Otolaryngologist Dr. Robert Ivker has a lifetime of first-hand experience with patients who suffer from perennial allergic rhinitis and chronic sinusitis. A board-certified holistic physician and a Fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians, he has been practicing medicine for over 30 years in Denver, CO. Dr. Ivker has become an expert on sinus infection treatment and prevention, and has written several books on the subject, including the best-selling Sinus Survival and his latest, Love Your Nose Naturally. His unique approach to treatment includes learning how to release negative emotions and learning how to love your nose.
Chronic Allergies & The Sandpaper Theory
"Most physicians agree that allergies result from a hyper-reactive or aberrant functioning of the immune system, and that they tend to run in families," explains Dr. Ivker. "But there is no mention within the medical community of an emotional component causing allergies, nor is there any explanation for the tremendous increase in the number of allergy sufferers in the past thirty years.
"My 'sandpaper' theory holds that as we breathe polluted and particulate-laden air 23,000 times a day, we are causing chronic irritation ('rubbing the surface raw') and inflammation of the nasal mucous membrane. This creates a hyper-reactive membrane that, given the right genetic predisposition, emotional stress, and adequate exposure to an allergen, can precipitate a lifetime of allergies."
Dr. Ivker is no stranger to allergies himself; he has suffered from hay fever since the age of five.
"I, like many millions of pollen allergy or hay fever sufferers, learned to dread particular seasons of the year," says Dr. Ivker. "My late summer/early fall allergy was to ragweed pollen. Early spring - March/April - the air fills with tree pollen; and late spring/early summer - May/June - is the grass pollen season. If your allergy symptoms tend to be seasonal then you are probably one of nearly 30 million Americans who suffer with hay fever, or seasonal allergic rhinitis as it's called in the medical profession."
Despite his own genetic predisposition to allergies, Dr. Ivker cured his chronic sinusitis 20 years ago using a unique, holistic medical approach. In learning how to love his nose and avoid sinus infections, he also learned how to avoid the common cold, which often turns into a sinus infection.
Colds Turning into Sinus Infections
"I've been a family doctor since 1972, and through the past 3.5 decades of Family Practice I've seen a very interesting evolution of the common cold," Dr. Ivker reveals. "Through the early and mid-1970s, a cold or URI (upper respiratory infection) was probably the most common reason for a patient to seek care in my office. But by the late 70s there was a statistical shift and sinus infections became the most common diagnosis in my practice.
"In obtaining a history from the patient, it was quite clear that the vast majority of these sinus infections had begun as colds, but for some reason (which I later identified as a combination of chronic inflammation of the mucous membrane and a weak immune system) they weren't clearing up in the usual four to seven days. And I was also seeing an increased number of patients with asthma attacks that had begun as a cold.
"So not only was it unpleasant to suffer the effects of a cold itself - a stuffy, drippy, sneezing nose; along with some muscle aching, headache, fatigue, and possibly even a low-grade fever - but if the virus spread beyond the nose to the sinuses or lungs, you might also have to deal with the misery of a sinus infection, a bout of bronchitis, a possible asthma attack, or even pneumonia. Most of the time, the more serious respiratory problems begin with the common cold."
Avoiding Colds to Avoid Sinus Infections
"An essential part of [the sinus infection] cure was the avoidance of colds - the physical trigger for almost all of my sinus infections," says Dr. Ivker.
"The single most important advice I can offer is for you to pay close attention to the messages your body is giving you through your physical symptoms. The earliest symptom of a cold is typically a sore throat, either accompanied or followed closely by some sneezing, feeling weak and achy, and mucus drainage (clear and thin mucus). Very often it will arise at a time when you've been experiencing more than your usual amount of stress, often involving time pressure and doing too many things at the same time."
At the very first sign of a cold, Dr. Ivker recommends the following: get more sleep; take vitamins and supplements such as vitamin C, Beta Carotene, Echinacea, and Yin Chiao; eat garlic; take zinc gluconate lozenges; gargle with salt water; drink hot liquids; take a hot bath; and eliminate dairy and sugar from your diet.
He also says, "Irrigate or use a saline nasal spray hourly, or a nasal spray with colloidal silver. The SinuPulse Elite is the premier state-of-the-art pulsatile irrigation device and one of the best methods for cold prevention and quickly eliminating a sinus infection, treating acute, chronic, and fungal sinusitis."
The Cold that Won't Go Away: Treating Chronic Sinus Infections
Dr. Ivker warns that a long-lasting cold may turn into a sinus infection: "Suppose you're still not better and are possibly a little worse after two or more weeks of symptoms. You may have noticed:
- An increase in nasal and/or head congestion;
- The headaches might be more painful and prolonged;
- The mucus may have become thicker and instead of white or clear, is now yellow-green;
- And you may even feel more tired than you were at the onset of the cold.
"If this is the case, then you probably have a sinus infection.
"Although the vast majority of physicians treat sinus infections (medically known as acute sinusitis) with antibiotics, this is not necessarily the best option for treatment. In fact, in many instances, acute sinusitis is not even caused by a bacterial infection, which would be the only valid scientific reason for using an antibiotic. This circumstance occurs most often with sinus sufferers who have frequent or recurrent episodes of acute sinusitis - called chronic sinusitis." Dr. Ivker explains that sufferers of chronic sinusitis "are people with severe inflammation of the mucous membrane that causes the same symptoms described above, but it may have been triggered by a virus (the cause of the common cold), environmental exposure to smoke or some other irritating pollutant, a pollen or food allergy, emotional stress, or a combination of two or more of these or other factors." "If the above symptoms describe you, and you'd like to avoid a visit to the doctor or taking an antibiotic, then I'd recommend the following holistic medical treatment that I call the Love Your Nose Program."
The Love Your Nose Program
- Get 8-10 hours/night; do not use an alarm clock (allow your body to tell you how much sleep it requires); adequate sleep is perhaps the most effective, convenient, and least expensive way to strengthen your immune system.
- Garlic - 1,200-2,000mg 3x/day; or Allimax (available in some health food stores - contains 100% pure allicin) - 720mg 3x/day for 10 days.
- Echinacea liquid extract - 2 dropperfuls 4-5x/day for 10 days or until yellow mucus clears.
- Grapefruit seed extract capsules or liquid - 125 mg 3x/day or 10 drops in water 3x/d; excellent anti-fungal; the liquid has an unpleasant taste.
- Saline nasal spray with aloe, or other anti-inflammatory herbs (e.g. Sinus Survival Spray) - spray hourly; good for treatment and prevention.
- Sinus Rescue - highly effective in killing bacteria, viruses, or fungi; contains colloidal silver; but must be applied every 15-20 minutes for maximum effectiveness; apply a dab of peppermint oil to outside of nostrils following each application (available at Whole Foods).
- Euphorbium spray - good for more mild sinus infections (and allergies); a combination homeopathic spray found in most health food stores.
- Xylitol spray - better as a preventive than for treatment of sinus infections; a sugar alternative (found in most health food stores).
- Irrigation - use 3-4x/day, immediately following Steam Inhaler; pulsatile irrigator is best method for flushing out infected mucus; The SinuPulse Elite is the premier state-of-the-art pulsatile irrigation device and one of the best methods for quickly eliminating a sinus infection and treating acute, chronic, and fungal sinusitis.
- Steam Inhaler - use 3-4x/day; acts as a decongestant and mucus thinner; add a medicinal eucalyptus (e.g. Sinus Survival Eucalyptus), peppermint, and tea tree oil to the steam; many varieties, available in most pharmacies.
- Eat mostly organic vegetables & fruits, non-gluten grains (brown rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, amaranth), fiber, protein; avoid sugar, wheat, dairy, carbohydrates (especially gluten grains), caffeine, and alcohol. Sugar weakens immunity; wheat, gluten grains, and dairy are most common causes of food allergy (often a trigger of sinus infections).
- Drink bottled or filtered water - at least oz/lb of body weight (e.g. 160 lbs. = 80 oz/day).
- Vitamin C - 3,000-5,000mg 3x/day with meals; taken in the form of Ester C or a mineral ascorbate (for better absorption and GI tolerance) rather than ascorbic acid.
- Vitamin E - 400 I.U. 2x/day.
- Grape Seed Extract - 300mg in am and 50-100mg in mid-afternoon on an empty stomach; powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-histamine. Many varieties - I recommend Nature's Way Masqueliere's OPC 75mg tablets, 4 tabs am and 1 tab pm.
- Beta Carotene - 25,000 I.U. 3x/day; or the closely-related carotenoid (but more potent) Astaxanthin 4mg 3x/day.
- Zinc - 40-60mg/day.
- Selenium - 200mcg/day.
- Magnesium glycinate, citrate, or aspartate - 400-600mg/day.
- Flaxseed oil - 2 tablespoons/day; as ground seeds sprinkled on salads or cereal or liquid taken straight or on salads; a natural anti-inflammatory.
- Fish oil - EPA 1,000-3,000mg/DHA 500-900mg per day; an omega 3/omega-6 combination; a natural anti-inflammatory. Many varieties - I recommend Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega, 2 capsules 2x/day.
- Sinupret Forte - 1 tablet 3x/day; an herbal combination that serves as a potent natural anti-inflammatory of the mucous membrane.
- Multi-vitamin - recommend one that's taken 2 or 3x/day. A good multi-vitamin will contain most of the above, but in lesser amounts that I've recommended for treating a sinus infection. Ask for a recommendation at your health food store.
Treat the Emotional Cause: Most sinus infections are triggered by repressed anger or unshed tears. I recommend the safe release of anger (punching a punching bag or pillows as you yell for a minute or two is a quick and highly effective method), as well as reflecting on whether or not you're feeling grief or some sense of loss. The feeling of grief or loss is typically not as obvious as the anger, but it's probably there, just a bit deeper. Journaling is another excellent method for releasing either or both of these painful emotions.
"As you can see," continues Dr. Ivker, "treating a sinus 'infection' is typically not a quick fix, whether it's done holistically or, as many millions of sinus sufferers have learned, taking an antibiotic. That's because we now know that acute sinusitis is no longer always synonymous with a sinus infection.
"However, if you can apply at least a few of the above recommendations, you can usually shorten the course of the acute inflammation well beyond what an antibiotic is capable of doing. As you've just seen, the holistic treatment program addresses far more than simply killing bacteria (which is often not even the cause of the problem). In addition to treating infection, this natural approach reduces the inflammation of the mucous membrane, eliminates possible food allergy, strengthens the immune system, and addresses the emotional cause of the infection.
"The methods that have worked best for my patients to accomplish these goals are: sleep, Allimax, echinacea, Sinus Survival Spray, steam inhaler, Sinus Survival Eucalyptus, SinuPulse Elite irrigator, avoiding sugar and dairy, drinking water, vitamin C, grape seed, flaxseed and fish oil, and anger release."
If you're one of the millions of allergy sufferers, perhaps it's time for you to start "loving your nose." Dr. Ivker's recommendations make up the "ounce of prevention" that's literally just what the doctor ordered.