Humming May Help Sinuses Stay Healthy

Increases Airflow, Which May Fight Sinus Infections

Medically Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD
From the WebMD Archives

July 29, 2002 -- Even if you don't have an ear for music, humming may help keep your sinuses healthy. A new study shows humming can improve ventilation in the sinuses, which might reduce your risk of developing sinusitis.

Sinusitis is a common but painful condition that affects more than 14% of the U.S. population. It occurs when the hollow, mucus-lined spaces around the nose (known as the paranasal sinuses) become inflamed -- causing symptoms such as headaches, pain, and nasal congestion.

Inflammation of the sinuses is usually triggered by an upper respiratory infection, and some people are much more likely than others to suffer from these infections. For example, people with allergies, asthma, or those with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to chronic sinusitis.

Researchers say proper ventilation of the sinuses is vital to keeping them healthy and preventing infection. But current tools used to measure sinus function are invasive and somewhat cumbersome to perform.

That prompted study author Jon Lundberg, MD, PhD, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues to look at humming as a possible method to measure as well as increase airflow and ventilation in the nasal passages.

They thought the airflow created by humming would speed up the exchange of air between the sinuses and nasal cavity. And the researchers measured the increased nasal output by monitoring the amount of nitric oxide (NO) in the exhaled air. Most of the NO in exhaled air comes from the nasal airways, and healthy sinuses have high concentrations of NO.

The study found that humming increased NO levels by 15 times compared with quiet exhalation -- creating a dramatic increase in the amount of the gas exchanged between the sinuses and nasal cavity.

Researchers say blockages or limited airflow between the two cavities is a key factor in the development of sinusitis.

"It will therefore be of great interest to study whether daily periods of humming can reduce the risk for sinusitis in patients susceptible to upper airway infections," write the authors. Their study appears in the July issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

The authors also suggest that measurements of nasal NO released during humming and quiet breathing may eventually provide physicians with important clues about who might be at increased risk for developing sinusitis.