Study says practice may increase ventilation, and may even help diagnose condition
Swedish scientists have found that humming increases ventilation in the sinuses, raising the prospect that daily "tune-ing" might reduce the risk of sinusitis in patients who are susceptible to upper respiratory infections.
"Since humming increases sinus ventilation dramatically, we speculate that daily periods of humming could be helpful to prevent sinusitis in certain patients where bad ventilation is a part of the disease process," says Dr. Jon Lundberg, one of the study authors and an associate professor of physiology and pharmacology at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. "This is, of course, speculative and must be tested in controlled studies."
The findings, which appear in the July 2002 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, may also lead to a more accurate way to diagnose sinusitis.
The sinuses are cavities within the facial bone that lie next to the nasal cavity. The two chambers communicate with each other through openings called ostia. Previous researchers have pointed out that blocked or partly blocked ostia lead to reduced exchange of air between the two areas, which in turn helps foster the growth of bacteria, Lundberg says. This is a perfect setting for sinusitis.
Dr. Eddie Weitzberg, lead author of the study and an associate professor in the department of anesthesiology and intensive care at Karolinska Hospital, likens the sinuses to a bad basement that constantly needs to be ventilated.
One measure of how well the sinuses are ventilated is the amount of nitric oxide being expelled. When the sinuses are working properly, exhaled air contains a high concentration of nitric oxide. Less nitric oxide can indicate the presence of a problem, including asthma.
In this study, the researchers tested 10 healthy adult males with no history of allergy or airway disease and found that humming increased the nitric oxide rate 15-fold, compared with "quiet exhalation." In a mechanical model of the nose and sinus, humming also caused a dramatic rise in gas exchange between the two cavities -- almost the entire volume (96 percent) of the sinus was turned over in one exhalation, vs. only 4 percent during a regular exhalation.
Humming might end up as one of the easiest diagnostic tools available.
"Measuring nitric oxide during humming could be a measurement of the size of the holes from the sinus to the nose [ostia], and that could be of great interest to ear-nose-throat doctors, because one of the main promoters of sinusitis is narrow ostia," Weitzberg says.
"The idea is that if the passage between the sinus cavity and the nose is reduced, the humming-induced increase in nasal nitric oxide would be reduced," Lundberg adds.
What To Do
The theories aren't proven yet but, since humming appears to pose few health risks, why not try humming your sinus troubles away?
SOURCES: Jon Lundberg, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of physiology and pharmacology, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm; Eddie Weitzberg, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of anesthesiology and intensive care, Karolinska Hospital, Stockholm; July 2002 American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine