggravate the gut bacteria and are known to trigger the IgE anti-body such as: dairy, gluten, sugar, alcohol (I know it’s not a food, but some people think it is.)

  3. Stop using decongestants. These over the counter drugs limit the effects of the mucous membrane and may seem to bring initial relief, but do not provide a long term solution.

  4. Go for a brisk walk daily or participate in some form of movement that creates heat in the body. Exercise can help break up stagnancy in the body and chronic sinusitis is stagnancy.

  5. Stop smoking, get an air purifier if you live on a busy street with lots a care, or if the air is dry where you live, try an humidifier.










And the Liver's Role

Herbalist's always assess a liver's health, whenever there is a chronic condition. Chronic sinusitis is a sign of liver congestion.  Let's look at the ways the liver can influence the health of your sinuses.


The liver influences the health of our gut flora. Bile secreted by the liver participates in the regulation of flora. Bile's anti-microbial effect eliminates unwanted flora while supporting healthy gut flora. If the flow of bile is hindered either by tension in the abdomen or congestion of the liver causing a thinking of bile, then the gut flora will be out of balance, and we already looked at that. 


The liver is also responsible for the removal of toxins. If the liver is overburdened by substances it needs to prepare for removal from the body (think alcohol, fried foods, birth control pills, other pills, etc.) it becomes congested.


Please be aware this is very much how traditional herbalists understand the physiology of the body. Traditional Chinese herbalists, aruyvedic herbalists and western herbalist call this condition a hot liver. Heat from the toxins raises causing all sorts of health challenges including sinusitis and headaches of all sorts. 


How do you know if liver congestion is part of the bigger picture of sinusitis? Just to name a few: 

  • Pain under your right rib, particularly with fatty foods. 

  • Pain in right shoulder

  • Nausea

  • Irritability and fatigue

  • Systemic inflammation or you have wandering aches and pain throughout your body


Please note: many of the herbs mentioned below support the liver and help eliminate congestion. 


How Herbal Medicine Can Help

  1. Astragulus is an important immune modulating herb. Taking astragulus a month before being exposed to the allergen, whether it be pollen, animal dander, etc, will dramatically limit any symptoms such as stuffy sinus, itchy eyes and sneezing. Astragulus is a paradoxical herb that calms down an overactive immune system, while strengthening it.

  2. Goldenseal, myrrh, bayberry bark, cayenne and lobelia make a synergic blend that when applied topically over the sinus breaks up congestion, allows them to drain, supports the removal of infection and helps heal any irritation to underlying tissues.

  3. A blend of herbs called alterative that works deeply in the body to support the release of toxins from the liver, lymphatic system and interstitial fluid. This is an important part of a protocol although does not seem to directly relate to the sinus. If the body is carrying a toxic load chronic conditions will show up, such as eczema, leaky gut syndrome and chronic sinusitis. It is not unusual to see a client struggling with all three conditions simultaneously. Alteratives support the body in eliminating toxins.

  4. Lastly a tea of herbs known for their anti-histamine effects such as: nettles, goldenrod, calendula, peppermint and hyssops. Plantain is also a favoured herb in treating sinusitis as it participates in the healing of both the mucous membrane and the underlying tissue.


A Wholistic Approach Also Includes the Mind


As I already mentioned, chronic sinusitis is considered a stagnant condition. You may want to consider the following questions. They may reveal stagnancy in other parts of your life:

  1. Where is there stagnancy in my life?

  2. Is there a repetitive emotion that seems spin the same old story? Where do I hold that emotion in my body? How do I learn a new relationship with that emotion?

  3. Is there a belief that limits my ability to enjoy my life? What would my life be like if I let go of that belief?

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