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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.