By Nancy Lonsdorf, MD
According to conventional medicine, sinusitis—and its painful symptoms of post-nasal drip, inflammation, and sinus headache—can be caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, or an allergic reaction to dust, pollens, air pollution, or other irritants. However, according to ayurveda, different causes and symptoms occur in different people, depending on their doshas—the body’s governing principles.
For instance, exposure to excessive drafts may trigger some infections, putting the blame on the cold, dry, moving vata dosha, which governs all circulation and flow in your body. Other times, liver irritants such as alcoholic drinks—or an allergic reaction to dust or pollen—can be the cause.
Ayurveda associates these with pitta dosha, which governs metabolism and regulates inflammation. Finally, dampness, overeating, heavy meals in the evening, cold drinks, ice cream, and rich desserts can unbalance kapha, the lubricating dosha, and lead to sinusitis.
Whatever their cause, all sinus infections respond to measures that balance kapha—since it regulates mucus and fluids in the sinus cavity. A heavy, cold, slow, and sticky kapha can be balanced by foods and behaviors that create the opposite effect. Therefore, you should favor a light diet of warm, cooked foods that are easy to digest, such as steamed vegetables, non-creamy vegetable soups, cooked whole grains, and cooked fruits.
Avoid alcohol, red meat, and cold and iced foods and drinks, as well as all curdled foods like cheese and yogurt—both the dairy and non-dairy varieties. If you have symptoms of congestion and pressure, try frequent sips of hot beverages, such as herbal tea, throughout the day. You can also inhale the steam from a pot of freshly boiled water for five to 10 minutes, twice a day. Adding a couple drops of eucalyptus oil to the water after boiling will help open up nasal passages, but be sure to keep your eyes closed to prevent stinging.
Since you have a history of sinus infections, a weakened immune system undoubtedly plays a key role. Weak immunity and weak digestion go hand in hand. When you eat foods that are too hard to digest, for instance, your digestive system gets overloaded and creates a sticky toxin called ama. Over time, excess ama will travel to weak areas in your body—in this case, the sinuses—to block normal functioning and create disease.
To build immunity, you need to clear your body of toxins. An amazingly simple but effective way to help your body do this is to boil spring water and sip the hot water throughout the day. For extra relief during sinus attacks, steep the following in two quarts of boiled water: two slices of fresh ginger, four leaves of mint, two cloves, and 1 teaspoon marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis). Make this ama-busting tea each morning, keep it in a thermos, and sip it hot all day long.
Finally, cook with digestion and immune-enhancing spices like turmeric, ginger, cumin, coriander, fennel, and black pepper. These spices also help clear your sinuses by promoting mucus drainage.