The feeling of pressure and pain in the front of the face around the eyes is all too familiar for millions of Americans. Our sinuses include four pairs of air-filled cavities above and below the eyes and behind the nose. They are helpful for humidifying the air we breathe, resonating our voices, and lightening the weight of our heads. However, the sinuses can be prone to inflammation and infection.
The mucous lining of the sinuses serves as an antimicrobial barrier to infection, and little hairs called cilia help to sweep out unwanted bacteria and viruses. Disruptions to this system commonly come from allergies and viruses. If the passageways get blocked, then bacteria can grow and flourish in the moist, warm, mucous.
Sinusitis is inflammation of the sinuses which can cause the full feeling behind the eyes, pressure, and pain. If left untreated, it can cause fevers and a systemic response from the body. Chronic sinusitis, lasting more than three months, can be caused by allergies, nasal polyps, ongoing infection, a deviated nasal septum, pollutants, or other conditions.
One of the keys to treatment and prevention of sinusitis is keeping the sinuses open and draining. Nasal saline, a saltwater mixture, can be used to help rinse out and open the sinuses and can be just as effective as antibiotics. If allergies are at fault, a steroid nasal spray or steroid pills can be used to decrease inflammation and swelling. A nasal steroid spray can also help treat a nasal polyp, helping to shrink the polyp to aid in the circulation of air and mucous. For some people with chronic and recurring sinusitis, surgery is their best option and can provide welcome relief.
Try this. Hold one nostril shut as you breathe in and out of the other. Now switch to the other nostril and breathe in and out. Chances are you can breathe more freely on one side compared to the other. Wait a few hours, try it again and chances are the opposite side is more open. Congestion in our nose naturally changes sides every four to six hours. If you find that one side is always blocked, then you may want to see your primary doctor or an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
Our bodies are designed for flow. The flow of air, food, blood, waste, and even mucous keeps us healthy. Next time you blow your nose, remember you are helping the natural movement of mucous, so just “blow with the flow.”
Richard P. Holm, MD, passed away in March 2020 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He is founder of The Prairie Doc. For free and easy access to the entire Prairie Doc library, visit www.prairiedoc.org and follow Prairie Doc on Facebook. Andrew Ellsworth, M.D. is part of The Prairie Doc team of physicians and currently practices family medicine in Brookings, South Dakota.