Sinusitis is an acute or chronic inflammation of the mucus membranes that line the sinus cavities, causing the sinus membranes to secrete excessive mucus. Acute sinusitis is usually caused by a bacterial infection following an upper respiratory viral infection or an attack of allergic rhinitis (seasonal allergies). Acute sinusitis may also be caused by allergies, pressure or temperature changes, and airborne irritants such as smoke or dust. Chronic sinusitis can be due to incomplete treatment of acute sinusitis or repeated attacks of acute sinusitis.

Western medical diagnosis and treatment for sinusitis is based on signs, symptoms and history. As far as treatment goes, antibiotics are the main method for both acute and chronic sinusitis. Antibiotics are often effective in relieving the symptoms of bacterial-caused sinusitis but may have no effect on conditions caused by allergies or environmental irritants. After symptoms have disappeared due to antibiotic treatment, people often have reoccurrences, which then become a chronic sinusitis condition. Antibiotics are then repeatedly prescribed, which may offer some relief but not fully resolve the condition.

Other medications that may be used to treat sinusitis are antihistamines and saline solution washes, and cortical steroid sprays. These treatments reduce inflammation and open the sinuses, allowing for better drainage and offering relief from symptoms again without resolving the condition.

Chinese Medicine categorizes both acute and chronic sinusitis as similar diseases. In both cases sinusitis begins with the body having a damp environment, and this condition causes the body’s immune system to be weak. The weakened immune system opens the door for an invasion of cold or heat to penetrate the body’s defense and lodge in the nasal passages. This now becomes what is called a damp heat condition which produces thick phlegm and other common symptoms of sinusitis. A damp condition with heat creates an environment that quite often leads to a bacterial infection, further contributing to the symptoms. Overwork, illness, or weakness in the body, overuse of antibiotics, or poor diet may also aggravate the condition causing more dampness and a weaker immune system.

Treatment mainly involves resolving a damp-phlegm condition. There are a few reasons why there may be dampness in the body such as a weakness of the spleen, stagnation of liver, kidney weakness, lung weakness, or a combination of a few. To effectively treat the condition, it is important to determine the underlying cause in order to address both the body’s ability to transform and transport fluids properly, as well as strengthen the body according to the underlying weakness. Many times people don’t realize that they are eating the wrong foods for their constitution and that their diet is causing a lot of the problem. A treatment that combines acupuncture and simple diet changes usually produces great results, as the combination can greatly increase the therapeutic effect of the acupuncture treatment.

The treatment of sinusitis with acupuncture is an excellent example of how Chinese medicine and Western medicine can complement each other, using the particular strengths of each system for the best solution to a health problem. In the case of sinusitis, Western medicine can be effective for treating acute sinusitis due to bacterial infection, whereas Chinese medicine can be used together with Western medicine for bacterial-related sinusitis and is better suited to the treatment of chronic conditions or those conditions that have other causes. In combining these systems, we can draw upon their unique strengths to effectively resolve many health conditions and bring the body back into a healthy, balanced state.

James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St in Kelowna, BC.

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