A RECENT study showed that at least one in three Malaysians are reported to be suffering daily from either a sensitive nose or sinusitis issues such as a sneezing fit or congested nose. At the recent Scent-sitive Nose Forum, organised by the Nuvaceutical division of Nuvanta Sdn Bhd, a panel of experts highlighted the nasal health issues affecting so many of us and their solutions. While it's common for the majority of Malaysians to simply classify all their nasal issues as "sinus problems", consultant otorhinolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) Dr Azida Zainal Anuar said that our sneezing fits could be either allergic rhinitis or sinusitis. "Allergic rhinitis refers to the inflammation of the nasal membranes that is characterised by sneezing, nasal congestion, nasal itching, and a runny nose, in any combination," said Azida, who is also a head and neck surgeon. "Sinusitis, on the other hand, refers to an inflammation of the sinus mucosa. [Since] our sinuses are located in our cheekbones, at the back of our noses, in our foreheads, and between our eyes, sinusitis lends additional symptoms such as headaches and facial pain to an inflamed nose." Many sufferers have been known to resort to home remedies to alleviate the symptoms. As harmless as it sounds, Nuvanta's medical and Nuvaceuticals division business unit manager Datin Swanee Teh said it's important for people to understand what their bodies are trying to tell them through the mere act of sneezing. Teh, who's also a pharmacist, added: "It's easy to dismiss a runny nose or frequent sneezing spells as a minor nuisance ... But if people are more aware of this condition, of how it robs our ability to breathe, smell and function optimally, besides increasing the risk of asthma, they will be on their way to recognising it as a legitimate medical problem and significant burden on our quality of life." Every day, the mucous sinuses produce approximately one litre of mucous, which is moved to the back of the nose by cilia (tiny nasal hairs) in a beating motion, and then swallowed subconsciously. When an inflammation occurs in the nose and sinuses, the cilia stops beating and fails to transport the mucous, which results in it building up in the nose and sinuses. At the same time, the mucousal lining swells up and blocks the opening of the sinuses, and if an infection sets in, the mucous then changes from a colourless fluid to a greenish pus in the affected sinuses. Inflammation in the nose and sinuses is most commonly believed to be triggered by allergens present in the environment, such as walking on a dusty road or stepping into a pet shop. Azida said when placed in such situations, a normal nose filters out bacteria by sneezing them out once, whereas hypersensitive noses have an exaggerated reaction, which usually comes in a form of a sneezing chain reaction – and this is strongly influenced by genetics. "In Malaysia, the most common allergy triggers are house dust mites and pollution, as reported by more than half of nasal allergy sufferers," she said. Apart from sneezing fits, many also suffer from a blocked nose. And one of the most common alternative is for them to breathe through their mouths, especially when they're sleeping. But prolonged mouth-breathing itself opens doors to more problems for sufferers in the long run, such as sleeping disorders, snoring and sleep apnoea where normal breathing patterns are interrupted. Habitual mouth-breathing also promotes gum disease, bad breath, frequent sore throat or dry throat, and mouth ulcers – because unlike our nostrils, our mouths don't have nasal hairs to filter out germs and bacteria. There are also other adverse effects to this seemingly benign habit if established among children. In their case, prolonged mouth-breathing may lead to abnormal facial growth and affect dental development, resulting in a longer face and smaller jaw. "The nose is responsible for cleaning the air that we breathe before it reaches the lungs; so if the nose is constantly inflamed, it fails to perform this vital function and the lungs then bears the brunt of it," said Azida. However, it's not all doom and gloom for sufferers because there are natural therapies now available such as Lectranal, which targets the root of the problem instead of merely relieving the symptoms, like antihistamines. Formulated in Croatia by scientists at the Ruder Boskovic Centre, Lectranal is a herbal medicine made from astragalus root extract that has been tested and found to be able to calm down hypersensitive noses and sinusitis. Results from a study conducted on the treatment with Lectranal revealed that 70% of sensitive noses became desensitised after two months of treatment. The science behind this is the patented herbal extract that has the ability to impart a memory to the immune system – helping it to recognise the allergens in future and calming it at the same time. "When people have suffered from allergic rhinitis and sinusitis for so long, it is only too easy for them to believe that nothing more can be done, [but] The Scent-sitive Nose Forum hopes to banish that myth," said Teh.