Sinusitis is one of those common, chronic, often debilitating conditions which conventional allopathic medicine has deemed “incurable.”
It may be true that there is no single drug that “cures” sinusitis, or a surgical procedure that resolves it once and for all. But my own personal experience as a sinusitis sufferer, plus 30 years’ clinical experience helping thousands of patients, has shown me that sinusitis can be cured. So too can asthma, allergic rhinitis and other chronic respiratory conditions.
There’s no quick trick or magic bullet. Resolving these conditions takes a commitment to a comprehensive multimodality holistic approach. You’ve got to learn to become what I call a “respiratory healer.”
Live With It? I Don’t Think So!
My own journey to becoming a respiratory healer began in 1980. I was a 33-year old family physician, just five years out from my residency, and I was suffering with chronic sinusitis. I’d been experiencing more frequent and more severe sinus infections. The antibiotics were less and less effective, and the symptoms of congestion, headaches, postnasal drip, fatigue, and irritability worsened and persisted much longer between infections.
My ENT consultant suggested sinus surgery, but said he couldn’t guarantee it would cure the problem. “Basically, Rob, you’re going to have to learn to live with it,” was his dismal prognosis. This felt like a death sentence. Sinusitis was ruining my quality of life. The thought of living like that indefinitely was depressing. Unfortunately, “learn to live with it,” is still the message many people get from their doctors. Personally, I wanted to learn to live without it!
The ENT’s prognosis was also a crisis of faith for me. My radiologist father worshipped the God of medical science, and he was my role model. Without realizing it, I too assumed that modern allopathic medicine was the very pinnacle of the healing arts…there was nothing better.
Goodbye Ice Cream, Hello Healing
So here I was, a young physician with a debilitating condition that the experts were unable to cure. I needed to make a critical decision: I could either accept the limitations of conventional medicine and its pronouncements about my future, or I could break new ground and dedicate myself to finding a cure for chronic sinusitis. Without much deliberation, I chose the latter.
Although I had no idea how to proceed, and knew of no one who had done it, I had an inexplicably strong belief that curing sinusitis was possible and that I would succeed in doing so. I opened my mind, suspended all judgments about recommendations that were not yet scientifically supported, and began by simply eliminating my evening bowl of ice cream.
Wow! What an impact that had on the amount of mucus I was producing! The reduced congestion was remarkable Even though it meant sacrificing one of my favorite foods, the benefits of this one dietary change was a strong motivator to continue on. It was the first of a series of revelations on the multiple risk factors that contribute to the chronic inflammation of the mucous membrane lining the nose and sinuses – the primary underlying cause of chronic sinusitis.
Discovering the Triggers
Perhaps my greatest discovery occurred early in 1981, when my wife and I visited Hawaii for the first time. It seemed as if I’d witnessed a miracle…for nine days I had no sinus symptoms at all! After landing back in Denver, on the drive home from the airport, the symptoms began to return. Then it hit me…it’s the AIR!! Denver air is extremely dry and polluted. In that season it was also quite cold. The air I’d been breathing in Hawaii was clean, moist, and warm.
When I reflected on the histology and physiology of the mucous membrane lining the nose and sinuses, my mind lit up. The job of the nose and sinuses is to filter, humidify, and warm the incoming air. If the air we’re breathing, 20,000 times per day, is dirty, dry, and cold, we’re heavily stressing the mucous membrane.
It doesn’t require a great deal of scientific research to realize that air pollution is a major contributor to the global epidemic of sinus disease. Several months after my revelatory trip to Hawaii, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that—to everyone’s surprise— chronic sinusitis was the nation’s most common chronic condition, with an estimated 40 million sufferers. By 1980, acute sinusitis had already become the most common diagnosis in my family practice. Since then, unfortunately, not much has changed.
Most major cities in the US and worldwide have significant air pollution problems. The EPA has documented that indoor air can be even more polluted than outdoor air. During the winter and early spring months, with the heat turned on, the indoor environments can be quite dry even in humid climates.
Most sinus infections are triggered by the common cold, as a result of the virus exacerbating the inflammation of the mucous membrane. Not surprisingly “cold season” parallels “sinus season” – October through March. This also happens to coincide with the heavier outdoor pollution season, as well as drier indoor air…all optimum conditions for sinus infections.
Along with the rise in sinusitis, the incidence of asthma has more than tripled worldwide since 1980, and incidence of allergic rhinitis has seen a similar meteoric rise. All of these chronic respiratory conditions are linked to air pollution. They are also characterized by ongoing inflammation that periodically becomes extremely symptomatic in the presence of specific triggers.
“Issues in the Tissues”
After identifying many of the dietary and environmental risk factors, I developed treatments to address each one. I applied them to myself first, then to the patients in my practice. These interventions include avoidance of obvious trigger foods, increased intake of natural foods and supplements rich in anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds; detox protocols aimed at getting rid of accumulated toxins; daily nasal/sinus hygiene; exercise & healthy sleep cycles; and strategies to improve indoor air quality.
Although I continued to improve, I found that I was still getting sinus infections. It wasn’t until 1986, when I started working with a spiritual psychotherapist, that I began to better appreciate the effect of mental, emotional, and spiritual factors on the inflamed mucous membrane. I identified repressed anger and unshed tears (grief) as the two primary “issues in the tissues.” I also gained a deeper understanding of the role of unconditional love in health and healing.
Once I integrated all of this information into my treatment program, I was able to cure my chronic sinusitis in the spring of 1987. The strategies that worked for me became the basis of the Sinus Survival/Respiratory Healing Program I developed for my patients, and the foundation of my bestselling book, Sinus Survival, first published in 1988 and now in it’s 4th edition.
There are 10 core components to this program that work synergistically to heal the chronically inflamed mucous membrane:
1. Treating & Preventing Sinus Infections, Colds, Asthma Attacks
2. Improving Indoor Air Quality
3. Practicing Effective Nasal Hygiene
4. Treating & Preventing Fungal Sinusitis/Fungal Asthma/Candida Overgrowth
5. Eating the “Fully Alive Diet” – Candida-control, Hypoallergenic and Anti-inflammatory
6. Taking Anti-inflammatory Vitamins and Supplements
7. Eliminating & Preventing Allergies
8. Maintaining Exercise & Quality Sleep
9. Detoxifying the Body
10. Healing the Issues In Your Tissues -- Mental/Emotional and Spiritual/Social Factors
I now tell patients with reasonable assurance that if they’re willing to make a minimum 3-month commitment to the Sinus Survival Program, they’ll have a 90% chance of either a significant improvement or full resolution of their sinusitis. We’ve got a 7.5-year study to back that up! (Ivker, RS, Silvers, WS, Anderson, RA. Altern Ther Health Med. 2009;15(1):36-43.)
This approach not only resolves sinusitis it has multiple beneficial effects. For me, it created a dimension of health that I never knew existed. Many of my patients have also experienced a dramatic improvement in their overall health and vitality.
A Practical Implementation Strategy
Since curing my own chronic sinusitis in 1987, my mission has been to spread a message of hope to the world’s sinus sufferers: You do not have to live with the misery of sinus disease; and to teach practitioners to implement the Sinus Survival Program.
The latest incarnation of this effort is the Respiratory Healer Network, a comprehensive practice platform that will enable holistically-minded practitioners to become effective respiratory healers, to expand their practices, and significantly improve the treatment outcomes for patients with sinusitis, allergic rhinitis, and asthma.
The foundation of this initiative is a 2-hour online Respiratory Healing training program, available at www.respiratoryhealer.com. This on-line tutorial (plus practice support) is the most current, concise, and comprehensive training I’ve ever offered to practitioners, one that provides the key elements of the strategies I use at Fully Alive Medicine (FAM), my new interdisciplinary holistic family medicine practice in Boulder, CO (www.fullyalivemedicine.com). I have updated and condensed all that I’ve learned into a convenient fully integrated delivery program for practitioners.
The Respiratory Healing program is the summation of decades of experience working with extremely challenging sinus patients from the US and abroad, many of whom have had multiple unsuccessful treatments. Each of them has added to my understanding of this condition, and allowed me to further refine the treatment programs. I am grateful to all of them.
As a Respiratory Healer you’re able to convey a strong sense of hope where hopelessness had reigned, offering patients an effective approach to resolving a condition for which conventional medicine has so little to offer. As a physician, I can tell you that it generates a tremendous sense of satisfaction to see patients complete a program feeling better than they have in years. As one who struggled for many years with a disorder that practically ruined my life, I can tell you that the ability to live and breathe freely and deeply is a precious gift.
Dr. Rob Ivker has been a family physician since 1972. He is a Co-founder & Past-President of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine and a Past-president of the American Holistic Medical Association. He is a former Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and a Clinical Instructor in the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.