Is Your 'Cold' Something Serious?

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Got a cold that won't quit? It might not be a cold at all, but a troublesome look-alike condition that can lead to serious complicaitons such as meningitis. It could be sinusitis, an inflammation of your sinuses.

How to recognize, prevent, and treat sinusitis
According to a recent report in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, sinusitis is one of the most common medical complaints in the US, leaving about 14% of us with stuffy noses, sore throats, nasty coughs, headaches, and worse (June 1997). (For more info, see "Herb News" on p. 116.)

Setting Up Nose Blocks
Anything that blocks the drainage channels can set the stage for sinusitis. A deviated septum or other anatomical snafu that hampers drainage can do it, says Jeffrey E. Terrell, MD, assistant professor int he department of otolaryngology and director of the Sinus Center at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor.

So can colds, the flu, and allergies. In fact, sinusitis is often mistaken for prolonged colds, bouts with the flu, or allergies because it comes on the heels of these complaints and because the symptoms are so similar.

You can lower your odds of getting sinusitis by taking a few simple steps when you get a cold or the flu, or have allergy symptoms. And you can get over sinusitis faster by recognizing the symptoms, seeing your doctor, and taking care of those little holes in your head. Just follow the guide below:

YOU'VE GOT: A cold or flu

YOUR SYMPTOMS: Runny nose, sneezing, congestion, and aches for a cold

Cold symptoms with fever and malaise for the flu

WHAT TO DO: Use over-the-counter (OTC) decongestants or spritz your nose with OTC or homemade saline spray (8 ounces of warm water, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and a pinch of baking soda); take long, hot showers to thin mucus and help unblock your sinuses.

You can also add 5 to 10 drops of goldenseal in a glycerine base (found in most health food stores) to your saline solution. Using a syringe, spritz half the mixture into each nostril over a sink.

YOU'VE GOT: Allergies

YOUR SYMPTOMS: Runny nose, sneezing, congestion; itchy eyes, nose, throat, and inner ears-only in certain settings or at certain times of the year, such as pollen season

WHAT TO DO: Get tested for allergies. Allergy shots, anti-inflammatory drugs, decongestants, steroid nasal sprays, and antihistamines can ease symptoms. A natural remedy: Drink stinging nettle tea three times a day or take capsules according to package directions 4 weeks before your symptoms usually appear.

Spritz your nose; take long, hot showers; or wash your sinuses (see "A Cold or Flu").

YOU'VE GOT: Sinusitis

YOUR SYMPTOMS: Cold- and allergy-like symptoms that persist more than 7 days; accompanying greenish mucus in your nose or greenish postnasal drip, facial pain, or toothache

WHAT TO DO: See your doctor. You'll get antibiotics and maybe a decongestant or steroid nasal spray to reduce congestion and clear blockages. You should be checked for contributing factors, such as allergies and anatomical problems. See "A Cold or Flu" for symptomatic relief. To boost your immune system, try 1,000 milligrams (mg) of echinacea (root) capsules three times a day or 400 mg of goldenseal (root) capsules three times a day for 7 to 10 days.

YOU'VE GOT: Chronic or Recurring Sinusitis

YOUR SYMPTOMS: Sinusitis symptoms that don't clear up despite treatment, or two or more bouts of sinusitis a year for 2 or more years

WHAT TO DO: See your doctor or a specialist. You may need a different antibiotic because the bacteria in your sinuses were resistant to your original drug; or you may need to take the original drug for a longer course. You may need surgery to widen the channels that drain your sinuses. Be aware that tension headaches and allergies can cause similar symptoms.

You may also have an immune system that overreacts to airborne fungus that finds its way into your sinus, triggering chronic inflammation.

Whatever the cause, keep spritzing your nose and taking long, hot showers to keep sinuses clear.

Sources: Jeffrey E. Terrell, MD; Michael Kaliner, MD, director of the Institute for Asthma and Allergy at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC; and Kameron Wells, ND, of the Natural Health Clinic of Bastyr University in Seattle.

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