This blog post might seem a bit off-topic. It’s not about what you should eat, or exercise, or taking time out. But it’s important, because the environment you live in plays a big part in your health. Spending time in an unhealthy room can bring on a multitude of problems, especially for your respiratory system. If you’re puzzling over a sinus problem that just doesn’t seem to improve, this week’s column is for you.
Consider this: How long has it been since you dusted behind your bedhead, the book shelves and the TV cabinet? If you haven’t checked there for a while perhaps you should - because dust and mould are effective sinus irritants.
Dust can easily accumulate behind your bedhead, and in our subtropical climate, mould grows easily too. So if you haven’t moved your bed recently to clean underneath and behind, you may be shocked at what you see when you do look. Dusty? Mouldy? Your nose has been quite close to this colony of micro-organisms every night, breathing in a mixture of mould spores and dust mite droppings. You could be waking up snuffly in the mornings thanks to your immune system.
Your nasal passages, and your sinuses, are mucous membranes, heavily populated with immunoglobulins, the ‘border patrol team’ of your immune system. These very important components continually sample the air that’s flowing past to check for potential problems – not just bacteria and viruses, but substances that your body has already decided could be harmful. When immunoglobulins encounter mould spores and dust particles, they may arrange an immediate attack. Mucous membranes are then instructed to secrete lots of mucus to ‘wash out’ the invader. Other immune cells rush to the scene to help, creating swollen membranes from the extra blood flow. That can create a drippy nose and full-feeling sinuses.
The intensity of your body’s reaction to an invader can be extreme or mild, depending on how dangerous your immune system thinks the invader is. High level irritants tend to provoke intense reactions like sneezing fits, or breathing problems. Lower level irritants are much more subtle. Your body’s reaction to them is likely to be low key, but more noticeable when it continues too long: like a chronic post-nasal drip, or feeling of sinus fullness.
If you have chronic sinus problems and suspect that allergens in your home environment could be a problem, here’s a low cost way to explore a potential solution. Clean behind and below your bed, vacuum your mattress, air the bedding in the sunshine, and if you’re feeling brave, peer behind all your furniture to check how much dust is hanging about there. A mask can be helpful, as can a vacuum cleaner with an allergy filter fine enough to catch the mites and mould. Happy cleaning!