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Good Health and Bad Medicine:
 Colds - Part 1

 Colds - Part 2

 Colds - Part 3


 Mouth Washes And Bad Breath

 Nasal Disorders

 Sinuses And Sinusitis



 Asthma And Hay Fever

 Read More Articles About: Good Health and Bad Medicine

Sinuses And Sinusitis

( Originally Published 1940 )

THE term "sinus," although it is frequently so misused, does not signify a disease. It is simply a designation for certain small, air-containing cavities present in the skull. Those cavities which are connected with or closely related to the nose are called nasal or paranasal sinuses, to distinguish them from sinuses which exist in other parts of the skull.

Inflammation of the nasal sinuses is popularly known as "sinusitis." An acute sinusitis occurs with almost every common cold; it subsides as the cold subsides. But most people mean by sinusitis a chronic inflammation in which there occurs repeated or chronic discharge, stuffiness and frequently considerable headache or pain in the region of the sinuses. Repeated headaches, nasal congestion and discharge are the commonest symptoms of chronic sinusitis.

It is quite generally believed that sinus disease cannot be cured and that the sufferer must spend all his life in Arizona or some other dry climate to be free of symptoms. Such notions are false. With proper treatment, an infection of the sinuses, like an infection in any other part of the body, can be cured. Many organic disorders of the nose, mouth and throat tend to promote infection of the sinuses. Correction of these disorders frequently clears up the sinus infection: It is nevertheless true that many people have had expert treatment and still are troubled by sinusitis. Much must yet be learned before medical service can remove sinusitis from the list of disorders troubling mankind. Unquestionably, however, treatment by a competent nose and throat specialist will do more for sinus infections than all the secret methods of self-advertised "specialists," or the use of any patented remedy.

The present recognized method of treatment is conservative. Radical operations are no longer performed except in unusual cases. By removing nasal obstructions and re-establishing normal ventilation of the sinuses, excellent results are being obtained. It is important, too, to improve the general health of the patient. That means good diet, good living habits and adequate rest.

Advice about changes of climate should be left to the physician. Some people do feel more comfortable in a dry climate. If they can afford it, there is no harm in trying a new climate. Others will do just as well or better in their customary environment.

As with every other human disorder, sinus disease has its quota of well-advertised "cures." Many of them are "sprays" consisting mainly of ephedrine. Others are powders or tablets fancifully labeled as "regulators," or "toxic poison eliminators." They generally consist simply of laxative drugs. The McGlasson Sinus Cure, recently barred from the mails, consisted of both a spray and a laxative.

Nasal Irrigations

These are used for the purpose of cleansing the nasal passages and to bring heat to the interior of the nose. All methods are potentially dangerous and should never be used unless the patient has been personally instructed in their use by doctor or nurse.

The little "Duck" glass container obtainable anywhere is especially to be condemned because the position of the head required for its use favors spread of infectious material into the ears and sinuses.

Nasal Insufflations

These are almost as dangerous as, and much less efficient than, nasal irrigations.

Steam Inhalations

Steam inhalation properly used is one of the best methods of treating acute infections of the nose and the sinuses, as well as of the throat and the larynx. For attacks of sinusitis and laryngitis they are particularly helpful. The medicine used with steam inhalations, such as tincture of benzoin, simply imparts a pleasant sensation or odor to the steam, but the steam is the thing. Steam inhalations for attacks of sinusitis are more effective when used after a vaso-constrictor such as neo-synephrin or ephedrine solution has been sprayed or dropped into the nose.

The small electric steam kettles on the market are not very efficient. They tend to "spit"; and those that don't, are expensive. A suitable steam inhalator can be inexpensively rigged by using a cheap electric coffee pot with lid and loose parts removed. Or a teakettle may be used on a gas stove.


Until medical aid can be obtained, an attack of acute sinusitis may be treated in a very simple and frequently effective way. If there is pain in the face or in the region of the sinuses, exposure to dry heat from an electric heat lamp (see page 245) for 20 minutes may relieve much of the pain. Or a hot-water bottle may be used. Sinus water bags designed to fit the contour of the face are now available. If you can afford one, it may prove more helpful than an ordinary water bag. The pain may also be eased by one or two aspirin tablets every two or three hours (for those who are not sensitive to aspirin). To promote drainage from the sinus, watery solution of neo-synephrin, ephedrine or propadrine may be dropped into the nose, using the positions of the head recommended in the treatment of colds (see page 44). Steam inhalations for five minutes or so will then complete the local measures that have proven helpful.

Since acute sinusitis is an acute infection, the general hygienic rules for treatment of all acute infections also apply: rest in bed, taking of fluids freely, and a light diet.

Chronic sinusitis requires competent medical care, prefer-ably by a nose and throat specialist. Diathermy machines for the treatment of chronic sinusitis should never be used at home. An infection of the sinus can be made worse by inexpert handling of a potentially dangerous electrical' ma-chine. In the hands of a physician or under his direction, diathermy may give relief to some people. In the best of hands, diathermy will not cure sinusitis.

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