Treatment of Sinusitis with Acupuncture & TCM

What is Sinusitis?

Sinusitis is  inflammation of the sinuses and is a very common condition. Cases are divided into Acute Sinusitis (lasting 4 weeks or less) and Chronic Sinusitis (lasting more than 12 weeks). Sinusitis is differentiated from rhinitis in that rhinitis is characterized by additional symptoms like red, itchy eyes and nose.

Common Symptoms

  • nasal discharge
  • nasal congestion
  • sinus pain
  • frontal headache

Western Medical Treatment

Acute sinusitis is often caused by viral, though also bacterial and sometimes fungal, infections. In cases of bacterial infection, the  treatment is antibiotics. For chronic cases nasal irrigation, occasional use of nasal sprays, and in severe cases, surgery is used.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Treatment (TCM)

Treatment for sinusitis is based upon diagnosis of  one of the following TCM patterns:

Wind Heat– This is a case of an external pathogen invasion that has progressed. The treatment principle is to release the exterior and open the orifices. These cases are acute and quick to resolve with acupuncture, herbs taken three times a day and cupping.

Liver Qi Stagnation– Patient tends to be irritable and stressed with shoulder tension. It is characterized by swelling and congestion rather than discharge. The treatment principle is to smooth the Liver Qi and open up the orifices. These cases can experience fast relief but continued relief depends on management of stress.

Phlegm Heat– In these cases there is often digestive weakness, food intolerances, or a prolonged overconsumption of rich, greasy foods, and alcohol. Characterized by sticky yellow discharge, severe nasal congestion, a heavy sensation in the body, and dizziness. Treatment principle is to clear and transform Phlegm Heat and open the orifices. Treatment tends to be more prolonged and includes acupuncture, herbs, and dietary modifications.

Lung and Spleen Qi Deficiency– This is a chronic pattern characterized by congestion and loss of sense of smell along with fatigue, dizziness, and poor appetite. Treatment principle is to strengthen the Spleen Qi and raise the clear yang. Treatment involves weekly treatments of acupuncture and herbs, along with lifestyle changes that can take a few months to resolve.

Kidney Deficiency– Is characterized by incessant, chronic mucus discharge and is often accompanied by poor memory, soreness and weakness in the back, and loss of hearing. This is often a lifelong issue or occurs after extreme overwork or stress. Treatment principle is to tonify the Kidneys and stop discharge. This case takes the longest to treat. Weekly treatments of acupuncture and herbs for a period of a few months is often necessary.

A common patent formula used to provide immediate symptom relief is Bi Ming Gan, however other herbs targeting the underlying pattern should also be used. Points commonly used in all cases of sinusitis are Bi Tong and Yin Tang and can be seen needled in our November special.


Nasal irrigation as with a Neti pot is very helpful for symptomatic relief and can be performed 1-2 times a day away from meals. Dietary guidelines vary from individual to individual, but as a  general rule, phlegm-producing foods should be reduced or avoided such as cold temperature food and drinks, highly sugary foods, greasy foods, and excessive dairy.


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