Humming May Be Pleasant Way to Remedy Sinus Infection Pain


Sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinuses that typically occurs with a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection. Millions of people suffer each year, especially during the winter cold and flu season. Medications such as antibiotics are typically not needed for acute sinus infections, those lasting 2 to 8 weeks, but in addition to the usual treatments, researchers suggest you might try humming.

Humming Can Increase Airflow, Preventing Infection

In a New York Times feature this week, Anahad O’Connor finds research from two recent journals that suggest that humming could help keep air flowing smoothly between the sinus and nasal cavities, providing needed ventilation to keep the air-filled spaces healthy and infection-free.

The first study was conducted at the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden in 2002. Because the paranasal sinuses are major producers of nitric oxide (NO), the scientists hypothesized that oscillating airflow produced by humming would enhance ventilation in the sinuses and thereby increase nasal NO levels. Ten healthy subjects took place in the study and they found that humming increased NO fifteen-fold, a dramatic increase in gas exchange between the cavities.

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Obstruction of the sinus ostium is also a “central event” in the pathogenesis of sinusitis. The ostium maxillare is the frontal opening of the sinus cavity. The pulsating sound waves appeared to open the ostium by 30-fold, additionally helping ventilation.

The second study, conducted in 2003 by the same researchers, again used 10 healthy subjects, but this time used a different method called “single-breath humming” to assess NO levels. The researchers still found that humming results in an increase in gas exchange in the sinuses and opening of the ostium. They also found that frequency of the humming was important, as a period of silence appeared to cause NO to accumulate again.

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These two studies tested the researchers’ hypothesis on healthy subjects, so the next step is to evaluate if humming will also help those who have current symptoms. In 2004, the same researchers tested the effect of humming on 59 adults with mild to moderate allergic rhinitis, a risk factor for the development of sinusitis. They found that humming helped in most cases (46), but some were classified as “humming non-responders”. Among these, most had bilateral sinus obstruction.

In conclusion, those with healthy sinuses may prevent infection, pain, headaches, and congestion by frequently humming a tune. Those already with symptoms may want to add humming to the usual treatments of drinking plenty of liquids, using a humidifier or steam to help thin the mucus, or using nasal saline several times a day.

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