Thursday, November 13, 2008
Sinus Infections Suck
I have a sinus infection.
I get sinus infections pretty often. I have lupus, and it can't decide if my sinuses are part of my body or not. Sometimes it thinks they are strange, vicious aliens and will try to burn them out while they are sleeping. Other times Mr. Lupus thinks that the sinuses are just fine on their own, so why patrol them, why send out T cells? I know there are worse things that deranged Mr. Lupus could do, so on the whole, wavering between sinus apathy and paranoia is not so bad.
But my head really hurts when my sinuses are sick. Light hurts, sound hurts, thinking hurts.
I should get the surgery, but I am allergic to many pain meds and the meds they use to knock you out. I don't like the idea of going into a coma to cure this. I also don't respond well to antibiotics, and steroids can kill you, so I have a system for fighting sinus infections that works for me some of the time.
And since my head is just killing me, and I really can't think of anything else, this seems like a good time to talk about it.
For me, taking allergy pills daily has helped. A LOT. It cuts my infections down from once a month to once every other month. I have tried an anti-malarial for the lupus, but the side effects were dreadful. Allergy pills don't have bad side effects for me, but do help.
Step 1: Know the early warning signals.
Sinuses only have nerve endings at the openings, so by the time your head hurts, the infection has traveled from the cavity to the opening.By that time, sinus cavity is probably just raging with infection and then it takes forever to cure.
However, there is a nerve that branches into the sinuses, but it is from the back of your neck. So, if it is stimulated from a sinus infection, you don't feel pain in your face or forehead, instead you feel it as a stiff or sore gland in your neck. Because I often get infections where this nerve branches, my very first warning sign is a slight neck stiffness. I will move my head like I am 'cracking' my neck, and if I can catch myself doing this, and start the next steps right away, I can usually avoid a LOT of pain.
Irritability is another early warning. Just because I don't feel the pain yet doesn't mean my body isn't aware of the infection. For me, my grouchiness is my body telling me something is wrong. I tend to be in a good mood most of the time, and when I am not, I take precautions, because for me, bitchiness can mean I am getting sick. If you are bitchy all the time, well, maybe you have a low-grade infection, and following these steps could sweeten your life a bit? Then again, you could just be bitchy. :D
Step 2 : Know what herbs work for you.
Along with the immune boosters like Lemon Balm and Echinacea, I also will add an alterative (or 'blood cleanser') like Oregon grape root or Goldenseal. This helps my body fight the infection on a large scale. You can find Echinacea and Goldenseal blends at many grocery stores, but I prefer to buy them separately, so I can take more of the Goldenseal. If you can get Oregon Grape Root you may like it. It tends to be cheaper than Goldenseal, and generally works the same. Lemon balm has the happy side effect of mood lifting, which increases your body's ability to handle pain. Unlike Echinacea, Lemon Balm can be taken daily for extended periods of time. Taking Echinacea that way lessens its effect drastically.
To my general infection fighter blend of Echinecea and Grape root, I add aromatic herbs that have a disinfecting or antibiotic action. Aromatics are perfect for sinus infections because, if you take enough of them, your body will exude the aromatic oils from your mucous membranes. My favorite cleansing aromatics are Hyssop and Garlic.
Hyssop seems to work faster for me than garlic, and I find it much more pleasant to take. I like to take hyssop capsules, just to get a lot of it down quickly, since pain relief is what I am going for, but drinking the tea is good too. To make Hyssop tea, I pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 tsp of dried hyssop. I cover and let it steep until it is just warm, about 15 minutes. I strain it, add some sweetener, and drink it down.
I can also drink it before it has finished steeping IF I drink the dregs (the herb bits) too. This can be nice, because the warmth and the steam feel nice. When I get to the mucky bit at the end, I just chug it, if I possibly can, to get all the medicinal value of the herbs.
Garlic can be eaten raw (ick) or sauted or roasted.
If you have ever eaten a lot of garlic, you know how you smell everything with a garlic tinge until it is out of your system? That is the blessing, and the curse of aromatics. the blessing is that the oils are very healing, and your body concentrates them in the mucous membranes (like your sinuses) which is great for healing sinus infections. The curse is that your breath smells and your world become garlic tinged for a while.
When I have a sinus infection, if my inner ears are involved, I get a little puky, and raw garlic is not great on a blechy stomach. But if this doesn't bother you, you can cut up raw garlic and swallow it like little pills. Don't take a whole clove at one time, because your body will not digest it whole. Instead, cut it up so the oil is released during digestion.
Garlic soup is a great boon for those who are fighting infections, so I always ask my loved ones to make it for me. And if I can get some spiciness to it, that can release endorphins, which also makes me feel better. Yummy, warm, spicy garlic soup is much pleasanter for me than taking garlic raw. (Below is a recipe for Spicy Garlic Tomato Soup. It is easy enough that I can make it myself when I am sick, if I have the stuff on hand. )
I used to drink a tea made from a drop or two of oil of oregano in hot water for my sinus infections. It worked, but was so very strong that it caused my kidneys to hurt and made the inside of my mouth peel! Now I use a bit of oregano in my garlic soup, but save the oil as a last ditch effort before going to get antibiotics. If you try it, just start with a tiny bit to see how it effects you.
Tea Tree oil:
I have tried taking this internally like oregano oil, but I find it works best topically. I use it this way: I rub a bit of protective oil on my face where my sinuses hurt. I will use almond oil usually, but I have also used olive oil in a pinch. I also will rub some oil in front of my ear, and some on the side of my nose. Then I put a few drops of tea tree oil on my fingers and apply it over the protective oil, on my cheeks, forehead, in front of my ears. The almond oil keeps the tea tree oil from causing a rash.
The tea tree oil is very penetrating and antiseptic and also acts as a counter irritant, bringing blood (with your herbal medicines in it) to your sinuses, which will also help the healing. Breathing in the scent of tea tree oil can bring pain relief for a few minutes too, so I often will dab a tiny bit under my nose.
Step 3: Get the neti ready.
If you don't know what neti is, here is a good wiki article on it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nasal_irrigation
And here is a youtube demo of one:
You can get neti pots at healthfood stores, or if you are a potter, you can make your own. (or buy one from me!) But, in a pinch, a single serving teapot will also work. (I will tell you how I figured that out some other time...). The amount of salt I put in varies.
I fill the neti pot with water that is slightly warmer than body temperature. Then I add enough salt to make it just slightly salty to the taste (if I add to much, or too little, it will cause a small amount of discomfort and I adjust it before going on). A little saltier is recommended for infections.
Sometimes I add a drop or two of vinegar. This would be good if you are prone to yeast or fungal infections. (During one terrible infection where I could not get to the doctor, I added a drop or two of tea tree oil and I got better! I don't recommend it, however, since it hurt like hell, and that can't be good.)
I use my neti pot twice or three times a day while the infection is raging, and then once a day for a week after. If I suspect I am getting an infection, I will do neti once or twice a day until I think I am out of danger.
Neti is also great for when you have a lot of irritants that you are breathing in. I neti after I raku, while I am camping or when I have been around cigarette smoke. High allergen or pollen days are another great time to neti.
Step 4: Move around, sit up.
For me, the more I move around and sit up, the better I feel. I take some allergy pills and do a bit of easy housework or play with clay. I get someone to take me for a drive. The vibrations help clear my head. I sleep with more pillows and don't sleep more than I have to. I keep hydrated so my mucosa can heal.
Other things I have tried with mixed success:
Ear Candles (It was soothing, but didn't help my sinuses much)
Cold packs (OUCH)
If the herbs and neti don't work. I GO TO A DOCTOR. Sometimes I just can't get ahead of an infection. I get some antibiotics and know that I did your best to avoid it. Then, I take my antibiotics, eat some live culture yogurt and sleep. And then next time...well, I always hope there won't be a next time!
Super Easy Garlic Soup
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped or smashed.
1/4 tsp oregano, finely ground
1 tsp butter or olive oil
1 cup broth or salted water
3 cups spicy V-8 or tomato juice
Pepper and chili powder to taste
Saute the garlic in the oil or butter for a minute or two, brown it if you like. Add the oregano, stir and add the broth or salted water. Heat until it just starts to boil. Add the V-8, and pepper and chili until it is pleasantly spicy, then add a tiny bit more. Heat but don't boil it. Serve it, sipping and breathing in the steam. If you are feeling up to it, you can add veggies or tofu or meat. I particularly like some corn stirred in, and chopped green onions added on top before serving.
This soup is good for cold and flu fighting, or for whenever your immune system needs a boost.
Feel free to comment with YOUR techniques! I would love to hear, and try them!