January 1st, 2009
I remember thinking for years that I suffered from chronic sinus infections. Then, one winter, I got a sinus infection for real. I remember laying in bed wondering how long it would be before my right eye popped out. It was the most severe sinus infection I have ever had. For the next three days, Joseph's technicolor dreamcoat came out of my face. Eventually, with the aid of Mucinex and Sudafed, the pressure subsided and I began to feel better. I hadn't slept for three days, and I felt like stepped-in poop, but I was glad my eye stayed in. The eye-popping pressure was caused by an increased production of mucus, and because my sinus tissues were swollen from infection, the mucus had nowhere to go.
Mucus is a very natural part of your body. And you don't want to get rid of it, at least not all of it. It protects your moist skin and tissue from damage and infection. In your nose, throat, and lungs, it captures contaminates like dirt, pollen, and bacteria. In your stomach, it protects the tissue from damage caused by stomach acid. In your intestines, mucus helps keep the food moving. In the cervix, it keeps out infection. Mucus is a good thing. So, why do we have extra sometimes? Occasionally, your body ups production of mucus to assist in flushing out contaminates, usually an infection. That's when you get a runny nose, extra boogers, and phlegm. Sometimes there are underlying medical conditions at work, and the extra mucus is just a symptom. If your mucus doesn't seem to want to go away, you should go see a doctor.
Nasal irrigation or nasal lavage is a commonly practiced form of maintaining clean sinuses. In India, they use Neti pots, which look a lot like teapots with a small spout that fits in your nostril. You simply tip your head to the side and pour the solution in. The liquid either comes out the other nostril or down the back of your throat and then you spit out. The most common solution used is salt water with a buffer of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). There are other types of nasal irrigation devices available at the drugstore or pharmacy. Or you can just snort the solution from your cupped hands if you don't want to buy another strange gadget. The benefit of this procedure is it washes out contaminates and dislodges excess mucus.
Medicated nasal spray is designed to alleviate the symptoms of colds and allergies, primarily congestion. There are three types of medicated nasal spray: antihistamines, corticosteroids, and topical decongestants. The antihistamine nasal spray is used for allergies. The corticosteroid nasal sprays reduce inflammation and, if used too often, can cause bleeding. Topical decongestants are a quick relief from congestion but should not be used for more than three days, as they may cause Rhinitis medicamentosa (also known as rebound nasal congestion).
Expectorants are medications that aid in expelling mucus. The most common type of expectorant is guaifenisin, which is available under the brand names Mucinex, Expectorant DM, and Tussin DM. They work by thinning the lining of mucus membranes, making it easier to cough up or blow out mucus. Some common side effects as your body adjusts to the medication are dizziness, drowsiness, headache, loss of appetite, nausea, upset stomach, and dry mouth. If it becomes a problem, consult a doctor.
Hot showers, humidifiers, and bowls of steaming water--they all kinda do the same thing, which is to loosen up mucus membranes. While I had a sinus infection, a long hot shower made me feel normal for about an hour. There were nights that I took two showers, just so I could get some sleep. I keep a humidifier going during the winter months to keep my sinuses moist. Moist sinuses help to maintain mucus membranes, which keep you from getting sick. Anything you can do to help your mucus is a good thing. If you do use a humidifier, make sure to put an anti-bacterial additive in with the water.
Spicy food makes your nose run, which helps clear it of contaminants. Chicken soup, as we all know, is good when you're sick, but spicy chicken soup may be even better. Also, keep hydrated. When you are dehydrated, your body's immune system does not work very well. So, drink plenty of water and beverages with electrolytes to keep your engine purring like a kitten.
Healthy body means less bloody mucus.
If there is one thing that I learned from my experience with mucus it is preventative care. Keeping your body and immune system healthy and balanced is the greatest defense you have for all the infectious pathogens trying to make your eyes pop out of your face. Take vitamins, drink water and green tea, and exercise once in a while. Also, don't be too quick to jump for the medications to get rid of mucus. Most runny noses and minor congestion will go away on their own. Just give it some time and take care of your body by eating well and drinking lots of water. If your place is dry, add a humidifier and see if that helps. Once it is very clear that the problem needs serious help, then go get some drugs. Mucus is nasty stuff that we have to live with for the rest of our icky lives. The only time you really have problems with mucus is when it is doing its job trying to protect you. Mucus is a team player, and you should embrace it in all its gooey glory.