There are six air filled chambers in the face: two above the eyebrows, two in the nose and two in the cheeks. Lining these chambers is a thin layer of cells that produce a fluid known as mucus, keeping them moist. Circulation of blood and lymph (fluid from the immune system) which is controlled by nerves in the head and neck, keep the membranes in good health. Disturbance of the circulation or nerve function can make the sinuses thicken and vulnerable to bacterial infections. This leads to the layer of cells becoming inflamed, producing extra mucus known as sinusitis.
Inflammation of the sinuses can be acute with a sudden onset, or chronic with a slow steady buildup over time at any age. An acute sinusitis can begin after a cold, being run down, from deep tooth infections, smoking, allergies (hay fever), diabetes, and usually lasts for a few weeks. Chronic sinusitis may last from months to years, and could start for the same reasons. Secondary infections may develop from chronic sinusitis, leading to ear and throat infections.
Early symptoms of sinusitis may be felt as: a pressure in the forehead and cheeks, headache, a need to constantly blow your nose, watering eyes, loss of smell, and when deeply infected you may also experience bad breath. Young children have difficultly in blowing their noses when they have a simple cold. Not clearing the mucus from a cold can lead to a chronic sinusitis, as seen in school children with the classic constantly running nose. In adults there is a constant desire to blow the nose with little immediate relief.
Placing a warm wet flannel to the face increases the flow of blood and lymph, inhaling eucalyptus drops from the steam from a bowl of hot water and decongestant sprays may all give short term local relief. Your GP may prescribe steroids or antibiotics in cases of chronic infection.
In addition your osteopath can help by manipulating the bones of your face causing a pressure wave in the sinus chambers, to help pump out the mucus. Relaxation of the muscles of the back of your head and improving movement in your neck helps the nerves maintain the circulation to your face, reducing the headache and the sensitivity of your nose.
Diet can make a contribution; try keeping away from mucus producing foods such as dairy products and especially full cream milk. Staying hydrated with water and fruit juices is important because of the slightly high temperature and mouth breathing associated with sinusitis. Vitamins C and E, garlic and Echinacea in the early stages of the sinusitis help some people to reduce the worsening symptoms.
Walter Llewellyn McKone, DO is an osteopath practicing in Alexandra Palace and Winchmore Hill. He is an author, lecturer and practitioner in general osteopathic medicine, paediatrics, sports medicine, psychology and influenza. Appointments 020 8889 1610. You can follow Walter on Twitter: @mckoneosteo