Sinusitis (or rhino-sinusitis) is an inflammation of the mucous membrane that lines the para-nasal sinuses. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 30 million American adults were diagnosed with the disease in 2010 alone. Sinusitis can be caused by infections, allergies, structural abnormalities like a deviated septum, or nasal polyps. When it strikes, the patient may suffer constant nasal congestion. In chronic cases, it can adversely affect the patients’ quality of life.
Many chronic cases of sinusitis involves allergies, which usually cannot be prevented because nasal allergens in the environment tend to be out of the patient’s control. For instance, a patient allergic to pollen cannot stay indoors every day for the entire pollen season. Neither can a patient allergic to temperature changes do anything about the weather.
When nasal allergies act up, the patient can use a decongestant spray, but it may not provide enough relief. The patient’s nasal passages may be too swollen for the decongestant to clear, and long-term use of the spray may even cause rebound sinusitis.
If the patient has a deviated septum, some doctors may suggest surgery. It is true that the narrower nasal passage of the two gets congested more easily, so correcting the septum is likely to reduce the frequency of congestion on that side. However, if the patient has nasal allergies, exposure to allergens will still cause congestion despite the widening of the nasal passage. Therefore, surgery cannot completely cure allergies-related sinusitis. In fact, some people with a deviated septum don’t have chronic sinusitis. That means the structural problem is a smaller factor than allergies.
Since all allergies come from an overactive immune system, appeasing the immune system will definitely help relieve nasal allergies, and that’s something acupuncture can do. Acupuncture works by inserting extremely thin needles to stimulate certain anatomical locations called “acupoints,” which are connected with problem areas through meridians, namely the paths qi (which can be roughly translated as energy of life) takes to travel through the body. In Chinese medicinal theories, as long as qi flows smoothly all over the body, all its systems will function properly. From this point of view, when the immune system overreacts, qi must be blocked somewhere. Acupuncture can unblock the stagnated qi and put all the bodily functions that have gone awry back on track.
In the United States, acupuncture is more recognized for its effectiveness in pain relief than for treating other health problems. However, a pilot study has been conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles, to examine how acupuncture could help patients who did not respond well to standard treatment of Western medicine.
Dr. Jeffrey Suh, an assistant professor of rhinology and skull base surgery, and his team worked with 11 patients, eight men and three women, between the ages of 32 and 70. None of them had undergone surgery in the three months before the study began. Neither had they received acupuncture in the two months beforehand.
During the study, the patients continued their previous treatments but also went through eight weekly 20-minute sessions of acupuncture and acupressure massage. They were also taught how to self-
administer acupressure at home. Lifestyle changes were advised as well.
Two months later, all the patients were found to have lower frequency of a runny nose, reduced sneezing, and less tendency to blow their noses. Their facial pain and pressure were also alleviated.
The findings of the study were published in the March 2012 issue of the Archives of Otolaryngology.
In China, where acupuncture originated, a study titled “Treatment of 85 Cases with Chronic Rhinitis by Acupuncture” was published in 2010. The study found 61 of the 85 patients fully recovered, 21 with marked improvement, and three with no effect.
The two studies validated the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating chronic sinusitis. Although neither of them resulted in a 100 percent success rate, they proved acupuncture to be more helpful to chronic sinusitis patients than Western medicine.
While many acupuncturists focus on acupoints near the nose to treat chronic sinusitis, Dr. Ching Chi, who practices acupuncture in Sunnyvale, California, takes a more holistic approach. She said, “People with chronic sinusitis often have other kinds of allergies. So, I would treat the body as a whole rather than separate parts.”
Dr. Chi usually doesn’t insert needles anywhere near the nose to treat sinusitis. She knows certain acu- points in the scalp as well as in the back of the neck that work even more effectively. She said, “Some acupoints can be used to treat different illnesses at the same time. All the body parts are connected, so I mostly focus on improving the patient’s overall health. Once the patient becomes essentially stronger, little problems here or there will naturally go away.”
According to Dr. Chi, one of her patients used to suffer nasal congestion every October for being allergic to sudden drops of temperature, but since Dr. Chi began treating the patient in September for another health problem, the patient’s chronic sinusitis did not act up that October.
“Acupuncture restores the patient’s health from within, so the patient will be less affected by the same allergens that will always be in the environment, ” said Dr. Chi. “That’s what makes it a superior treatment method for allergies-related chronic sinusitis.”
DISCLAIMER The information provided in this article is designed to help readers better understand the nature of chronic sinusitis and the solutions available. None of the information should be construed as or is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment.
Written by Crystal Tai Edited by Ching Chi