Sinus headaches refer to pain in the head, typically in and around the face. Most of us are knowledgeable about two of our four sinuses: the frontal (forehead) and maxillary (our “cheek bones”). The other two sinuses (called ethmoid and sphenoid) are much less understood. Many patients ask chiropractors about sinus problems, as all of us have had a stuffy nose due to a cold and have felt this pain in our face and head. Those of us who have suffered from sinus infections REALLY know how painful sinusitis can get! This month, let’s take a look at our sinuses and what we can do to self-manage the problem.
First, an anatomy lesson… As stated above, there are four paired, or sets, of sinuses in our head: Maxillary: Pain/pressure in the cheekbones, sometimes referring pain to the teeth. These drain sideways (if you lay on your side, the side “up” drains down into the downside maxillary sinus and into the nose). Frontal: Pain/pressure in the forehead. These drain downward (when we’re upright, looking straight ahead). Ethmoidal: Pain/pressure between and/or behind the eyes. These drain when we lean forwards. Sphenoidal: Cause pain/pressure behind the eyes, top of the head and/or back of the head (which can be extreme). These drain best when lying face pointing down towards the floor, but they can be stubborn to drain!
Sinusitis, or rhinosinusitis, by definition is an inflammation of the sinus lining (mucous membrane) and is classified as follows: Acute – a new infection which can last up to four weeks and are divided into two types: severe and non-severe; Recurrent acute – four or more separate acute episodes within one year; Subacute – an infection lasting 4-12 weeks; Chronic – infections lasting >12 weeks; and Acute exacerbation of chronic sinusitis – recurring bouts of chronic sinusitis.
One cause of sinusitis can include a “URI” (upper respiratory tract infections) most often in the form of a virus (such as rhinovirus—there are over 99 types have been identified—or better known as “the common cold”). Bacteria can also cause a sinus infection. These infections tend to last longer and can follow a viral infection. A third cause is a fungal infection. These are more common in diabetic and other immune-deficient patients. Chemical irritants such as cigarette smoke and chlorine fumes can also trigger sinusitis. Chronic sinusitis can be caused by anything that irritates the sinuses for >12 weeks (viruses, bacteria, environmental irritants, tooth infections, and more). Allergies are also a common cause of sinusitis whether they are environmental and/or food/chemical induced.
Chiropractic care for sinusitis includes primarily symptomatic care with sinus drainage techniques such as facial and cranial bone manipulation/mobilization, lymphatic pump and drainage techniques, instruction in self-stretch of the sinuses (such as an outward pull of the cheek bones in different positions of the head), nutritional counseling (such as 1000mg of vitamin C every 2-4 hours) and anti-inflammatory herbs and vitamins (see prior Health Updates), cervical and mid-back manipulation, training in nasal saline rinsing (Nasaline, Nettie Pot), moist heat (towels, steam), and of course, chicken soup! Co-management with your primary care doc may be needed at times if medications are warranted.