CLOSE
Blausen.com staff via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0
Blausen.com staff via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

Sinus Problems? Inhaling Steam May Not Help

Blausen.com staff via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0
Blausen.com staff via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

The misery of summer cold season is upon us. But for as many as 25 million Americans, a stuffy nose and sinus pain might be a sign of something else altogether: chronic rhinosinusitis, or sinus inflammation. Many people rely on non-drug methods to treat their sinus symptoms at home. Unfortunately, researchers say one of the most popular methods—inhaling steam—doesn’t actually help. They published their findings in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The pain, pressure, and congestion of sinusitis could be caused by any number of things. It might well be a bacterial infection, but it could also be the result of growths in your nasal cavity or an allergy to dust mites. Yet even in the absence of a bacterial trigger, many sinusitis sufferers still demand, and take, antibiotics to relieve their symptoms. For obvious reasons, antibiotics often do not resolve the issue, but their misuse does contribute to the ever-growing danger of drug-resistant bacteria. We need other ways to make our sore and stuffy selves feel better.

Today, veterans of sinusitis frequently turn to one of two methods: steam inhalation or nasal irrigation, or rinsing.

A neti pot. Image credit: Kurt Yoder via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

It seems like common sense; of course steam and warm water should help soothe and open up blocked airways. But scientists aren’t so sure. Studies of the two treatments’ effectiveness have been small, and their results unimpressive.

So a team of researchers from the UK decided it was time to put the treatments to the test. They sent letters to sinusitis patients at 72 different primary care offices near Southampton, England, inviting them to participate in a study. Participants were all between the ages of 18 and 65, had had two episodes of acute sinusitis or one chronic sinusitis episode in the last year, and reported that their sinus symptoms had a “moderate to severe” effect on their quality of life. Those with other nasal conditions, including polyps, were excluded.

Participants were split into four groups. People in the control group continued whatever treatment, or lack of treatment, they had been using. Members of the nasal irrigation group were given neti pots and a link to an instructional YouTube video, and were asked to irrigate their noses once a day for six months. The third group was instructed to lean over a bowl of steaming water for five minutes a day with a towel draped over their heads to contain the steam. People in the last group were told to do both.

After three months, and again at six months, all the participants were asked again about the impact of their sinus symptoms. They filled out a 20-question Sino-Nasal Outcome Test (SNOT-20, and no, we are not making this up) and answered questions about respiratory symptoms, use of over-the-counter medications, and whether or not they’d experienced any adverse effects from their assigned treatment. They were also asked about their quality of life, if they’d gone to the doctor and/or gotten antibiotics, and how they felt about antibiotics and the need to see the doctor about sinus symptoms in the future.

After analyzing results from the 671 patients who completed the entire study, the researchers were underwhelmed. Steam inhalation didn’t appear to relieve people’s symptoms at all. People in the neti pot treatment group reported a modest improvement and were less likely than others to have headaches. Interestingly, of all the elements of the study, the YouTube video showing how to use a neti pot seems to have had the greatest effect. After watching it, people were less likely to take over-the-counter drugs and less likely to feel like they needed a doctor or a prescription.

But for some reason, this didn’t make them less likely to actually see a doctor for their symptoms during the six months of the study.

In short: We still need a better alternative to antibiotics. Steam inhalation doesn’t seem to help. Nasal irrigation could be useful, but more research is needed to understand the video/treatment combo’s effects on symptoms and behavior. On the other hand, if you feel that something is helping your symptoms, and your doctor's cool with it, there's no reason for you to stop.

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at tips@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Food
A Pitless Avocado Wants to Keep You Safe From the Dreaded 'Avocado Hand'
iStock
iStock

The humble avocado is a deceptively dangerous fruit. Some emergency room doctors have recently reported an uptick in a certain kind of injury—“avocado hand,” a knife injury caused by clumsily trying to get the pit out of an avocado with a knife. There are ways to safely pit an avocado (including the ones likely taught in your local knife skills class, or simply using a spoon), but there’s also another option. You could just buy one that doesn’t have a pit at all, as The Telegraph reports.

British retailer Marks & Spencer has started selling cocktail avocados, a skinny, almost zucchini-like type of avocado that doesn’t have a seed inside. Grown in Spain, they’re hard to find in stores (Marks & Spencer seems to be the only place in the UK to have them), and are only available during the month of December.

The avocados aren’t genetically modified, according to The Independent. They grow naturally from an unpollinated avocado blossom, and their growth is stunted by the lack of seed. Though you may not be able to find them in your local grocery, these “avocaditos” can grow wherever regular-sized Fuerte avocados grow, including Mexico and California, and some specialty producers already sell them in the U.S. Despite the elongated shape, they taste pretty much like any other avocado. But you don’t really need a knife to eat them, since the skin is edible, too.

If you insist on taking your life in your hand and pitting your own full-sized avocado, click here to let us guide you through the process. No one wants to go to the ER over a salad topping, no matter how delicious. Safety first!

[h/t The Telegraph]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Live Smarter
Why You Should Think Twice About Drinking From Ceramics You Made by Hand
iStock
iStock

Ceramic ware is much safer than it used to be (Fiesta ware hasn’t coated its plates in uranium since 1973), but according to NPR, not all new ceramics are free of dangerous chemicals. If you own a mug, bowl, plate, or other ceramic kitchen item baked in an older kiln, it may contain trace amounts of harmful lead.

Earthenware is often coated with a shiny, ceramic glaze. Historically, lead has been used in glazes to give pottery a glossy finish and brighten colors like orange, yellow, and red. The chemical is avoided by potters today, but it can still show up in handmade dishware baked in older kilns that contain lead residue. Antique products from the era when lead was a common crafting material may also be unsafe to eat or drink from. This is especially true when consuming something acidic, like coffee, which can cause any lead hiding in the glaze to leach out.

Sometimes the amount of lead in a product is minuscule, but even trace amounts can contaminate whatever you're eating or drinking. Over time, exposure to lead in small doses can lead to heightened blood pressure, lowered kidney function, and reproductive issues. Lead can cause even more serious problems in kids, including slowed physical and mental development.

As the dangers of even small amounts of lead have become more widely known, the ceramics industry has gradually eliminated the additive from its products. Most of the big-name commercial ceramic brands, like Crock-Pot and Fiesta ware, have cut it out all together. Independent artisans have also moved away from working with the ingredient, but there are still some manufacturers, especially abroad, that use it. Luckily, the FDA keeps a list of the ceramic ware it tests that has been shown to contain lead.

If you’re not ready to retire your hand-crafted ceramic plates, the FDA offers one possible solution: Purchase a home lead testing kit and analyze the items yourself. If the tests come back negative, your homemade dishware can keep its spot on your dinner table.

[h/t NPR]

This piece was updated to clarify that while lead may be present in antique ceramics and old kilns, it's no longer a common ingredient in ceramic glazes.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios