[I've written about how to treat sinus infections without antibiotics, but I often hear complaints from patients and readers that their usual sinus rinse is not doing the job. Today's guest contributor, Jamie Larrison – mom and herbalist – shares her secrets for making a customized sinus rinse recipe that actually works.]
This winter when the flu bug made its rounds, I was sick for a day or two with a fever, but then I felt great thanks to using natural remedies. Great except for when the sinus problems hit. I was miserable! The left side of my face was so swollen, I could barely open my eye. I looked like I’d been in a bar fight.
I almost gave in and took a Benadryl, but then I remembered the neti pot in my bathroom. With a little research I was able to create a sinus rinse recipe that immediately lessened the symptoms and helped my body heal.
When seasonal allergies attack, the symptoms can become unbearable. Even the occasional cold can cause sneezing, headaches, coughs and other issues stemming from sinus problems. Fortunately it's easy to create your own customized sinus rinse recipe. But first let's talk about why you should go au naturale…
Why you should avoid antihistamines
Antihistamines work by blocking the body's natural response, which can lead to long term problems. Instead of aiding the body in resolving the issue, the symptoms are muzzled. Allergy medications have been linked with depression, anxiety, impaired brain function and increased appetite leading to weight gain. (source)
Loratadine (commonly known as Claritin) is an antihistamine allergy medication. It's classified as a category B drug by the FDA, which means that although animal studies haven't shown a decisive connection for birth defects, there haven't been decent studies in humans to prove its safety.
Why children's antihistamines are worse
Certain forms of Allegra (or fexofenadine) are recommended for babies as young as six months. As it is used for children, naturally you would assume it would be safer, however, the children’s version of Allegra contains aspartame as the second ingredient.
Aspartame has been linked to muscle spasms, memory loss, hearing loss, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease, birth defects and many other issues.
This study in particular found that aspartame caused free radicals in the brain, which many recognize as the start of cancer. “It is clear that long term aspartame exposure could alter the brain antioxidant status, and can induce apoptotic (programmed cell death) changes in the brain.”
Allegra is also a class C drug, (source) so it’s potentially more dangerous for pregnant women since “animal reproduction studies have shown an adverse effect on the fetus and there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in humans.” (source) But don’t worry, because according to experts, if you can’t stand a runny nose the risks may be worth using it anyway (!).
When your sinuses are so swollen, you look like a puffball and your eyes are watering, it's natural to desperately want relief. There are obviously some serious risks associated with over the counter medications – so what’s the alternative?
A natural, safe and effective treatment for sinus problems
A sinus, or nasal rinse is typically a saline solution that’s inserted into the sinuses, and then gently blown out. This can be done with the traditional neti pot (my preferred option), a sinus rinse bottle (Emily's preferred option), or with a bulb syringe if using it for children. Flushing the sinuses helps to remove allergens, thin mucus and soothe nasal tissue.
This article explains how to use a neti pot for a sinus rinse. It’s not pretty, but the relief is worth it.
A rinse can be as simple as a little sea salt in distilled water. Non-GMO xylitol is a helpful addition as it “can help to penetrate through thick mucous and inhibit harmful bacteria from thriving in the sinuses.”
Myself, I’m an herb girl. There always seems to be a good reason to use herbs in nearly everything and a sinus rinse recipe is no different. The best part is, you can customize your herbal sinus rinse for your exact needs.
How to choose the herbs for your sinus rinse recipe
Renowned herbalist, Mathew Wood, categorizes irritated tissues to be in six different states. These include:
- Hot (increased activity)
- Cold (decreased activity)
- Damp (congestion)
- Constricted (which includes both tension and spasm)
Which herbs you choose depend on what symptoms you’re experiencing and what state, or states, your nasal tissue is in. Be sure to do a little research on an herb before using it, as there could be contraindications for your situation.
These herbs tighten and tone tissues and are useful for sneezing; itchy, watery eyes; loose drainage down the throat; and coughing caused by drainage. Some examples include: calendula, comfrey, mullein, olive leaf, plantain, sage and Solomon's seal.
Mucilaginous, or demulcent herbs
These herbs are soothing and are useful for hot, dry or inflamed tissues; sinuses that feel dry; a painful, tight feeling. Some examples include: comfrey, marshmallow, licorice, sassafras leaf and slippery elm.
When NOT to use a sinus rinse
Sometimes the sinuses can become congested. Symptoms may include stuffy nose, swollen eyes, headache, excess mucus, usually a yellow/green color, and generally feeling tired and worn out. In this instance, its better to use an herbal steam or inhale essential oils from a diffuser. Using a sinus rinse isn’t helpful if you’re so plugged up it won’t come back out. It’s also helpful to make sure you’re consuming plenty of fluids to keep things moving.
My favorite sinus rinse recipe
I like this recipe because it's not overly complicated, yet it still provides all the relief I need. It contains herbs that will soothe and tighten the nasal tissue, reduce inflammation, and knock out any viral, bacterial or fungal infection that is causing the problem.
This is ideal for treating relaxed tissues causing sneezing, runny nose and coughs. If your tissues are dry, then omit the plantain and increase the bee balm to one cup.
What you need
- 1/2 cup plantain (demulcent, mucilaginous, astringent, anti-microbrial) – get it here
- 1 cup marshmallow root ( demulcent, anti-inflammatory) – get it here
- 1/2 cup bee balm* (antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral)
*Bee balm may be difficult to find. As an alternative, you can use goldenseal root which has similar properties. Just be sure to choose from a responsible supplier – like this one – as this herb has been over-harvested as of late.
How to make it
- Place the marshmallow root in a ½ gallon jar and do a cold herbal infusion: Place the herbs in eight cups of purified, room temperature water. Let this infuse for 4 hours before straining very well. The infusion with be a little thick and slimy, which is a good thing.
- Place the bee balm and plantain in a ½ gallon jar and do a hot infusion: Heat 8 cups of water to boiling and pour over the herbs. Cover and let steep for about 4 hours before straining very well.
- Once they’re done, combine the two infusions in a gallon jar.
- Slightly warm a small amount and add a pinch of sea salt before using in a neti pot or nasal spray. Be sure to stir so the sea salt dissolves.
- Do this about 3 times daily until the symptoms are gone. Store any extra rinse in the refrigerator for up to a week.
How to do a sinus rinse with children
My son is one of the 99% of kids who hate nasal aspirators, but sometimes it's necessary to get him better. Depending on the child's age and size, you can use a sinus rinse spray bottle to put some solution up their nose. They can then blow it out themselves a few minutes later. For very little ones though, you’ll have to use a bulb syringe or the ever entertaining but effective nose frieda to remove the fluid.
Have you tried making your own sinus rinse recipe What ingredients have worked best for you?
Jamie Larrison blogs at The Herbal Spoon. She has a passion for herbalism and aromatherapy and creates her own plant-based, safe for the whole family bodycare items for her etsy shop. Learn more about Jamie here.