When I was a kid, I hated nose drops. And I still freak out if someone tries to shove something in my nose. I’m not talking about people trying to hurt me, but a nasal spray. You bring that bottle out, and I turn into a tantrum-y second grader — foot stomping and the whole thing. I act like a total baby.
I seemed to have picked up a cold over the weekend, and my throat and nose were feeling kind of crummy and mucousy. I hopped into the shower, and I am SHOCKED at what happened next. I cupped my hands, filled them with water, and snorted it up my nose. This is a big deal. A HUGE deal — completely out of character! I basically gave myself a water board treatment, inhaling water up into my sinus cavities to rinse them out. It’s very similar to the sensation you get when you accidentally get water up your nose when swimming. And I felt better instantly.
What causes stuffed up sinuses?
Your sinus cavities, while not containing muscles as anatomists have defined it (smooth, skeletal or cardiac), contain contractile tissues called cilia. Cilia have the ability to contract and generate force just as muscles do, only they do it by spinning. When the cilia spin around, it creates an oscillating effect, wagging their little tails. The linings of many organs contain cilia to move particles out (dust and pollen from your sinuses and lungs) or move particles in (the cilia in the fallopian tubes move the egg from the ovary to the uterus). When you have mucus accumulating in your head, your cilia are not performing correctly.
There are two things that can decrease the function of the cilia:
Mucus thickness: The more viscous the mucus, the harder it is to move. Excessive particles will thicken clear mucus just like mixing flour into water will create a more tacky fluid. When pollens increase, this thickens the mucus, making it too heavy for the cilia “muscle.”
Physical resistance: Your body can actually decrease the motion of the cilia by increasing the pressure inside the cavities. Excessive tension in the head and face muscles will increase the pressure inside the sinus cavities and decrease the amount of mucus leaving the area. Squinting in the sun, stress, jaw tension, eye tension from reading or being on the computer, furrowing your brow and even sniffing increases pressure and results in more mucus.
4 tips for healthy sinuses
We are so used to thinking that “allergies” are the result of a histamine response, but sometimes mucus is less a chemical reaction and more a physical one. A couple tips to decrease anything you may be doing that is making your situation worse:
1. Booby trap your nose. Add a layer of tacky substance (I use my organic lip balm) to the rim of and just inside each nostril. Particles will get caught on the stickiness instead of making it up into your sinuses. Be sure to change it every few hours or more if you are walking or playing outside.
2. Closing your eyes, see if you can tap into any face tension you didn’t know you were carrying. Relax each feature (each eye, nose, ears, jaw, gums, lips) and then relax the spaces in between each feature. I am always surprised to find I am tensing the back of my throat or the muscles behind my eyes.
3. Rinse your nasal passages. If the mucus has gotten heavy, the cilia can’t get any work done. Doing a rinse helps remove excess matter and can give the cilia the leg up they need. Try using a Neti Pot to cleanse your sinuses. If you have chronic sinusitis, avoid chlorinated water as this could further inflame the tissues. (The shower is a great place to do this. You can hock up water and spit it out, and there’s no mess!) Avoid hot or cold water — warm water is best.
4. Studies show that cilia seems to move best in warm and moist environments. If you live in an arid environment, or the season is cold, try keeping a boiling tea kettle going or invest in a humidifier. Your sinuses will thank you!