Being sick sucks. Your nose is either blocked up or dripping like a tap. Your throat itches, your eyes water, you sneeze and cough. And it’s not just the common cold we’ve become accustomed to either, with several strains of coronavirus and that dreaded flu making their way around and putting our sinuses into panic mode.
As someone who is currently in the throes of congestion, I know how desperate one can get when symptoms are acting up. You’ll try almost anything to reduce the uncomfortableness that colds produce.
Over on TikTok — our dependable source of (albeit, sometimes questionable) advice — users have been sharing their own natural remedies for cold and flu symptoms.
Using only a cotton bud and her knuckle, licensed acupuncturist, Chinese herbalist and physical therapist Dr Eileen Li shares her hack for decongesting your sinuses. Li highlights four acupressure points: one on the inside of your eyebrow, one on the outside of your nose, one underneath your cheek and one on the hand, where the thumb and index finger meet.
“Take a Q-tip or your knuckle and you're going to press on each of these points lightly. You want to put enough pressure so that it can help stimulate the blood flow and also drain your face. For the point on the hand, you can actually just take a finger and press on it until it feels kind of achy. Stimulate each of these four points 30 times,” she says.
“I know, subjectively speaking, acupressure can help alleviate tension. I guess it also feels like you’re manually massaging any mucous out, but the relief (for me, at least) has always been temporary, and I do find myself needing to reach for more conventional therapies like my nasal sprays with corticosteroids or antihistamines to really allay the root cause of the pain,” she tells Refinery29.
Michelle Smith, a registered acupuncturist and Chinese medicine herbalist, backs Li’s technique. “Acupressure is simply applying pressure to acupuncture points. It makes sense that if you are feeling all blocked up, applying pressure on points that are intended to move energy, you will hopefully see some benefit,” she tells Refinery29, explaining that Li chose two points on the large intestine channel. “This is because in Chinese medicine the lung and large intestine are partner organs, so they speak to one another, so to say.”
In terms of the effectiveness of treatment, Purusothaman is quick to point out that the “quality of evidence of the main findings [of success is] moderate-low”.
“That being said, generally speaking, I think the interventions themselves are low risk and usually lower cost to patients, so if it is providing benefit then I think there is no harm in undertaking this at home. But it is imperative people start formerly with conventional treatments and an in-person assessment from their doctor,” she says.
Finding out what type of sinusitis you have, whether it’s allergic or infective, structural (for instance, if it’s smoking-related) or chronic, will help figure out what treatment is best for you. Purusothaman urges people to keep up regular use of medication over a 12-week period — things like sprays, tablets and over-the-counter analgesics like Panadol and Neurofen can be highly effective, if taken as directed.
Other TikTok videos are sharing acupressure techniques that incorporate the use of a gua sha tool, scraping along the acupressure points. “You definitely don't want to gua sha within the intra-orbital ridge — this is the part of the face where your skin thins and is more susceptible to bruising and stretching,” Smith warns. "You also want to make sure you're using the techniques when they're clinically relevant. This is why it's always important you are receiving information about these practices from a licensed Chinese medicine practitioner.”
“At the end of the day my ethos is, if it is helping you, then go for it, but use it as an adjunct rather than instead of conventional treatments,” Purusothaman says.
On TikTok, wellness hacks can sometimes look too good to be true. Especially with at-home tricks, it can be tempting to try each and every new trend in hopes of finding a quick fix cure. Both Purusothaman and Smith agree that these methods should be done safely and carefully. And before you consult Dr TikTok, it’s always good to heed the advice of your local doctor.
This article contains general information, and should not be understood as medical advice. Each individual's circumstances are different and should be discussed with a medical practitioner.