Posts Tagged ‘allergies’

Nature’s Dynamite for Stuffy Noses: Nasodren Review

November 29, 2011  |  Drug Reviews  |  , , , ,  |  32 Comments

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Spray and pray. That’s the cycle. My unreconstructed addiction to nasal sprays is a choice. I choose to risk the rebound effect, rather then breathe through my mouth like a knuckle dragger. Go ahead and tell me I have a problem. Just try it. This little addiction harms nobody, except me, when I get a bad batch and end up with boomerang blockage.

“It’s worth the risk,” I said, grabbing a reviewer’s sample of Nasodren. Immediately, I liked it because the packaging has braille. Blind people have bad sinuses, and every other condition, too. Next, I like the way the web site tells me things in laymen’s terms:

  • Nasodren® is a natural product that does not contain hormones or preservatives (whatever)
  • Nasodren® is a lyophilized natural extract of cyclamen europaeum L (okay, I can look that up)
  • Nasodren® has only a local effect, which means it is not absorbed into the blood stream and does not cause residual irritation of the mucous membranes (low boomerang risk)
    Okay, so it won’t corrode my sinuses. According to Google, cyclamen europaeum L is a much-loved hippie herb used for what they used to call “women’s troubles” and an assortment of mucous issues. That’s me! The spray requires some assembly, which isn’t a problem so much as it’s a problem when my nose is dripping—onto the  instructions. But the assembly is easy and quick—mixing water with the powdered herb—so I’m not terribly annoyed. As directed, I resist the urge to throw my head back and sniff while activating the pump. Instead, I keep the drama low and limit myself to one squirt per nostril….And that’s enough! It triggered a series of violent sneezes… then some urgent nose-blowing, following by….inhale…AIR FLOW. There was no discernible boomerang blockage after a few days use and no nasty taste in my mouth, like some sprays. Nasodren is a keeper. More specifically, it’s a keeper-in-the-fridge, where it needs to be stored. I guess I won’t be hoarding it my purse, after all, for guilty squirts in back alleys.

Halloween Sinus Scare: Public Transit, The New Yorker & Tissues From Hell

Understated. That’s how I like Halloween. Save the ketchup-soaked costumes and theatrical ax murders. The sound of a creaking staircase does not, as a rule, make me scared at parties. But if you think I’m a stick-in-the-mud beyond fear, you’re dead wrong.

Sinus Sister got the scare of her life on Halloween: minding her own business, she stepped into a subway car and resumed reading The New Yorker, where Canadian Craig MacInnis is a finalist in the cartoon caption contest! (Vote here!) After laughing at Craig’s witty entry, I moved on to read Rebecca Mead’s profile of fashion icon/heiress Daphne Guinness. While it was an engrossing article, I slowly became aware of a building chorus of sneezing and sniffing. Looking up from the magazine, it was like a scene from a Hitchcock movie. Instead of birds flying at me, it was germs, from every direction…There was a sneezing art student with bedhead…a party girl coughing without covering her mouth…Another passenger was picking his nose, staring at me with unblinking eyes. I was trapped. My subway station was three stops away.

Nobody heard my silent scream as I reached into my purse and pulled out a tissue—as if it could save me from the onslaught of germs flooding the subway car. At least the 4-ply Sniff tissue ($1.60) accurately reflected the situation: black with a skull and crossbones. Would it be rude to wave the tissue like a pirates flag, and declare the subway a sneeze-free territory? Probably. Did I fantasize about burying an ax in the party girl’s chest, then suffocating the art student? Yes. The nose picker would get more of a Dexter Morgan treatment, later. Sinus Sister fled at her subway stop, cursing the sneezers on her way out, and disappeared into a safe sea of Harry Potters, Lady Gagas and Jack Sparrows.

Steam Cleaned: How to Pick a Humidifier

Sinus Sister consults The Boogor Doctor

His real name is Dr. Russell Faust, but most people know him by his online name, The Boogor Doctor. He works at Lakeshore ENT, in Michigan, but he helps patients everywhere via his cool blog. Sinus Sister is not a doctor—with the science scores to prove it—so she laps up the good doctor’s advice on how to hunt for a humidifier. Boiling a kettle, it seems, is not enough. Here’s what you should know:



The Three Types of Humidifiers:

1- Evaporative

This type of humidifier uses a cloth or mesh belt that acts like a wick: it dips down into a vat of water, then rotates up so that a fan can blow across it and evaporate the water off the belt into the air. Effective way to humidify the air, but these have some downsides.

2- Ultrasonic

This is the so-called “cool mist” humidifiers. These use a small ultrasound transducer to vibrate a stream of water so that the water vaporizes. Effective, inexpensive. These have their own special disadvantages as well.

3- Steam Vaporizer

These are little more than a pot of water with a heating element that boils the water to produce steam. Very effective, but of course, they have their own issues, too.

Most of us are also familiar with the humidifier on our central heating system, if we have forced-air heat. The only thing to keep in mind with those is that the system should be cleaned. How often? I have no idea. The thing to do is to read the instructions for proper maintenance. I have asked several people if they have ever cleaned theirs, and the standard response has been “what?”.

There is another type of humidifier that I have no experience with – the “impeller” humidifier. These produce a cool mist using a rotating disk. I suspect they may have issues similar to the Ultrasonic type of humidifier (see below), but I have no personal experience with them.

So, after years of using these other 3 types of humidifiers in my home, including experience with multiple belt-evaporative humidifiers growing up in my parent’s home, here is my own assessment. My apologies to humidifier manufacturers. No doubt some will take offense at my admittedly simple and anecdotal comparison of these types of humidifiers, but this is based on decades of personal experience, and experience with each of these types of humidifier.

(1) Evaporative (2) Ultrasonic (3) Steam Vaporizer
Efficiency Efficient Efficient Less efficient
Construction, Ease of Use Complex Simple Simple
Cost / purchase $$$$ $$ $
Cost / to run $$ $ $$
Cleaning Challenge to Clean Easy to Clean Easy to Clean
Microbe risk: mold, etc ++++ ++
Boogordoctor endorsement + + +++
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Best Unicorn Bait: Cavalia Review by Someone Who is Allergic to Horses

October 24, 2011  |  Lifestyle, Reviews  |  , , , ,  |  No Comments

Cavalia’s in town! If you don’t know what Cavalia is, imagine this: Cirque du Soleil meets the Calgary Stampede. Cue the New Age music because Cavalia is not, repeat NOT, a hoedown. It’s a fairy world of flying sprites and Middle Earth dresses. A tribe of bendy men do triple flips and bounce on stilts, while damsels-cum-gymnasts do miraculous things on horseback. The Big Top is the width of a football field, so the 50 horses have room to let loose. The entire show is excellent bait for unicorns, who threaten to appear at any moment.

Horses excite city girls—even city girls who were sent home from Equestrian Camp with a refund. Where there’s a barn, there’s hay. Where there’s hay….ACHOOOO! Equestrian Camp had been my idea, against mom’s better judgement and dad’s budget. But I went and sneezed for five days straight, before the camp leader invited me to leave (It wasn’t a complete loss; I got a sleeping bag). Ejection from horse camp in 1979 did nothing to deter me from seeing Cavalia in 2011. Quite the opposite. Wearing my best equestrian boots and armed with allergy medicine, I hightailed it to the Big Top. The show was a dizzying blur of antics on horseback and big-screen projections.

What we loved about Cavalia:  the trick riding, live music
What we could’ve done without: the slow-motion carousel number
What we really didn’t need: antihistamines
Most enchanting part: the stable tour, meeting the tumblers
Most regrettable gift shop purchase: voodoo horse doll
Number of tissues used: 0
Number of Unicorn Sightings: depends who you ask

Frothy Girlz Get a Sinus Infection

 Finding a Soul Sister at


You go, Frothy Girlz! Their kick-ass blog is billed as “Pop culture with an attitude”. No kidding. Here’s Frothy Girl Jane Almirall‘s post about having a sinus infection. She isn’t taking it lying down…and, like Sinus Sister, she pretends to have tried the famous concealer YSL Touche Eclat:


“Friends, not a day goes by when my email inbox isn’t flooded with requests for me to do a Top Shelf type story about my beauty products and regime. I get countless questions about my hair such as, ‘What have you done?’, and, ‘Holy crap, did you do that to yourself?’ and so on (My secret? I wash it every six to eight weeks – whether it needs it or not! I am nothing if not steeped in decadence and luxury). I receive similar queries about my skincare routine and favored cosmetics – so I finally thought to myself, ‘Why not give my readers what they so deeply desire? Why not indeed! I’ll finally reveal my attractiveness secrets and do a Top Shelf post of my own!’

And then I got this really big bastard of a sinus infection. So now you are getting this instead:

Top Shelf In The Event That You Have A Big Bastard Of a Sinus Infection }

Well, Fair Readers, the first thing you are going to want to do if you feel a sinus infection coming on is get a Neti Pot to clean out your sinuses. If you don’t have a Neti Pot, you can use basic saline spray. If you are like me, however, and you have none of these things at hand when you fall ill, you can MacGyver yourself a nasal cleansing system by mixing a half a teaspoon of salt with a cup of boiled water and using a bulb syringe to shoot the saline up your nose (NOTE: you want to do this after the water cools a bit and do it over the sink). If it sounds awful, let me assure you – IT IS. It’s also really disgusting. I think it’s what drowning must feel like.

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“Paper, Rock, Scissors, Pills”, by writer & sneezer Michael Murray

 EXCLUSIVE: Guest writer & blogger Michael Murray tells Sinus Sister about his honker:

Paper, Rock, Scissors, Pills

My sinuses are bad, like Darth Vader.

They dress in black and ride a pale horse. They’ll ask if you’ve gained a little weight right when you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. They won’t laugh when you say something really funny. They buy you a self-help book for your birthday.  They’re the most evil sinuses in the multiverse and they are mysterious in their ways. For no discernible reason, they descend on black wing and transform my head into a slushy, congealing sac of misery.

I plague my wife, Rachel, with my theories for the most recent onset:

  • Whenever the seasons change I’m doomed.
  • It might be because I haven’t had a steak in awhile. That usually sets them off.
  • I should know better than to wear gingham, it’s an obvious trigger.
  • There was a squirrel on the fire escape earlier, that’s probably it.

Rachelle always pulls out her phone and begins to play Angry Birds when I launch into such analysis. She’s just not a very helpful woman. No matter, the other day while wandering through Chinatown I stopped into an Herbalist and Acupuncture place and asked the guy working the counter if he had anything that would help.

“Acupuncture no good. You need to do it constantly. I can see you have it bad, you have big face but small body, and it clear you have no money to do acupuncture all the time. I get you something.”

Insulted, but relieved that I didn’t have to become some acupuncture hippy, I stood and waited, a video of Cher singing If I Could Turn Back Time, playing improbably from the TV set behind the counter. When he returned he handed me what looked to be a baggy full twigs and other dried things.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Cure for your sinuses. It work great.”

“Yes, but what’s in the bag?”


“What sort of herbs?”

“It is secret.”

“It looks like you just went to the back room, swept some stuff off the floor, dumped it in this ziplock bag and are now trying to sell it to me.”

“You very ethnocentric man. You prefer me to give you pill full of chemical things you know nothing about?”

“Yes, yes I do.”

“I get you red pills. You wait here.”

Feeling like I had just bought some magic beans, I took the subway home humming Cher songs. I then took two red pills, as  instructed. After about an hour my life changed. I was thinking clearly and full of energy. I did a few dishes, looked for an old baseball hat I had forgotten all about and took our dog for a walk. Honestly, I hadn’t felt so revitalized and alive in years! I shoplifted from the corner store ( a longstanding dream of mine), wolf whistled at a high school girl, and then wrote three angry emails to people who had disappointed me.

I tell you, these red pills are awesome.

Tastes a bit like cherry.

For more Michael Murray, check out his blog and web site. Better yet, find him on Facebook.

Is There a New Hay Fever Vaccine on the Horizon?

Sinus Sister wants a shot in the arm

The cavalry is coming! There’s a new hay fever vaccine! Roll up your sleeves! My hopes, if not my money, are on a U.K.-based company called Circassia Ltd. They fight the good fight, trying to help us sad-sack sneezers with cats, grass, mite and pollen allergies. There are, of course, conspiracy nuts who saw The Constant Gardener and now think Pharma is incapable of fighting the good fight, but let’s not be ridiculous.

Why We’re Excited: Circassia announced that results from the phase II trail of their ToleroMune hay fever vaccine have shown significant improvement in participants’ allergy signs and symptoms compared to the placebo-takers. And the vaccine was well tolerated! Yippee!

What Happened: The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase II investigation enrolled 50 individuals in Quebec, Canada, who suffer from hay fever. (Hello! Why didn’t anyone call Sinus Sister?) During the study participants received four doses from one of five different treatment regimens over a period of 12 weeks. After 5 weeks, the researchers tested participants’ skin and eye responses to grass pollen. The results revealed that the ToleroMune vaccine reduced allergic symptoms in participants’ eyes by up to 30% more than those taking placebo. Furthermore, the treatment improved early skin reactions by up to 54% and late skin reactions by up to 19% more than those on placebo.

What’s Next: The final phase II trial of Circassia’s hay fever vaccine, consisting of 280 participants is currently underway in Kingston, Ontario. The trial will evaluate the efficacy of the ToleroMune T-cell vaccine at enhancing individuals’ nasal symptoms and eye responses when grass pollen is added to an exposure chamber. Fingers’ crossed!!!

Why it Might Actually Work: Circassia’s T-cell vaccine technology draws on well-established synthetic chemistry rather than the techniques for purifying whole allergens used by many immunotherapies, so Circassia has been able to establish the scale-up and production processes required to meet modern regulatory standards for pharmaceutical products.

Why We have a Crush on Steve Harris, CEO at Circassia: Because he said, Our clinical data show that Circassia’s T-cell vaccines have the potential to revolutionize allergy therapy! (Italics, mine)

Steve, don`t toy with me.

How the Eggheads at Oxford Explain Hay Fever and Allergies to People Who Suck at Science

September 27, 2011  |  News  |  , ,  |  2 Comments

Sinus Sister sees the light

You have to hand it to the eggheads at Oxford. Yesterday, the OUP (Oxford University Press) published the most lucid, accessible explanation of hay fever on their blog. The article is called SciWhys: What happens when our immune system doesn’t work as it should. Thanks Jonathan Crowe, for writing in the first-person and making it fun! Here is Jonathan’s post:

“I consider myself lucky: I don’t wait for the onset of summer with trepidation, knowing that it will bring days of itchy eyes and sneezing. For others, though, the blossoming of our natural world through spring and summer is less a time for marvelling at the wonders of nature, and more a time for an annual battle with hay fever. But why do some people have to suffer such afflictions while others don’t? What’s going on?

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, our immune system protects us from attack from potentially dangerous alien invaders in our surroundings. But sometimes even the best systems can go awry, as hay fever demonstrates so clearly.

The symptoms of hay fever – the itchy eyes and runny noses – are a consequence of the reaction of our bodies to pollen in the air. On the one hand, pollen is an alien invader (after all, it’s not a natural part of our body), so you might think it’s a valid target for attack by our immune system. However, it’s a harmless intruder, whose presence won’t actually cause any damage if left alone. So, in fact, there is no real benefit to be had from our bodies mounting an attack against it. Indeed, this is why, for many people, no attack is mounted. (It’s a bit like having both a neighbour’s cat and a poisonous snake wandering into your garden: the cat might not belong there, but at least it won’t do much harm. You’d struggle to feel the same about the snake. It’s a question of knowing which battles are worth fighting.) For others, though, the lack of danger posed by the intruding pollen isn’t recognised by their immune system, and the familiar response I’ve noted above is triggered.

Hay fever is an example of an allergy – the inappropriate response by our body to something that isn’t actually a threat. This inappropriate response takes the form of our immune system over-producing a particular type of antibody – but it is the knock-on effect of this antibody over-production that we really notice. As I mentioned in a previous post, antibodies can summon other parts of our immune system into action. When we suffer an allergic reaction, the overabundant antibodies sound a call-to-arms that triggers inflammation – localised swelling as the white blood cells of our immune system rush in to mount an attack on the perceived intruder.

Sometimes this over-sensitive response is little more than an annoyance, as in the case of hay fever (though I should note that it’s a significant annoyance for hay fever sufferers); other times, an over-sensitive response can be life-threatening, as in the case of asthma, where the network of tiny tubes that form our lungs swell up, making breathing very difficult.

It’s not just invaders from outside that can trigger an inappropriate response by our immune system, however. Sometimes, our immune system can turn inwards and start to attack components of our own body, wrongly considering them to be a threat. Such a response is called an autoimmune response. For example, rheumatoid arthritis – the painful swelling and degeneration of our joints – is caused by the white blood cells of our immune system attacking the cells in our joints, as if they were dangerous intruder cells.

Similarly, a certain type of diabetes, in which an individual’s body fails to control the level of sugar in their blood, is also associated with the misbehaviour of our immune system; in this instance, the immune system attacks a certain type of cell found in the pancreas, the part of the body that manufactures insulin. Insulin is a chemical ‘messenger’, which travels round the body, controlling how much sugar is taken up from our bloodstream. When the pancreas is damaged by attack from our immune system, its production of insulin is impeded and, with it, the vital control of our blood sugar levels.

So what causes our immune system to malfunction in these ways? While we don’t yet understand enough to have all the answers, allergies, in particular, seem to stem from the way the immune system is ‘trained’. It may seem odd to say that the immune system needs to be ‘trained’. After all, our heart doesn’t need to ‘learn’ to pump blood; our skin and nails aren’t educated in the art of growth. But our immune system does need to learn – and one way is for it to be exposed to germs and the like during childhood. Increasingly, however, this isn’t happening.

As a child, growing up in a relatively rural part of the UK, I spent much of my time outdoors, playing in the garden, or tramping over local fields, and getting exposed to plenty of old-fashioned dirt in the process. Now, however, children spend much of their time in dirt-free zones, slumped in front of the TV, or huddled round games consoles. And this clean living comes at a price: we are seeing a significant increase in the incidence of asthma in countries of the Western world, where children are growing up in increasingly germ-free surroundings. It seems possible that, by being exposed to too sterile an environment, our immune system may not be encountering a sufficient number of potential threats to learn how properly to differentiate between harmful and harmless, and risks becoming overly-sensitive to things that are, in fact, harmless. (This is a possibility set out in the so-called ‘hygiene hypothesis’ – but is something that remains a hypothesis, rather than an irrefutable fact.)

There are also lots of questions around how our immune system fails to ignore ‘self’ – that is, why our immune system wrongly turns against the cells and tissues of our own body. Early in life, our immune system is ‘trained’ to ignore self: those white blood cells (the B cells and T cells that I mentioned in my last post) that recognise self are eliminated. But, for reasons that are still being explored, this process of education clearly isn’t quite enough. Sometimes it seems that the information stored in a person’s genes makes them susceptible to autoimmune diseases; in other cases, environmental factors such as certain bacterial and viral infections seem to be a contributory factor.

Whatever the answers prove to be, it remains the case that we would live in constant peril if we had no immune system at all, as by those with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). These individuals have such severe defects associated with their T cells and B cells that they can only survive, without treatment, if kept in a completely germ-free environment, as so heart-wrenchingly demonstrated by the case of David Vetter, whose childhood spent living in a plastic, sterile bubble led him being known to the world as the ‘bubble boy’. The rest of us have a lot to thank our immune systems for – even if they don’t behave quite as intended 100% of the time.”


Top15 Low-Pollen Flowers (Part 1)

Sinus Sister is no Martha Stewart, but she likes her  flower boxes….

A garden store is the belly of the beast for people with allergies. Yet, I went to the nursery, like an idiot, hoping to raid the place for low-pollen flowers before the sneezing began. No such luck. But I did learn a thing or two about low-pollen flowers. Between thundering “achews“, I grabbed 15 of my favourite sneeze-free flowers. Here are the first five:





Impatiens are the gateway flowers that get you hooked on colour. They’re hard to kill, as long as you don’t cook them in direct sunlight. They require a bit of sun to bloom, but they work on semi-shaded balconies. Pansies are the journeymen of garden flowers, surviving cold snaps, even. They’ll bloom in sun or semi-shade. Snapdragons can take a light freeze, too, but don’t push it. Irises need at least six hours of sun a day to thrive (don’t we all?) while begonias can get by in partial shade.

For a more scientific evaluation of these flowers’ sneeze factor, go to Pollen Library.

Stay tuned for the next Top 5 Low-Pollen Flowers.

Charlie Brown

July 13, 2011  |  Celebrity Sinuses  |  ,  |  No Comments