Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sinus Infections: The Swamp Hypothesis

Imagine that your sinuses are a stream. When all is well, the water (or mucus) flows along. There are some bugs here and there, but not too many.

If the stream becomes blocked, the water backs up, sits still, and the bugs multiply. The stream becomes a swamp. Current thinking is to annihilate the bugs with antibiotics. My idea is to drain the swamp and activate some natural predators.

As I understand it, inflammation causes your sinuses to become blocked. The mucus builds up, making a habitat for bacteria overgrowth. Thus infected, white blood cells enter the mucus, making it thick and less able to be moved along.

A substance that's both an anti-inflammatory and immune cell activator is vitamin D. My thinking is that it should enable the body's immune cells to kill most of the bugs and un-inflame the sinus passages to allow mucus to flow. There's clinical and observational evidence that vitamin D is helpful in preventing and fighting respiratory infections. I've been taking 20,000 to 50,000 units per day for the past few days. I've also been taking Mucinex DM (guaifinesesin + a cough suppressant) as a mucus thinner. My father came down with a cold last week, and has been taking around 10,000 IU of vitamin D along with Mucinex DM.

Results: My father normally takes Mucinex DM with a cold; he believes the addition of vitamin D has helped. He's brutally honest about this sort of thing--if he didn't think it did any good, he'd have said so. He felt mostly better (but not completely well) within a few days.

As for me, I've been ill with a cold and/or sinus infection for over a month. I've had a course of antibiotics, which helped but didn't cure me. This morning, I woke up feeling better than I have since January. The pain in my wisdom tooth is mostly gone. I don't feel any sinus pressure, didn't need any aspirin today, and took only one Mucinex (I'd been taking three per day). My taste is less delicate: last week, I didn't want to cook, so I ate lunch at McDonald's (bunless burger and side salad) or elsewhere. Lately, I've gone back to liver and sardines, among my other usual fare. I'm coughing less. However, the swamp draining has created a river of post-nasal drip down my throat, making it hurt. Two teaspoons of black elderberry syrup made it feel better.

Downsides: too much vitamin D can be toxic. The doses mentioned here are medicinal, and not what I take when I'm well. However, antibiotics, steroids and cough suppressants can have their own side effects--I recently spent a miserable day suffering the side effects and an allergic reaction to Benzonatate.

Correspondence John F. Aloia and Melissa Li-Ng, Epidemiology and Infection, October 2007.
Vitamin D and Influenza by Michael Eades MD., Protein Power Blog, May 16, 2009.
Healing Your Sinuses by Ralph B. Metson MD with Steven Mardon. McGraw-Hill, 2005.
"Association Between Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Level and Upper Respiratory Tract Infection in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey," Archives of Internal Medicine, February 23, 2009, Adit A. Ginde, MD, MPH; Jonathan M. Mansbach, MD; Carlos A. Camargo Jr, MD, DrPH.
The Vitamin D Solution by Michael F. Holick, PhD, MD. Penguin Group, 2010.

1 comment:

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