by Dr. Will Cole
Let’s be honest, sinus infections suck. With symptoms like throbbing pressure in your head, a congested nose, and Kleenex for days—sinus infections affect a whopping 29.4 million of us. And almost as bad as the sinus infection itself are the treatment options we’re given in mainstream medicine like over-the-counter medications, pharmaceutical antibiotics, and steroids!
And while there is a time and place for all of these medications, we can’t ignore that these mainstream options are overprescribed, have potential negative side effects, and most of the time they don’t even work. And this can be rough because the symptoms of sinus infections can really put you out of commission. They include but are not limited to:
- Pain in the face, sinuses, and behind your eyes
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Face tenderness
- Sinus pressure
- Sore throat
- Malaise (body pain)
So, if you’re tired of these uncomfortable symptoms—and you’re looking for a comprehensive plan to naturally deal with sinus infections—look no further. This, my friend, is your definitive guide to dealing with those painful, annoying, draining sinus infections once and for all. My goal as a functional medicine expert is to get to the root cause of chronic health problems—so let’s start digging. These are the main factors causing your sinus infections and what to do about each:
1. Bacterial imbalance.
About 80 percent of your immune system is in your good old gut and the trillions of bacteria making up your microbiome regulate your immune system and overall health in many different ways. Your sinuses, nose, and mouth are just extensions of your digestive tract. (Don’t be grossed out; it’s science.) And when your gut health is compromised it can lead to a lack of good bacteria in your sinuses.
It is important to have a proper balance of good bacteria throughout your whole body; studies have shown that people who struggle with chronic sinus infections have less bacterial diversity in the microbes of their nose. An unhealthy microbiome (or one that lacks variety) leads to chronic inflammation, which you can see in the inflammation of the mucus membrane that is causing the blockage of the drainage ducts and fluid in the sinuses that leads to an infection. Candida overgrowth can also start to creep up after long-term antibiotic use, triggering more sinus infections and perpetuating the vicious cycle of infection.
What to do about it: I suggest running microbiome labs to find out the landscape of your gut garden. Probiotics such as lactobacillus have been shown to improve sinusitis symptoms. Plus, healing foods like celery juice and bone broth are some of my favorite ways to heal the gut.
2. The wrong kind of biofilm.
Another aspect of your microbiome that you want to be healthy is the biofilm: a thin, slimy film of bacteria that adheres to our guts and sinuses. Biofilms are not inherently bad; they are just a way that bacteria colonize; it’s the composition of the biofilm that makes it probiotic or pathogenic. Functional medicine’s goal is to promote a healthy biofilm through foods, lifestyle changes, and natural medicines.
What to do about it: Some natural biofilm-modifying tools to consider are:
- Colostrum/Lactoferrin supplements: Lactoferrin inhibits pathogens and promotes healthy biofilms.
- Probiotics and prebiotics: These promote probiotic balance.
- Digestive enzymes: These break down biofilm.
- Xylitol: This is a natural anti-biofilm and can be found in powder form.
- EDTA: This is a chelating agent used to draw out toxins and biotoxins from a biofilm.
3. Viral infections.
An unhealthy microbiome leaves your immune system susceptible not only to bacterial infections but to the (more common) viral sinus infections. You may be surprised to know that about 90 to 98 percent of all sinus infections are due to viral infections, not bacteria! This means that the antibiotics prescribed are useless in these cases and will only weaken microbiome health even further. The main noticeable difference between viral and bacterial sinus infections is that the bacterial variety typically lasts longer than 10 days.
What to do about it: My favorite antiviral supporters to bring into your day are:
- Olive leaf
- Larrea tridentata
- Bee propolis
- Melissa officinalis
- Vitamin C
4. Inhaling toxins.
In addition to internal infections, chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS) is also linked to breathing in environmental toxins like cigarette smoke and biotoxins such as fungus and mold.
What to do about it: First, remove the toxin from your environment, or remove yourself from the toxic environment. Once you’ve done that, make your life a detox! Dandelion tea, spirulina, and cilantro are some of my favorite ways to support healthy detoxification pathways.
5. Immune system imbalance.
All of these factors (bacteria, toxic biofilm, viruses, and toxins) can lead your immune system to activate inflammation cascades.
What to do about it: To calm and balance out your inflammation I put together 20 ways to lower inflammation and a one-day diet to lower inflammation to get you back on track. Remember, balancing the immune system, calming inflammation, and healing takes time—so be patient! But if you follow this guide, it’s possible your sinus infections will be a thing of the past.
I originally wrote this article for mindbodygreen.