The American Senior Fitness Association presents Experience!

April 2, 2007              

Table of Contents

  • Sinus Problems (Introduction to special issue)
  • A Novel Approach to Relief (Classic sinusitis research)
  • Ideas, Ideas, Ideas (Fight back against sinus attacks)
  • Attention Fitness Professionals (Exercise for sinus-challenged clients)
  • Inspiration (Pun intended)
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Sinus Problems

It's springtime, and love is in the air!
Unfortunately, so is pollen. If you belong to that large club we'll call the Sinus Sufferers, this special issue of Experience! provides pointers that can help you prevent or reduce the unpleasant symptoms that tend to peak during this season every year.

Fitness professionals, how often does this scenario play out at your health facility? You greet your client warmly as he or she enters to work out: "How ya doing today?" And then you get this response: "Oh, my sinuses!" If that sounds familiar, then this special issue of Experience! provides tips you can share with your fitness participants to help them keep active and feeling their best.


A Novel Approach to Relief

A few years ago
, a fascinating study was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. It found that humming -- yes, humming -- just might be good for sinusitis. Since this news did not reach all members of the Sinus Sufferers Club, we're discussing it today in case you'd like to give humming a chance.

Blue NotesOn the face of it, this finding may sound far-fetched. After all, humming does not require a written medical prescription. It is not expensive or invasive, nor does it cause physical discomfort or undesirable side effects. It's easy to do and might even be fun. Too good to be true? Our investigation here at Experience! determined that humming may indeed be worth a try.

The original humming article has been cited by other articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the European Respiratory Journal, and the Journal of Applied Physiology, among others. Following is an edited abstract describing the initial research, conducted in Stockholm, Sweden, by Eddie Weitzberg and Jon O. N. Lundberg and published in 2002 ("Humming Greatly Increases Nasal Nitric Oxide," American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, volume 166, pages 144-145):

The paranasal sinuses are major producers of nitric oxide. We hypothesized that oscillating* airflow produced by humming would enhance sinus ventilation and thereby increase nasal nitric oxide levels. Ten healthy subjects took part in the study. Nasal nitric oxide was measured during humming and quiet single-breath exhalations. Nitric oxide increased 15-fold during humming compared with quiet exhalation. In a model of the nose and sinus, oscillating airflow caused a dramatic increase in gas exchange between the cavities. Obstruction of the sinus osteum is a central event in the pathogenesis of sinusitis. Therapeutic effects of the improved sinus ventilation caused by humming should be explored.

*oscillate: to swing back and forth with a steady uninterrupted rhythm.

Analysis of the findings: Hummers exhaled 15 times more nitric oxide from their nasal passages than did quiet breathers. This is important because nitric oxide helps blood vessels to dilate, thereby increasing the flow of oxygen-rich blood. More air moving from the sinuses into the nasal passages also means better ventilation of the sinuses, which could reduce the risk for sinus infections.

Millions of Americans routinely experience symptoms that can arise from sinusitis, for example, headache, nasal congestion, and sinus pressure. Weitzberg and Lundberg noted that the self-reported prevalence of chronic sinusitis in the U.S. is as high as 14 percent of the population. However, those symptoms are quite common and do not always indicate sinusitis, which is an actual infection of the sinus. On the other hand, genuine sinusitis is often mistaken for the common cold and its seriousness thus underestimated. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic Family Health Book, certain disorders other than sinusitis -- for instance, colds and chronic allergic rhinitis (hay fever) -- often contribute to the development of sinusitis because infections can easily form in the mucus present in the nose and then spread into the sinuses.

The authors of the humming study stated, "Proper ventilation of the sinuses is essential for sinus integrity." They concluded, "The data presented here indicate that humming is an extremely effective means of increasing sinus ventilation."


Ideas, Ideas, Ideas

In addition to humming,
there are numerous other practical steps one can take in order to decrease the frequency and severity of sinus attacks. Following are some helpful hints from, a website devoted to the prevention and amelioration of sinus-related woes:

  • Don't ignore colds and allergies. Follow sensible treatments to minimize their symptoms, since colds and allergies lead to inflammation of the nose which can escalate one's reactions to all irritants. This, in turn, could lead to infection which might eventually devolve into sinusitis.
  • Get your flu shot every year. It's a deft way to prevent symptoms which could eventually contribute to sinusitis.
  • Wash your hands -- well and often. Always use soap and warm water. Consider this: A recent issue of Experience! advised covering one's mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. But many people use their bare hands which then go unwashed. If you shake hands with that cougher or sneezer, their germs transfer to your hands. Wash up promptly after handshakes to avoid catching a cold!
  • Eat a smart diet. Fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants and other healthful nutrients strengthen the immune system, helping your body to resist and overcome infections. also suggests avoiding excessive intake of dairy products, which might thicken mucus and hamper drainage.
  • Have that smart diet with water. Drinking plenty of water increases moisture within the body, helps ward off congestion, and acts to thin the mucus for efficient drainage.  
  • Watch your stress levels. Sinusitis veterans report that stress can trigger new attacks or make existing symptoms worse.
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco. Both are linked to nasal and sinus congestion, including subsequent drainage problems.
  • Ditto on pollution in general. Contaminated air, noxious fumes, and chemical pollutants can irritate the nasal passages and sinus linings.
  • Take control of your personal air. At home, attaching electrostatic filters to your heating and air conditioning systems can help to remove allergens from the air. Installing humidifiers will add moisture to your indoor atmosphere, which is useful because sinuses drain more easily when the air is moist.
  • Check before you fly. For persons with sinusitis, air travel sometimes causes discomfort to the sinuses and/or the middle ear. Consult your personal physician for advice on using decongestant nose drops or inhalers pre-flight.
  • Shun extreme temperatures. Surroundings that are too hot or too cold (or even an abrupt change in temperature) can fuel sinus pain.
  • Think twice before swimming and diving. The water in chlorine-treated swimming pools can aggravate nose and sinus linings. Diving often forces water from the nasal passages into sinus cavities, and the resulting congestion can cause a sinus infection.
  • Enjoy a hot shower. Inhaling the steam will loosen mucus and moisten the throat to promote proper drainage of the nasal cavities.

The Mayo Clinic Family Health Book offers several of the same recommendations as those listed above. In particular, it stresses drinking generous amounts of fluid in order to dilute secretions. It also concurs with seeking out an even temperature -- and goes a step further by suggesting that affected individuals stay indoors, when possible, during sinus attacks. Avoiding outdoor activity is a good-sense measure for persons with certain allergies during the pollen season.

The Mayo Clinic publication explains that sinuses are cavities within the skull around the nose. Four pairs exist: frontal (in the forehead), ethmoid (between the eyes), sphenoid (behind the eyes), and maxillary (in the cheeks). Tiny openings connect them to the nasal passages. As air passes in and out of the cavities, mucus drains through those small openings from the sinuses into the nose. In sinusitis, there is an infection of the lining in one or more of the sinus cavities. When that happens, membranes of the nose usually swell up too, causing a nasal obstruction. That blocks the opening, so mucus cannot drain. Pain may stem from the inflammation itself or from pressure within the sinus due to the closure of its opening. Symptoms of sinusitis include pain in and around the eye or cheek areas, difficulty breathing through the nose, fever, and (more rarely) toothache. Persons who may have sinusitis should see their physicians.

Elaborating on the hot shower concept described above, the Mayo Clinic suggests setting up a steam source by bringing a pan or kettle of water to a boil and then inhaling its steam for several minutes (taking care, of course, not to get so close that it scalds you). To maximize the effects, you may wish to form a tent with a towel over your head while inhaling the steam. The goal is to keep the mucus as liquid as possible, enabling it to drain more effectively. This technique is useful not only for breaking up the congestion that accompanies sinusitis, but also for loosening mucus in the chest -- and for any time that you have a cold resulting in a stuffy nose.


Attention Fitness Professionals

Mayo Clinic guidelines advise:
When sinusitis may be present, avoid bending over with your head down, because that type of movement usually increases sinus-related pain. Be sure to remember this precaution when you are working with fitness clients who arrive lamenting, "Oh, my sinuses!"

William Shakespear

Let us all breathe freely and enjoy...

..."this most excellent canopy, the air."
                --William Shakespeare


Experience! readers:
Thank you for your interest and questions. Due to the high volume of contacts SFA receives, we cannot respond to individual queries or comments. However, the newsletter does address frequently asked questions and topics of vital interest to our members.

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