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Cold and flu season: How to take good care of your nasal hygiene

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If you’re like many people, you’ve probably experienced common cold and flu symptoms like a stuffy nose, headache, and facial pressure during the winter months.

While such complications may not be frequent, sinusitis affects almost everyone. Picture by Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

WHILE these unpleasant symptoms are often short-lived, sinusitis can linger, leading to severe complications if not treated properly.

That’s why maintaining sinus health should form part of your daily routine!

According to Dr Mohammed Thandar, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon practising at Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital, sinusitis can have varying causes, but most commonly, it’s a result of viral infections such as influenza, rhinovirus, or respiratory syncytial virus. When the nasal passages become inflamed, obstructing the natural pathways for fluid drainage, this can result in a build-up of mucus within the sinuses. If left untreated, this can lead to a secondary bacterial infection, which can cause significant complications.

“Symptoms may persist for many weeks leading to chronic sinusitis and recurrent infections. Certain symptoms, such as a post-nasal drip that tracks down the back of the throat into the chest can quite easily result in the development of bronchitis. It can also aggravate pre-existing conditions, such as asthma,” he said.

Picture by Brittany Colette /Unsplash

He further states untreated acute sinusitis has been known to lead to orbital complications including eye pain, swelling of the eyelids, a bulging eye, visual changes and visual loss, as well as intracranial complications such as inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain, resulting in severe headaches, a change in the level of consciousness, seizures, and even coma. This can necessitate emergency surgery.

While such complications may not be frequent, sinusitis affects almost everyone, so incorporating good nasal hygiene practices into your daily routine is an essential ongoing preventative care measure, adds Dr Pradeep Soni, an ENT surgeon who practises at Netcare uMhlanga Hospital.

According to Dr Soni, the following steps should be taken:

Practise good hygiene by washing hands and avoiding contact with people who are sick.

Use a nasal saline rinse daily to help keep sinuses clear of infection.

Use a humidifier to prevent sinuses from drying out and becoming inflamed in dry, heated environments.

To prevent sinus infections, treat dental problems.

Quit smoking, as it irritates the sinuses and damages their normal drainage mechanism thereby increasing the risk of infections.

Allergies are a trigger of sinusitis for many people and it is important to limit exposure to allergens – which may range from dust mites to pollens, animals, grass and others.

Dr Soni cautions that while sinusitis is a very common illness that affects millions of people worldwide, those with compromised immune systems, such as those with diabetes, HIV, and cancer, are more vulnerable to contracting it. Therefore, it is advised that everyone maintain appropriate nose hygiene throughout the year.

Home remedies that may help prevent nasal blockages from worsening:

Use a nasal saline rinse twice daily to gently clear the passageways and help to reduce congestion.

Apply warm compresses to the face, as this can help to reduce facial pain, and drink plenty of fluids to thin the mucus and encourage better drainage.

To address the infection, use a nasal decongestant spray or oral decongestant for short-term use, antibiotics, nasal steroids to reduce inflammation, and in the case of allergies, antihistamines.

When people suffer from sinusitis on an ongoing basis, Dr Thandar recommends that they consult their doctor for any underlying causes, including nasal structural issues and allergies at home.

“I strongly recommend that those suffering ongoing sinusitis should look into finding a long-term solution, as this seemingly insignificant condition is not only uncomfortable to live with but can over time lead to bigger healthcare concerns,” Dr Thandar said.

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