Sinuses and Your Environment
Tips for Healthy Sinuses
More than 37 million Americans suffer from sinus problems each year. Did you know that the air both inside and outside of your home is filled with potentially harmful irritants that may contribute to sinus problems? It may be frightening to imagine breathing in these dangerous materials, since they can contribute to colds during the winter months and the flaring up of allergies in the spring and summer.
The Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) is responsible for managing environmental programs under the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Pollution Prevention Act passed in 1976. Under these laws, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) evaluates the risks of new and existing chemicals and works to prevent or reduce pollution before it gets into the environment.Decreasing environmental pollution is now considered a key element in reducing health problems in the United States. However, despite these regulations, nearly half the U.S. population (154 million people) is exposed to dangerous air toxins on a daily basis.
Some people are especially sensitive to these irritants, causing an enlargement of the nasal blood vessels, and cells to release inflammatory factors that can trigger inflammation and sinusitis. Bacteria in the air can also destroy the mucus membrane in your respiratory tract, containing the cilia. Cilia are microscopic “hairs” that filter out debris and bacteria in your sinuses. Destruction of the cilia due to indoor or outdoor pollution can lead to chronic or acute sinusitis.
Dr. Bennett recommends that his patients educate themselves about the exact environmental causes that contribute to sinus problems, and to follow special tips on how to minimize and eradicate nasal congestion, sinus pressure and sinus pain.
The following information will help keep your sinuses healthy!
Indoor & Outdoor Pollutants
Identifying outdoor pollutants is important in order to understand how to combat them. The most harmful fumes that you may come in contact with include:
- Sulfur dioxide
- Nitrogen dioxide
- Petroleum combustion products
- Volatile organic compounds
- Construction dust and debris
- Second-hand cigarette smoke
- Exhaust fumes
- Household cleaning products
- Grasses and pesticides
- Fumes from inappropriate burning of trash, propane, coal, charcoal, oil, wood and natural gas
You may assume that staying indoors is the best solution in avoiding harmful fumes from the outdoors; however, did you know your sinuses could be exposed to even more harmful irritants inside your very own home? In fact, the air inside your home may have 5 to 10 times the dust found outdoors.
An increase in the frequency of sinus infections, membrane damage to your nasal and sinus cavities, and a weakening of your immune system are common results of indoor pollution. Learning how to fight the silent toxins lurking in the air, carpets, upholstery and other places will result in healthier sinuses. The most common indoor sinus irritants include:
Indoor Pollution in Your Home or Office Space
- Dust mites
- Pet dander and animal feces (i.e. kitty litter boxes, animal cages or carriers)
- Secondhand cigarette smoke
- Poor ventilation
- Office equipment such as copiers, computers, printers, or fumes from permanent markers
- Gas fired clothes dryers and/or water heaters
- Appliances that are combustion based, such as wood-burning stoves or gas, kerosene appliances
- Insulation containing formaldehyde or asbestos
- Damp or moldy carpets
- Wood cabinetry and furniture made from certain pressed woods
- Formaldehyde found in wood paneling or fiberboard
- Toxins found in in oil-based paints
- Radon (a radioactive gas commonly found in crawl spaces or basements)
Air containing these elements can be harmful to your sinuses, especially if the air itself is dry. Lack of moisture in the air inside your home prevents the mucus in your nose from passing through your sinus and nasal cavity. Viruses and bacteria will not be flushed away unless the sinuses have enough moisture. If the mucus dries inside your sinuses, it can also crust and block your sinus cavity, causing inflammation leading to nasal irritation or even a sinus infection.
Ensuring that the air in your home has the appropriately humidification is important to reduce your risk of sinus problems. Dr. Bennett recommends stationing a humidifier in your bedroom if the air is too dry. Humidifiers are the most effective during during the winter months. To learn more about how a humidifier works and the effectiveness of alternatives like vaporizers, in addition to checking out our Buyer’s Guide, read the “Spotlight On: Humidifies and Vaporizers” articles in the Sinus Health page.
Filtering the air can be just as important as keeping it moist. For this, Dr. Bennett recommends installing a HEPA (High-Efficiency Air Particulate) filter in both your bedroom and your office space. Dust miles, pollen and pet dander are purified from the air with this device. For more information about how HEPA filters prevent sinus problems, whether a HEPA filter is right for you, and a Buyer’s Guide on selecting the best HEPA without breaking the bank, read the “Spotlight On: HEPA Air Filters” article under the Sinus Health page.
Allergies & The Sinuses
Allergens may also contribute to how severely the above-listed irritants affect your sinuses. Testing for allergens will allow you and your doctor to create an allergy management program to avoid exposure and effects of allergens. For example, buy a hypoallergenic mattress cover and pillowcases and wash them with your bed sheets and shams in hot water, on a weekly basis. Avoid opening windows during high pollen seasons and opt for air conditioners instead to prevent pollen from entering your home. Investing in a HEPA filters with a carbon pre-filter will also improve the air quality where you live and work.
For many, these measures may need to be combined with nasal steroid sprays, saline rinses, antihistamines, decongestants or allergy shots. Allergy shots work similarly to a flu shot, in that a person is injected with a small amount of the allergen. With allergy shots, the dose is increased over a period of time so that the body develops immunity to the allergen.
Developing and adhering to a weekly exercise routine can be helpful when it comes to maintaining healthy sinuses. In today’s modern culture, televisions, laptops and tablets make it easy to slip into a passive, sedentary lifestyle. According to the A.C. Nielsen Company, on average, Americans watch over four hours of television shows per day. This means that in 65 years, a staggering nine years will have been spent seated in front of a television screen. Avoiding the pitfalls of TV entertainment addiction will help keep your sinuses healthy which can give you an overall healthy lifestyle.
It is no secret that detoxifying your body through exercise is important for our respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Your sinuses are linked to improving your body through exercise because of its ability purify the air we breathe. Exercising outdoors in the fresh air is also preferable to exercising inside or at the gym.
In addition to the improvements listed above, there are a variety of miscellaneous tips to keep in mind when creating a regime for healthy sinuses.
Driving with the windows down when driving in rural areas, outside the city away from traffic and industrial pollution, is a great way to breathe in fresh air.
Dust your house once a week to avoid the collection of bacteria and dust mites. Be sure to clean while wearing a mask over your mouth and nose, which can be purchased at any home goods store.
Use a neti pot regularly to help rid your body of the toxins trapped in the sinuses and to help facilitate proper sinus drainage. A neti pot looks similar to a small teapot in appearance, save for an extended spout. They are simple and easy to use:
- Step 1: Mix together a cup of tepid, distilled water and a teaspoon of salt.
- Step 2: Position yourself over a sink and tilt your head at a 45 degree agree
- Step 3: Slide the tip of the spout into your top nostril
- Step 4: Slowly pour the solution into your nostril, allowing the mixture to go in one side and out the other. Do not be alarmed if some of the water is felt in your throat
- Step 5: Blow your nose to be sure that all of the solution has been drained from your nose
- Step 6: Repeat Steps 1-5, sliding the tip of the spout into the opposite nostril
Neti pots can be purchased inexpensively at drug stores, health food and nutrition store ranging from $10 to $20 each, and don’t forget to regularly clean your neti pot.
Exposing yourself to sunlight each day is also important for Vitamin D and calcium consumption, revitalizing your tissues and their ability to regenerate.
Maintain a healthy diet, by remembering to avoid sugar, caffeine, dairy products, and alcohol. Be sure to also visit a local general nutrition store and find a multivitamin that’s right for you in addition to a zinc or iron pill if you are a woman. Remember that most foods and drinks are okay in moderation, but you should work to avoid certain foods completely if you have any allergies or health conditions specific to you.
Clean the air ducts in your heating and cooling systems regularly. Although the frequency of using this measure is debated among some medical experts, it is universally agreed that if you detect either a musty or mildew scent in your air, it is usually time to clean the ducts.
Bathe your pets weekly. This goes for all animals in your house with pet dander. Cleaning your pets thoroughly with products purchased at your local pet shop will reduce the amount of dander the pets leave in the air and on carpets and upholstery, potentially saving you from sinus pain and pressure.
Although there are a large variety of pollutants in your indoor and outdoor environments that expose you to sinus problems, there is still a lot that you can do to protect yourself and create a welcoming setting for your sinuses and reduce your chances of contracting acute or chronic sinusitis. By following the easy and inexpensive tips outlined above and consulting with your doctor, you can be on your way to a more healthy and congestion-free life.
Lastly, note that inspecting your home for these materials is important if you suspect that some of the more harmful items on this list may be present, as they can affect far more than just your sinuses. Combating the majority of the items listed in the bulleted points above are explained in detail, in the following “Sinus Health” series of articles.
Sinus Health Series:
- Sinus Health: Pollen: What pollen really is and how can we limit its harmful effects.
- Sinus Health: Mold & Mildew: Places you never thought you might find mold and how to control it.
- Sinus Health: Dust Mites: What they are and how can we limit them in our environment.
- Sinus Health: Pet Dander: We love our pets and will do what we can to live happily and healthily with them.
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