Be good to your sinuses

Environment, diet can have big impact on the tender tissues.

On a hot summer day, cooling off by drinking an ice-cold beverage or eating ice cream can be the go-to in seeking relief.

Sometimes, eager for relief, a painful moment stops you in your tracks. Suddenly, the cold sensation turns into an achy, throbbing pain in the front part of the head. It is a temporary reaction called brain freeze, also known as an ice-cream headache or cold-stimulus headache, which results from consuming cold food, sometimes too quickly.

Over stimulus of the facial nerves, specifically the trigeminal nerve, can happen within a ten-second window and lasts about a minute, according to the Mayo Clinic. Along with the nerves, sinus passages can be affected.

For those with sinus issues, avoiding cold foods is one way to alleviate complicating the condition, as the cold temperature can affect sensitive sinus passages.

Sinuses are the cavities in the face that trap inhaled irritants to protect the airways. These are connected to the nasal passages through narrow openings in the hollow spaces of the skull around the eyes, cheeks and nose. Sinuses are grouped in three areas, the frontal, ethmoid and maxillary sinuses.

More than 37 million Americans suffer from at least one episode of acute sinusitis each year. Sinusitis is an inflammation of the membrane lining of any sinus or paranasal sinuses, and can be a short term condition responding to antibiotics and decongestants. Increased pollution, urban sprawl and increased resistance to antibiotics can be possible causes of acute sinusitis, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery.

Chronic conditions are a recurrence of at least four or more acute sinusitis conditions, where either medication or surgery may be needed.

Dr. Maria Scunziano-Singh, M.D., is a board certified primary care physician with Access Healthcare, LLC. She discussed the importance of taking care of your sinuses as these spaces, in responding to food and other environmental conditions, become blocked, obstructed or clogged from inflammation.

“Sinus pressure and pain with eye fatigue, nausea and dizziness are predominately caused by dietary choices,” she said. “Regular consumption of yogurt, breads and most commercial processed/boxed cereals with cow’s milk on top will contribute to your problems.”

Many people are milk intolerant and wheat intolerant as well, she added.

“These two categories will and can cause major upset, not only to the sinuses but the intestinal tract, among other systems,” Scunziano-Singh said.

Dairy products, wheat, most flour based foods (pasta, bread, cakes, etc.), processed foods, processed meats, ice cream, other frozen deserts and iced or chilled drinks can clog sinus cavities.

“They are unfortunately more health hazardous than anything else,” she said. “That cannot be disputed by any intelligent scientific source. It is up to you to make the best food choices for your overall health and if your sinuses are regularly blocked, you need to look closer at the diet.”

Scunziano-Singh described the reaction the body has when consuming cold food items.

Just imagine that you are lying in the hot sun for an hour and someone comes and dumps a bucket-full of ice on you, she added.

“You must realize that your body temperature is 98 degrees and when you put something as cold as 32 degrees in it, don’t expect your throat, esophagus, stomach and sinuses to be happy at all.”

She further described the body’s reaction as a shock to the system and causes actual inflammation. This reaction leaves one feeling unwell and with awful sinus pain causing nausea, dizziness and ultimately infection with fever and chills.

“Drinking a lot of water, and especially cold water, is not good at all for the congested head,” she said. “Moderate intake, meaning 40 to 60 ounces of fluids without chill or ice in the drink, is best.”

“When you stop the cold; the cold and creamy; or the cold, creamy and cakey … you will feel the difference,” she said. “You will see results if you stop consuming the culprit products mentioned.”

Additional culprits to causing sinus conditions are pollution, poor or inadequate fresh ventilation, mold, dust and mildew accumulation in homes, cars and workplaces.

People who use oxygen or other breathing devices in their nose during the day or at night, can aggravate the nasal passages and sinuses, she added.

“Gentle methods of moisturizing the air along with the dietary suggestions are recommended in these situations,” Scunziano-Singh said.

For asthma patients who suffer from sinus problems, it can be caused by food sensitivities, especially milk and wheat flours.

Cold food, air and drinks are a very big problem and should be strictly avoided for people with asthma, she added.

“Smoking will aggravate the sinuses,” she said.

Overeating, as well as over drinking causes, bloating overall. The sinuses experience a lot of the pressure. Symptoms include a runny nose, sometimes leading to the experience of the head feeling clogged or painful.

Dr. Maria Scunziano-Singh, MD is a primary care physician with Access Healthcare, LLC. Her office is located at 5350 Spring Hill Drive in Spring Hill. She can be reached at (352) 688-8116 or visit

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