If you’ve ever had a treatment with me,  you’ve likely smelled the wonderful, clearing Kwan Loong or other oils we use during treatment. Besides soothing sore muscles the fragrances break up congestion and open the Lungs.  Many a client comes in, sighs and comments that they are thankful to get a deep breath.

Most people have experienced sinus congestion or pressure at some point. The symptoms are numerous including frontal and sinus headaches, inability to focus, a muzzy sensation, nausea, sinus discharge, inability to gain a full breath, phlegm and even cough – not fun. To top it off the head is full of holes and if there is congestion in one area, it is likely affecting another area. If your ears are congested, like so are your sinuses or they might put pressure on your behind your teeth and gums. Fortunately, there are some excellent simple steps you can take to clear up the symptoms.

What causes congestion?

In Asian medicine (Chinese medicine) the ideal course of treatment is not to merely relieve the symptoms but to treat the root cause. We have to delve and find out whether the cause is simply a cold or chronic allergies or environmental factors. As we work that out though we can still treat the symptomology. We lump congestion into two broad categories and then break it down from there –  Acute (exterior) or Chronic (interior) patterns.

Acute – Comes on quickly in a sudden attack from the exterior and your Wei Qi (defensive Qi) was too weak to fend off or the pathogen was overly strong.  This categories covers the common cold or a sudden allergy attack like walking down the detergent aisle at the store, playing in a field of blooming lilies, or getting lost in a corn maze. Ideally, if your system is strong the Wei Qi will rally its defense, the histamine response lessens and you fight off the pathogen.

Chronic – This form of congestion comes from a long standing internal disharmonies and are often perpetuated by dietary imbalances.  In cases of chronic conditions it is vital that we learn the root pattern to effectively treat and strengthen the system.

Let’s look at a few common causes of chronic congestion

Interior Damp accumulation – Most damp conditions arise from dietary imbalances. Eating too many rich foods including dairy (yeah, that includes yogurt), fried foods, cold & raw foods, sugar, refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, gluten all can give rise to dampness. Overuse of antibiotics can also give rise to dampness. Dampness is tenacious, and cannot be resolved without considerable dietary commitment.

Spleen Qi and/or Yang deficiency – The Spleen’s health is vitally important in Chinese medicine and it is easily damaged by dietary irregularities and dampness. See where this is going? Congestion will clear when dampness is drained and the Spleen is strengthened.

Lung Qi deficiency – Our Lungs can be weak from birth, because of frequent colds and flus, exposure to chemicals or because of lifestyle habits like smoking or poor dietary habits.  The Lungs Descend (activated when you inhale) and Disperse (activated when you exhale) Qi throughout the body.  If they are weak this function is compromised.  We can easily identify which organ is primary in asthma problems by identifying whether the client has more difficulty exhaling or inhaling. Find out about coughs here.

That’s just a few of the possible patterns.  Unfortunately, with chronic patterns, the body is in a sustained state of weakness, leaving it more vulnerable to acute attacks. It is important to identify the patterns at play to both relieve the symptoms and to strengthen the body to reduce attacks.

What can you do now to clear congestion?

Humidify – BoiseIdaho, where I live, is dry, dry, dry. This dryness is worse when the central heating and air conditioning. The Lungs hate to be dry, so moisture in the air goes a long way.

Neti Pot – Sinus cleansing is common in many cultures and gaining momentum in America. Available at many Coops and health food stores. Neti pots allow you use filtered or saline water flush out the sinuses removing excess phlegm and pockets of yeast or bacteria.  Over the years, I’ve seen clients with the worst chronic sinus patterns clear up simply because regular neti potting. Saline solution can be helpful but tends to not be as effective.

Steam – Steams are a fantastic way to relieve sinus pressure, whether caused by colds, allergies-or you’ve overindulged in too many phlegm forming foods like dairy, sweets and heavy oils. If you are prone to sinus congestion use steams daily or a few times a week to continue to get the healing properties of the herbs into your sinuses.

Steaming Directions – Fill a large pot or kettle with filtered or spring water. Bring the water to a boil with selected fragrances, herbs or oils. Remove the pot from the stove top. Use a large towel to cover your head and position it over the pot of hot water. The towel should drape itself over the pot, trapping the steam inside so it will rise toward your face. Inhale deeply, sucking the warm, moist air as far into your sinuses as possible.  Breathe through your nose for maximum sinus relief for 5 minutes or more.

Beneficial herbs for steaming – Choose an herb based on the properties you want or just for the fragrances you love.  Use individually, or combine to make your favorite combination. Please, avoid any that you might be allergic to.

Eucalyptus – anti-viral, anti-fungal and very clearing

Peppermint – anti-viral, clearing, soothing and cooling, relieves depression

Sage – clears virus, candida and chronic infections, earthy and soothing

Thyme – anti-viral, clearing and enlivening

Chamomile – gently clearing, brightens the eyes and soothes – great for kids and those prone to hives and shingles

Rosemary – anti-viral, anti-fungal, enlivening, helps you focus

Pine – anti-viral, anti-fungal, clearing and soothing

Oregano – marvelous for chronic candida

Juniper – anti-viral, anti-fungal, very clearing, but many are sensitive to juniper

Clove – one of my favorites for sinuses but not because it’s #10 on Gary’s Bane list. Anti-viral, anti-fungal, cloves are wonderful for infections in the head and numbing tooth aches!

Superior Throat Spray – If you been in my First Aid, Allergy or Colds class I’ve likely had you try the Superior Throat Spray. Marvelous clearing and cooling, this little handy vial travels with me.  Use for sinus infections, congestion, sore throat, strep throat and ear infections.

Tea Tree Oil – Anti-viral, anti-fungal, earthy and marvelous for steaming

Eat This – The focus here are pungents that move stagnation and drain the sinuses. If you run cold or have clear phlegm use warm pungents including: Onions, garlic, ginger, radish, and peppers to drain and warm.  If you run hot or have yellow or green phlegm use chives, parsley, oregano, peppermint tea or spearmint and chrysanthemum. Read more about pungents here. Yellow and white onion, leeks, green onions and garlic.  And stinging nettles are fabulous for clearing chronic congestion.

…Not That – Foods that perpetuate phlegm and dampness should be cut out for now.  All dairy (yes, that includes cheese and yogurt), fried foods, tomatoes, pork, sugar, refined carbohydrates and grains, yeast, beer, greasy and fried foods.  If it looks like gluey and ewey, it will likely manifest the same in your system so put down the pudding or cheese. Even though yogurt has live enzymes the energetics of dairy is dampening…adding to congestion.  Cut out sweet drinks and orange juice, too.  But OJ has vitamin C –  yes, however it is very rich and sweet making for more congestion. Also avoid excess rancid oils from cooking oils and nuts and seeds.

Address Dampness – Dampness creates congestion, its nature is thick and sticky. Therefore, when you have congestion you will want to use flavors and foods that counter dampness.  Adding in bitter and sour flavors like lemon, lime, cranberry and citrus peel all drain dampness. Full sweet flavors also regulate and drain dampness these include: Pumpkin, winter squash, lentils, legumes, fennel and fenugreek, nettles and lavender.

Sinus massage – If you’ve ever had Amma, you know we love to work the sinus points across the cheekbones, forehead, eyebrows and nose.  And you can work them too.  Use your thumbs to stroke from the bridge of the nose across the sinus bone (zygomatic) several times, then stroke under the bone. Press around for tender, and swollen areas and lightly work into them to release pressure. Next time you come in for a visit ask for a chart with the points to work for yourself too.

Drink Pith tea – The OJ may be out but if you have a phlegmy cough a tea made from the pith is in. That’s the white part of the peel.  Peel an orange, give the flesh to someone else to eat. Add the peel to 2 cups of water in a small saucepan.  Boil until the liquid is reduced by 1/2.  Cool slightly and add a touch of honey.  Enjoy.  I will be honest, the drink is bitter, but that is why it works wonders at dislodging thick, heavy phlegm.

Warm up – Seem like too simple of a suggestion?  Check your toes, hands and feet. If they are cold, warm up. This will help move the circulation and Wei (defensive qi) and push out exterior cold and wind, and strengthen the system overall.  Wear appropriate close for the weather and your constitution.  Wear scarves and hats to protect the neck and shoulders that are vulnerable to wind and cold. Wear layers or a haramaki to protect the kidneys and low back. And make sure Kidney 1 at the base of the foot is warm. My grandmother used to have us sit with our feet up in front of the fire or stove to warm up on cold days.

Get in for Amma therapy – When it’s safe to touch again!Asian medicine (Chinese medicine) works wonders on congestion conditions. Those with chronic patterns will see relief right away, but focused, continued treatment is necessary to get to the root cause overall. There are a number Chinese herbal formulas for sinus symptoms ranging from acute to chronic.  Check with your practitioner to see which ones you should have in your cupboard it might be Pe Min Kan Wan, Bi Yan Pian, Platycodon or Lapis – there are a lot of formulas to address congestion.

Here’s to clear breathing!