Hayfever and Sinusitis

Hayfever and sinusitis can cause distressing symptoms and have a significant impact on your quality of life. Read on to learn about natural approaches to easing the symptoms.

What are the symptoms of hayfever?

Hayfever affects the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract, so the symptoms may include a runny or stuffed up nose, repeated bouts of sneezing, and itchiness of the nose, throat and/or roof of the mouth. The eyes often become bloodshot and watery (sometimes with swelling or dark circles beneath them), and the ears may feel congested or blocked.

The symptoms may interfere with your sleep, energy levels and ability to concentrate.

Depending on the nature of the allergic reaction involved, hayfever can occur throughout the year (perennial rhinitis), or only at times when pollens and other allergens are widely released into the atmosphere (seasonal rhinitis), in which case it’s most common in spring and summer and on days that are windy and dry.

People with hayfever sometimes experience secondary sinusitis infections because the build-up of mucus and secretions in the sinus passages creates an environment that’s easy for bacteria to colonise.

What are the symptoms of sinusitis?

Sinusitis is a term used to describe inflammation or infection of the cavities or passages in the bones of the skull, including those in the nose, cheeks and forehead and around the eye sockets.

The inflamed tissues swell, narrowing or blocking the passages and inhibiting airflow. They also secrete mucus in greater than usual quantities and with a thicker than usual consistency, clogging the sinus passages and making it difficult to breathe through your nose. Unlike the clear watery secretions associated with hayfever, the mucus produced by sinusitis tends to have a denser consistency, and can range in colour from cream to yellow-green.

The associated congestion can cause facial pain and tenderness over the affected areas, sometimes accompanied by headache, earache or toothache. It may also interfere with your senses of taste, smell or hearing.

Other symptoms that may occur include coughing (typically caused by post-nasal drip, in which mucus travels from the sinuses into the throat) and fever (when the cause of the sinusitis is infectious).

Some people experience chronic sinusitis, with ongoing or recurrent infections over weeks or months. In those circumstances, it’s possible for the infection to spread to adjacent tissues, including the ears, bones and brain, where serious complications can arise.

What causes hayfever?

Hayfever is an allergic condition that’s usually triggered by inhalation of an airborne allergen such as pollen, dust or pet hair, or (less commonly) by consuming an allergen in food or drink.

When the allergen is encountered, the immune system responds by forming antibodies to it, including those of the immunoglobulin E (IgE) type, which initiate the release of histamine. This in turn prompts the inflammation of the mucous membranes and the watery discharges that are secreted from the nose and/or eyes.

Hayfever is closely related to eczema (atopic dermatitis) and asthma, all of which have a genetic component. It’s quite common for sufferers to experience all three of these conditions (collectively known as atopy) at some stage in their lives, and for close family members to also be affected by one or more of them.

What causes sinusitis?

Sinusitis is usually caused by a bacterial infection in the sinus passages.

In many cases, the infection is able to take hold due to the presence of mucous congestion in the sinuses, as may occur with hayfever, food intolerance, colds, flu or the inhalation of irritants (e.g. cigarette smoke or industrial pollutants).

People whose bone structure interferes with the effective drainage of mucus discharge through the nasal passages are also prone to experiencing sinus infections, as are people with nasal polyps.

Natural therapies for hayfever and sinusitis

Chinese herbs for allergies

A specific blend of Chinese herbal medicines may aid the management of hayfever and other allergies mediated by IgE reactions.

Known as Minor Bupleurum Decoction or Xiao Chai Hu Tang, the combination includes the anti-allergy herbs Bupleurum, Baical Skullcap, Pinellia, Ginger, Korean Ginseng, Chinese Licorice and Ziziphus (Red Date).

When taken together, these herbs may relieve hayfever and other allergies by inhibiting the release of histamine.

Chinese herbs for hayfever and sinusitis

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the nasal passages and sinuses are considered part of the Lung organ-meridian system, which encompasses not only the lungs themselves, but the entire respiratory tract and the immune defences.

If the Lung organ-meridian is weak, the immune defences may also be compromised, enabling disease-causing agents such as allergens or infectious organisms to enter the body via the nose, as may occur in hayfever and sinusitis.

Depending on the specific symptoms experienced and their cause, a Chinese herbalist may characterise a person with hayfever or sinusitis as being affected by a deficiency or stagnation of Lung energy (Lung Qi) resulting in lowered resistance to disease. An excess of Wind, Cold, Heat or Dampness is also often present.

Herbs traditionally used in these circumstances are often similar to those used to treat colds and flu, and may include Magnolia Flower to unblock the nasal and sinus passages, Honeysuckle and Forsythia to release excess Wind, and Andrographis and Isatis to clear Heat and toxicity.

Support immune function with Echinacea, Andrographis, Zinc and vitamin C

The immune-boosting herbs Echinacea and Andrographis have traditionally been used to aid the management of mild viral infections of the upper respiratory tract, including sinusitis.

They’re often taken in combination with zinc and vitamin C, both of which are essential for healthy functioning of the immune system, including the production and activity of some of the immune cells that help the body address infection.

Diet and lifestyle recommendations for hayfever and sinusitis

  • Where possible, protect yourself from airborne allergens and the negative effects of excess Wind by staying indoors on blustery days. If you must go out, dress warmly and try to stay out of the wind
  • Acupressure may help to relieve the pain and congestion of hayfever and sinusitis. Using your index or middle finger, apply firm pressure to your cheek at outside edge of your nostril for about a second, and then move upwards and do the same alongside the bridge of your nose and at the top inner corner of your eye socket. Next, massage your forehead and temples vigorously, and then repeat the cycle several times
  • Minimise your exposure to pet hair and dust mites by keeping your home very clean, and wear a protective mask if your occupation exposes you to dust or other airborne irritants at work
  • Eating plenty of pungent and spicy foods may help to liquefy and drain mucus and ease your breathing; good options include wasabi, horseradish, garlic, onions, radishes and leeks
  • At the same time, steer clear of dairy products, which are a common dietary allergen and may promote the production of mucus
  • Avoid cigarette smoke, including secondhand smoke; it irritates the respiratory mucous membranes, inhibits immunity, and has negative effects on the Lung organ-meridian system

When should you see your doctor or other health professional about hayfever and sinusitis?

  • Sinus pain that’s severe, chronic (persists for a week or longer), recurrent or associated with foul-smelling mucus warrants urgent investigation by your healthcare professional
  • If you’re concerned that allergies or intolerances may be causing or contributing to your hayfever or sinusitis, consult your healthcare professional, who can arrange for appropriate tests to be carried out