Why You Keep Getting Sinus Infections + Exactly What To Do About It

Why You Keep Getting Sinus Infections + Exactly What To Do About It Dr. Will Cole

Throbbing pressure in your head, a congested nose, Kleenex for days – nobody thinks sinus infections are a breeze, and yet they affect (1) a whopping 29.4 million of us. But go to a doctor, and what do you get? “Cures” like over-the-counter sinus medications, pharmaceutical antibiotics, and steroids, all with side effects that can be as bad or worse than the infection itself. Sure, sometimes these medications might be necessary, but the truth is that these mainstream options are over-prescribed and often, they don’t have any effect on the actual progression and healing of the infection.

So what does a health-conscious sufferer do about the pressure, pain, congestion, fatigue, and all-around discomfort of a sinus infection? Stop them from happening, that’s what! The best way to do this is to discover the most common causes of these infections, so you can correct the underlying problem, rather than just masking the uncomfortable symptoms. Here are the causes, and what you can do about them right now:

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The Link Between Sinus and Stomach Problems

1. Gut bacteria imbalance

Since at least 80 percent of your immune system is manufactured and stored in your gut and directly influenced by the trillions of bacteria making up your microbiome, it’s time to recognize that your sinuses are really an extension of your digestive tract. (Seriously – it’s science!) When the bad bacteria are in charge, you are more likely to get sick because your immune system won’t be functioning optimally. In fact, studies have shown (2) that people who struggle with chronic sinus infections have less bacterial diversity in the microbes of their nose, which, again, leads to your gut. A microbiome that is unbalanced in favor of the bad guys, can lead to chronic inflammation of the mucus membrane that is causing the blockage of the drainage ducts and fluid in the sinuses that can lead to an infection. Candida overgrowth – an overpopulation of this immune-compromising fungus – often occurs after long-term antibiotic use, making recovery even more difficult, and even 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, so those can be a good defense. Plus, healing foods like celery juice and bone broth are some of my favorite ways to heal the gut to promote better immune function and head off sinus infections.

2. Bad-guy biofilms

Your microbiome is full of all kinds of bacterial and fungal strains, but it also houses something called biofilms: (3) thin, slimy films of bacteria that adhere to mucus membranes anywhere in our bodies, from the gut to the mouth to the sinuses. Biofilms are not inherently bad; they are simply a way that bacteria and fungi colonize; it’s the composition of the biofilm that makes it probiotic or pathogenic.

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

Did you know that 90 to 98 percent of all sinus infections are due to (4) viral infections not bacteria? A weak immune system can make you susceptible to viruses, which are impervious to antibiotics, and while viral infections tend to heal more quickly than bacterial infections, they won’t heal if your immune system isn’t up to the task. Help yourself slay those viruses while elevating your microbiome health!

What to do about it: My favorite antiviral supporters to bring into your day are:

  • Astragalus
  • Olive leaf
  • Larrea tridentata
  • Bee propolis
  • Melissa officinalis
  • L-lysine
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin C

4. Environmental toxins

Chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS), which is a constant low-grade inflammation of the sinuses that can make life miserable, has been linked (5) to inhaling 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 with daily doses of dandelion tea, spirulina, and cilantro to support healthy detoxification pathways.

5. Immune system dysfunction

All of these factors (bacteria, toxic biofilm, viruses, and toxins) can lead your immune system to activate inflammation.

What to do about it: To calm and balance inflammation and increase your body’s immune strength, check out my guide to lowering inflammation to get you back on track. Remember, balancing the immune system, calming inflammation, and healing all take time, but every internal victory will help increase your overall health. As inflammation subsides, immunity strengthens, and healing increases. Stay with your daily practices to improve gut health, decrease inflammation, and reduce toxic overload, and soon those chronic sinus infections could be a distant memory.

As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe. 

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  1. Chronic Sinusitis CDC January 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/sinuses.htm
  2. Nicole A. Abreu, Nabeetha A. Nagalingam, Yuanlin Song, Frederick C. Roediger, Steven D. Pletcher, Andrew N. Goldberg, Susan V. Lynch Sinus Microbiome Diversity Depletion and Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum Enrichment Mediates Rhinosinusitis Science Translational Medicine  12 Sep 2012: Vol. 4, Issue 151, pp. 151ra124 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3003783
  3. Judd H. Fastenberg, Wayne D. Hsueh, Ali Mustafa, Nadeem A. Akbar, Waleed M. Abuzeid Biofilms in chronic rhinosinusitis: Pathophysiology and therapeutic strategies World Journal of Otorhinolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery Volume 2, Issue 4, December 2016, Pages 219-229. doi:10.1016/j.wjorl.2016.03.002
  4. Most sinus infections don't require antibiotics Infectious Diseases Society Of America March 2012. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-03/idso-msi031912.php
  5. Lee S, Lane AP. Chronic rhinosinusitis as a multifactorial inflammatory disorder. Curr Infect Dis Rep. 2011;13(2):159‐168. doi:10.1007/s11908-011-0166-z

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Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.