Your Sinus Health And Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine offers many tools for improving your constitution to reduce or eliminate the occurrence of sinus related health issues. Sinus congestion, sinus dryness, headaches, ear infections, chronic allergies, seasonal colds, and chest colds make up a third of the clinic visits I see every year. As a result, I've gotten really good at treating this health concern.  

What does it mean to treat your constitution? 

Treating people constitutionally is the gift of Chinese medicine. Chinese medicine has a lot of words for patterns of disharmony. The nuanced way you express a symptom is related to a pattern. For instance, a person who has nasal congestion with frontal headaches, is often constipated, and tends to have bad breath will yield a different formula and acupuncture prescription than someone whose headache is in their temples, is plagued with ear aches, and often feels irritable. 

My job is to take your chief complaint (sinus headache) and tease it apart and refine it. I am looking at where the pain and discomfort are located and what the quality is. Is it sharp, achey, dull, or does it feel like you have an ice pick through your eyeball. All of these experiences mean something and allow me to target the treatment specifically. There is a genuine elegance to Chinese medicine.

Treating the Root and the Branch

Chinese medicine has herbs that are anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and alleviate pain. While a formula is alleviating your discomforts there are also herbs in the formula that support your immune system. For someone who gets recurrent infections this is key. This is what it means to treat the branch and the root of a person. The root is that the body struggles to maintain proper immune health. The branch is the infection.  Treating the root and branch of a health issue is why I love Chinese medicine. The diagnosis tools really respect the whole person. Another way of thinking about it, is that Chinese medicine wants you to be the best person you can be. 

What to expect from the treatment

When the diagnosis is correct and the right formula prescribed, the results happen within 24 hours. I've treated 100s of sinus cases since moving to the area two years ago. With the right formula in a robust dosage I expect to see change quickly. This doesn't mean you have to be cured. If you have green phlegm, I want it to be yellow. If you have yellow phlegm I want it to be paler or white. I want it to change immediately so I know I am on track.  For a serious infection I want to see improvement within a couple of days and the worst of the infection to be over in a week.

Once the infection is managed, I find that if you are persistent with the herbs at a lower dose over a period of time you really help improve the constitution. Many patients walk around with sub-clinical infections year around. Over time the inflammation or this low level infection is what runs you down. There is tremendous value in being persistent.  

What you can do at home

The neti pot is perhaps the single most important self care therapy you can do to support good sinus health. The neti pot looks like a little genie lamp. You create a saline solution and pour it into one nostril with the head tilted and it will pour out the other nostril. The salt water moves into the sinus tissue and helps break up congestion and the salt shrinks back the tissue and reduces inflammation. Meanwhile it is also flushing out pollen, pollution, and infection.  It is even possible to use a Chinese medicine formula (very well strained and free of all plant matter) in the neti pot at an antibiotic. With a neti pot and Chinese herbal medicine you can kick almost every sinus infection. 

There is so much value in pressing pause.

How do you become more robust? Boosting your constitution takes time, but the good news is that more than half of your self care is about respecting your boundaries. Resting when you need to rest. (For instance, how is your sleep hygiene?) Eating a whole foods diet (cooked vegetables, grains, meat). Quieting your nervous system. Of course,  21st century living does not make it easy to press pause long enough to hear what your body is asking for.  We are surrounded by stimulation ALL of the time, and the message is: the faster the better.  

Food is medicine.

Chinese medicine is deeply interested in strengthening your digestion because how you digest foods directly impacts every aspect of your health. Dietary therapy is traditionally considered the highest medicine. Our digestion process is supposed to be a nice simmering pot of soup. The steam that is released from the simmering pot is energy. It warms the body, moves the qi, and strengthens our constitution.

This is why a Chinese medicine diet discourages eating cold and raw food. Eating cold foods such as shakes and salads, and drinking cold water puts out the stomach fire. Eating cold or raw foods is like pouring a cup of ice cold water into the soup. The simmering and steaming is halted and it takes an enormous amount of energy to recapture this dynamic. That beautiful simmering soup now becomes cold and sludgy.  This stagnation in your digestion in relationship to your sinus health can cause phlegm, leading to sinus congestion, headaches, neck pain, and foggy thinking to name a few. 

Experiment with you diet.

It is often worth testing if dairy (lactose) is congesting. For some it is, for some its not. I suggest three weeks. Of course be mindful of dietary calcium and be sure you are receiving it from other food sources, such was green leafy vegetables, molasses, or shell fish.  Another food group that can lead to poor sinus health is the consumption of wheat products. Again, eliminate wheat from your diet for a few weeks and observe how you feel. Are you less lethargic? Did the occurrence of headaches decrease?  Are you less phlegmy? Less achey? 

Other foods to be aware may be causing congestion: processed foods/sugars, greasy foods, spicy foods. Alcohol absolutely causes sinus congestion. Observing moderation with your alcohol intake can help you be less allergic. In Chinese medicine, excess consumption of alcohol causes heat in the liver and updrafts the phlegm and lands right in your sinuses. Ever wonder why your nose is stuffed the morning after a heavy night of drinking? 

Make an appointment before you get sick.

If you continue to struggle with sinus congestion and you feel your immune response is slow or weakened, schedule a private appointment and we can spend the time to tease out exactly what is happening and develop a solid plan to boost your constitution. Prevention is medicine. I have so many diagnostic tools at my disposal to evaluate your whole health and understand how your system is out of balance. In one private session you will walk away with a bounty of information to direct your self care regiment and boost your constitution. Before you come in to the appointment, I strongly suggest keeping a food journal for 5-7 days. You can download the food journal here. 

As always, feel free to contact me with any questions! 

If you like what you are reading on the blog, please consider liking the post, sharing the link with others, or leave a nice comment. If there is a topic you would like me to cover on the blog as it relates to Chinese medicine, send me an email. I want to write about things that are relevant to you so the feedback is appreciated. 

How Is Your Sleep Hygiene?

Are you falling asleep with ease, staying asleep all night, and waking up rested? If not, then keep reading. But don't be too hard on yourself if you struggle with sleep. Between 50-70 million Americans chronically suffer from poor sleep quality. As the name implies, practicing good sleep hygiene is a lot like other routines you establish to maintain good health. The National Sleep Foundation spearheaded a two year worldwide study to examine sleep health across all ages. This chart shows you the up to date recommendations from the study.


Now that you know how many hours your body needs to sleep per night, how do you know when you are practicing improper sleep hygiene? If you are sleepy during the daytime, are taking more than 20 minutes to fall asleep, or are sleeping only intermittently during the night, consider changing your pre-bedtime routines. Here are few tips to get you started. 

Make restful sleep a priority. 

Stick to a regular sleep schedule. For example, if you regularly go to sleep around 11 on the weekdays, try to maintain that same time frame on the weekends. The same goes for when you wake up. 

Cultivate a before bed sleep ritual. 

In Chinese medicine, sleep depends on the state of blood and yin. What this means is in order to prepare for sleep you need to start gathering yin energy and reduce yang energy. Yang energy is active and bright. From a Chinese medicine standpoint, this is why computers, tablets, smartphones, and your TV should stay out of the bedroom. Each of these things keep your mind and body stimulated when you should be doing the opposite as you ready yourself for sleep. 

Wean yourself from the e-stimulation at least 90 minutes before bed.

The blue wavelengths of light from LED screens like those in our phones, laptops and tablets mess with our circadian rhythm by suppressing the body's release of melatonin, the hormone our body secretes as it gets dark in order to calm us and prepare us for sleep. Neurologists at the University of Basel in Switzerland conducted a sleep study where one group was exposed to blue heavy lights before bedtime and the other warmer light or light more evening distributed across the color spectrum. The blue light group took far longer to fall asleep. Why? Because the exposure to the blue light greatly inhibits the release of melatonin and instead increases the amount of cortisol released into the body, keeping you awake. 

If you like to read before bed, be old fashioned: read a paper book. If you must bring your device to bed, at the very least download one of these apps to turn off the blue light in your phone or tablet: F.Lux or use the Oyster e-reader.  If you want to go all-in, put the TV in another room, and remove all devices from the bedroom before you sleep. 

Temperature & Light Matter

Cooler temps are more yin, which are better for sleep. A room temperature around 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for good sleep. Reducing the amount of light in the room is also ideal for a good night's sleep. For your body to properly gather the yin, you want to cover anything that emits light in the room in the room or use an eye mask. 

Exercise wisely

Exercising too close to your normal bedtime can prevent you from getting a proper night's rest. Energetic exercising (a yang activity) like running, biking, or lifting weights should be reserved for morning or early afternoon. If you like to exercise in the evening, consider a gentle (yin) approach like a restorative yoga practice or an after dinner stroll. 

Empty your mind. 

I know. This is part where you roll your eyes. Easier said than done, right? I might as well be asking you to develop a super human power.  

Chinese medicine is all about moderation. Too much of anything causes an imbalance in the relationship between yin and yang.  As you get closer to bed, you want your mind to shift from an active (yang)  pace to a slower (yin) one. If you tend to think about the next day when you lay down to sleep, try making a list before bed. Empty your to-do list our of your head and onto paper. If you are addicted to multi-tasking, practice doing one thing at a time during your day. For instance, if you are doing the dishes, just do the dishes. Don't stop part way and wipe down the counter, water the plants, or check your email. Cultivating the practice of doing one thing at a time through out the day is a great first step towards quieting the mind. 

Not all sleep problems are related to poor sleep hygiene. 

Sometimes, insomnia is a symptom of a more serious underlying medical condition or a reaction to medication. Maybe you are living with a physical pain and it is interrupting your sleep. Or are navigating a stressful set of circumstances and cannot quiet your mind. Hot flashes can also interrupt sleep, but they don't have too. If sleeplessness has affected you more than a few weeks, consider making an appointment this month. Chinese medicine has a lot to offer when it comes to achieving good sleep, whether you are struggling to fall asleep, stay asleep, or feel rested when you wake up. Schedule to come into the clinic for a private appointment or herb consultation before September 15 and your first formula prescription is complementary. This offer cannot be combined with any other offer. You can go to this link to make your appointment. 

If you like what you are reading on the blog, please consider liking the post, sharing the link with others, or leave a nice comment. If there is a topic you would like me to cover on the blog as it relates to Chinese medicine, send me an email. I want to write about things that are relevant to you so the feedback is appreciated.