Thursday, March 03, 2016

Inversions when you have a sinus infection.

Recently, a yoga teacher recommended that a student in her class should do a headstand while having a sinus infection. She's not the only one. Commonly, yoga teachers tell their students that doing inversion while congested will help decongest, because, supposedly, the extra blood flow to the area will clear the congestion.

This is one of those yoga urban legends, just like many others, that are not only unsubstantiated by any kind of science, but are actually potentially a very dangerous advice. Here's why.

A sinus infection, and also severe types of cold congestion, fill up the sinuses which are normally full of air. Mucus takes over the air spaces, on the account of which we can't take a normal breath. This mucous expands and creates pressure all around it as bacteria grows in there and creates an infectious situation. This is why doctors prescribe antibiotics. They want to kill the bacteria and by doing so, to decrease the inflammation to the area.  This, of course, is not the only way, but more on that later...

In a head stand, the blood pressure to the head and the brain increases dramatically, almost doubling. Which is why head stand is not a suggested pose for people with history of seizures, epilepsy, brain disorders, strokes, and even eye disorders such as glaucoma. The increased pressure can literally blow the weak links in the brain, causing at the very least, very bad headaches, and the very worse, a brain aneurysm. In the case of glaucoma, there is already strong pressure in the eye and increased pressure from the inversion can cause damage to the optic nerve and bleeding of the blood vessels in the eyes, even loss of vision.

When you have a sinus infection, you already have lots of pressure in your head. There are 4 pairs of sinuses. Frontal sinuses (behind the forehead), Maxillary sinuses (behind the nose), Ethmoid sinuses (behind the nose), and Sphenoid sinuses (behind the eyes.) Because of the bacteria present during inflamed sinuses, the increased blood pressure can force the bacteria into the bone, into the areas around the sinuses, creating the possibility for the following conditions to occur, according University of Maryland Medical Center:

Osteomyelitis - infection of the bones of the forehead and other facial bones. In such cases, one usually experiences headache, fever, and a soft swelling over the bone known as Pott's puffy tumor.

Infection of the Eye Socket, or orbital infection, which causes swelling and subsequent drooping of the eyelid, is a rare but serious complication of ethmoid sinusitis. In these cases, the unfortunate individual loses movement in the eye, and pressure on the optic nerve can lead to vision loss, which is sometimes permanent. Fever and severe illness are usually present.

Blood Clot, another danger, although usually rare increases when you are in a full inversion. The inversion and the pressure it builds can cause a small blood vessel to burst causing a blood clot to form. Usually in the area of the ethmoid or frontal sinusitis. If a blood clot forms in the sinus area around the front and top of the face, symptoms are similar to orbital infection. In addition, the pupil may be fixed and dilated. Although symptoms usually begin on one side of the head, the process usually spreads to both sides.

Brain Infection. The most dangerous complication of sinusitis, the likelihood of which increases when one is fully inverted, particularly frontal and sphenoid sinusitis, is the spread of infection by anaerobic bacteria to the brain, either through the bones or blood vessels. Abscesses, meningitis, and other life-threatening conditions may result. When you increase the blood pressure to the area you are forcing not just blood flow into the sinuses which most practitioner think is a good way to clear the sinuses, but you are also forcing an exchange of liquids with the sinuses. This means the bacteria in the sinuses via the blood, enters the brain. In such cases, you may experience mild personality changes, headache, altered consciousness, visual problems, and, finally, seizures, coma, and death.

Now, next time you hear a yoga teacher give you medical advice in a yoga class, preceded by "this does not feel good, but" think twice. Remember, most yoga teachers today started doing yoga yesterday and did their yoga teacher training from yoga teachers who started doing yoga last week. 

Secondly, very few yoga teachers actually bother double checking the information they are given during training and just run with it like it's the Gospel. 

Doubt your yoga teachers and protect yourself! Don't take anecdotal evidence as fact. Your brain is worth your extra consideration. 

Now, what does help sinus infection and congestion... well, the good old neti pot with a saline solution keeps the bacteria count down and keeps the mucus membranes moist, which is a great preventative and a great way to clear the breathing passages when you are in trouble. Breathing most air/steam infused with eucalyptus oil also works wonders. Staying hydrated. Exercising the right side up is awesome. A yoga practice itself is a great preventative and it helps move things around, as long as you don't do full inversions. There are also tons of OTC medications and your doctor will be happy to give you antibiotics if you really think you need it.  

Incidentally, I am teaching a weekend on inversion at Smiling Dog, March 11 - 13, so if you are into it, call Smiling Dog and sign up. Meanwhile, have a safe yoga practice.

See you on the mat. 


Unknown said...

Wrong. The maxillary sinus drains superiorly through a tiny opening at the top of the sinus, which is easily blocked if inflamed. Inversion is the only way for it to drain. I am a holistic MD in Portland, OR. I recommend patients hang their head upside-down over the edge of the bed for 5 minutes to drain the maxillary sinus (behind the cheeks).

Kip Leitner said...

Wrong #2. Agree with "wrong" #1. Anyone with serious airborne allergies knows that after using a neti pot, you should rotate your head through the whole geometry of orientation (including head down) in order to drain all the stuff out of your sinuses. you don't have to stand on your head to do this, just put your head down. Personally, I bend over and put my hands on the ground and swing my head gently in all directions after neti-potting. Then stand up vertical and tilt head back. The gunk pours out of my head and down my throat. I drink an entire glass of warm water slowly as I repeatedly do this. It's a case of author throwing up baby with the bath water here. Sure there are issues with inversion, but we're not talking about total inversion here, just putting your and upper torso, briefly inclined downward.

Valentina Petrova said...

Hanging your head over the edge of the bed is not the same as a full inversion.

Valentina Petrova said...

When you are replying to something, it is always a good idea to make sure you actually understand what is being said and stick to the point of the conversation. And the conversation is not about how to Do the neti pot. The neti pot is mentioned as a good thing to do when congested. But I am happy that you so enthusiastically support this minor point while simultaneously calling it "wrong."

Unknown said...

Well the title of the post DOES say “inversions,” not “headstands”. I think these posters are right to object, but I do appreciate the point of view of the article.

Janika Sild said...
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Janika Sild said...

I have been struggling with a sinus infection from hell for 4 months, one maxillary is completely full and I can testify that hanging my head upside down from a bed 5 mins every day has helped me a lot! Before that I could practically feel the liquid moving around in my sinuses plus dizziness and horrific pressure in the head. It all diminished with the gravity treatment. I plan to repeat it every day until the inflammation subsides completely. I have had 3 sinus surgeries, it all came back... I wish I had known the gravity cure before! I do neti pot and other stuff as well, ofc.

Fudgeman said...
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Fudgeman said...

Been suffering badly with inflamed sinuses from mold exposure in my house (working on it). I can't breathe so I can't sleep so my health is headed downward fast because afrin no longer works (yes I know, and I have dreaded having to use Afrin since the 80's but its the last resort option I've had to rely on recently). I would do anything to fix this soooooo.....headed to my bedroom to try this asap