Chronic Sinus Infections? Here’s How To Stop Them For Good
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 28.9 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 they often don’t have any effect on the actual progression and healing of the infection - especially if you suffer from chronic sinus infections, not just a single acute infection during cold and flu season.
If you suffer from recurring sinus infections, let me be the first to tell you, that is not normal. But there is hope to break out of this uncomfortable cycle. By discovering the underlying cause behind these infections, you can correct the problem, rather than just masking the uncomfortable symptoms with conventional treatments. From gut dysfunction to environmental toxins, read on to learn more about chronic sinus infections, their causes, and the steps you can take to breathe easy and finally find relief.
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What are sinus infections?
Sinus infections, also referred to as sinusitis in the medical community, occur when the tissue lining of your sinuses start to swell or become inflamed. These hollow cavities around your nasal passages normally produce mucus to moisturize the nose and trap harmful particles. However, when they become infected or blocked due to allergies, infections, or other factors, the trapped mucus can harbor bacteria, viruses, or fungi, leading to an infection.
Sinus infections often result in symptoms like facial pain or pressure, nasal congestion, headache, cough, fatigue, and sometimes a fever. While most sinus infections are acute in nature and clear up on their own or with appropriate treatment, they can sometimes become chronic, requiring a more in-depth approach to address whatever the underlying causes is
The link between sinus and stomach problems
The number one cause of chronic sinus infections is 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.
Top causes of chronic sinus infections
While gut dysfunction is one of the main contributors to chronic sinus infections, there are a handful of other causes that are usually overlooked.
1. 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.
2. 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:
- Olive leaf
- Larrea tridentata
- Bee propolis
- Melissa officinalis
- Vitamin C
3. 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.
4. 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.
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- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "Chronic Sinusitis" Accessed August 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/sinuses.htm
- Nicole A. Abreu et al. Sinus Microbiome Diversity Depletion and Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum Enrichment Mediates Rhinosinusitis.Sci. Transl. Med.4,151ra124-151ra124(2012).DOI:10.1126/scitranslmed.3003783
- 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, 2016, Pages 219-229, ISSN 2095-8811, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wjorl.2016.03.002.
- Infectious Disease Society of America "Most sinus infections don't require antibiotics" Accessed 2020. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/488874
- Lee, Stella, and Andrew P Lane. “Chronic rhinosinusitis as a multifactorial inflammatory disorder.” Current infectious disease reports vol. 13,2 (2011): 159-68. doi:10.1007/s11908-011-0166-z
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BY DR. WILL COLE
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.
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