Sinus infections are not fun. They cause aggravating symptoms like congestion, a sore throat, headaches, and a runny nose. The treatment options most doctors prescribe are almost as bad as the sinus infection itself. There is a growing belief conventional options like antibiotics and steroids are often overprescribed. They all have potential adverse side effects, and most of the time they only hide the symptoms rather than treat the underlying cause. With this in mind, it's important to understand what can cause sinus infections and other sinus issues, as the underlying cause actually often has a significant influence on what treatments will be effective.
Up to eighty percent of an individual's immune system and the trillions of bacteria that make up the human microbiome are found in the digestive system. Essentially, the nose and mouth are a part of the digestive tract. Therefore, when the digestive system is not well, it leads to a loss of good bacteria to fight any harmful bacteria in the sinuses.
It is necessary to have a decent balance of good bacteria throughout the body. Individuals who struggle with chronic sinus infections have been shown to have fewer bacteria in the microbes of their sinuses. A microbiome that lacks a variety of bacteria leads to chronic inflammation. If the mucous membrane is inflamed, it leads to the blockage of ducts and fluid in the sinuses, which leads to an infection. It is suggested that patients who suffer from chronic sinus infections request an examination of their microbiome to find out more details about their digestive system. Additionally, it is recommended that taking probiotic supplements such as lactobacillus assists in improving sinus symptoms.
The most common cause of sinus issues in the population is the colonization of a virus in the nasopharynx and sinus cavities. However, chronic sinus problems can be caused by the colonization of bacteria in these regions as well. Many different types of bacteria live in the nasal passages and pharynx and do not usually cause any problems, similar to the flora that lives in the digestive tract. However, bacteria can accidentally become deposited in the sinus cavities through coughing, sneezing, or direct invasion due to conditions that are favorable to its growth.
Inflammation of the sinus canals from environmental irritants, a weakened immune system, ciliary malfunction, and other mechanisms can provide bacteria with a favorable environment to colonize further. Types of bacteria known to cause sinus problems in some individuals include Hemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Streptococcus pyogenes, anaerobes, Moraxella catarrhalis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Escherichia coli, Enterobacter species, Proteus mirabilis, and Staphylococcus aureus.
The Wrong Kind Of Biofilm
Another important aspect of the microbiome that should be strong and healthy is the biofilm. It is a thin and slimy film of bacteria that adheres to the gut and sinuses. It is important to note biofilms are not bad; they are just a way bacteria cultivate. It is the content within the biofilm itself that determines if it is probiotic or pathogenic (a bacterium that causes disease). The goal of functional medicine is to promote a healthy biofilm through diet, lifestyle changes, and holistic medicines. A few essential tools to repair biofilm are taking probiotics and prebiotics as they develop probiotic balance and taking digestive enzymes as they break down the biofilm.
When the microbiome is in poor health, it leaves the immune system susceptible to not only bacterial infections but to viral infections. Surprisingly, about ninety-eight percent of all sinus infections are due to viral infections, not bacteria. Therefore, the antibiotics prescribed by doctors are completely counterproductive and will further diminish the health of the microbiome. The most noticeable way to identify whether it is a viral or bacterial infection is that bacterial infections usually last longer than ten days. The best way to combat viral infections is by upping the intake of vitamin C, zinc, or l-lysine.
Immune System Imbalance
Toxic biofilm, viruses, bacteria, and toxins can cause the immune system to become imbalanced, which in turn, can cause inflammation to occur in the body. There are a variety of ways to soothe and balance inflammation. Some of the most common are lowering the consumption of sugar, increase sleep cycles, stay active, practice meditation, increase B vitamins and stop the use of alcohol and drugs. However, it is important to remember balancing the immune system and soothing inflammation in the body is a constant effort and takes time. It is possible that by following all of these steps and staying motivated, chronic sinus infections can become a thing of the past.
Another rare cause of chronic sinus problems is the colonization of a type of pathogen that is referred to as fungi. Fungal causes of sinus problems are most common in individuals who have a compromised immune system from conditions like lymphoma, leukemia, diabetes, immunodeficiencies, and the overuse of antibiotics. Saprophytic fungus develops when this type of fungi lives off of the mucus inside of the nose and causes obstruction of the sinuses. Fungus ball develops in an individual when fungus becomes lodged in the sinuses and forms particulate clumps that may contain bacteria and grow large enough to occlude the sinuses.
Allergic fungal sinusitis develops when an individual experiences an abnormal allergic reaction to some type of fungus that comes in contact with the nasal mucus membranes and produces inflammation that clogs the sinus cavities. Invasive fungal sinusitis is a severe infection of the sinuses with the potential to destroy nasal and sinus tissue that develops in those who have a poorly functioning immune system.
An individual can develop chronic issues with their sinuses if they partake in activities where their nasal passages come in contact with water frequently, like swimming. Swimming in natural bodies of water can allow for bacteria, fungi, and viruses to enter an individual's nasal passages and colonize. Swimming can also produce changes in pressure in an individual's sinus cavities that may promote the movement of the water into the nasal passages and sinus canals. Present in swimming pools, chlorine is a chemical that can also come in contact with an individual's nasal passages and sinus canals.
Chlorine can cause the lining of an individual's sinus canals to become inflamed and swollen. This swelling does not allow the proper drainage of mucus from the individual's sinus cavities. In addition, the pathogen or irritant can cause the individual's immune system to produce abnormally thick mucus in the sinuses, making it more difficult to drain from the cavities. Sinus problems are not common in individuals who swim in bodies that contain saltwater, as it acts as a natural irrigation method for the nasal passageway that is similar to medical saline irrigation.
An individual may develop chronic sinus problems if they are a heavy and regular smoker of tobacco products. Cilia are cells that line an individual's nasal passages with projections responsible for trapping foreign particles and sweeping them into mucus. Two chemicals that are present in cigarette smoke, ammonia and hydrogen cyanide, can impair the movement of the cilia in an individual's nasal passages. This impairment makes the individual more susceptible to problematic mucus buildup and clogged sinuses.
The effect of cigarette smoke on the part of the immune system present in an individual's nasal passages and airways causes them to be at an increased risk of developing an infection in their sinuses because these defense mechanisms become impaired. Not only does regular smoking cause the immune system to be compromised, but it also causes chronic inflammation of the lining of the nasal passages and sinus canals. Cigarette smoke is also known to alter the natural flora present in an individual's nasal canals, which serves to protect them from foreign invaders.
An individual can develop chronic sinus problems as a result of maxillary sinusitis of endodontic origin. An individual's back upper teeth have long roots that extend very close to their maxillary sinus cavities. An infection in the root of an individual's upper back tooth or endodontic infection can easily make its way through the soft tissues around it, invade the Schneiderian membrane and penetrate the maxillary sinus. Another way an individual can get sinus infections due to an infected tooth is if their dentist or oral surgeon accidentally perforates the maxillary sinus when they are in the process of extracting the infected tooth.
In addition, some individuals who have undergone surgical procedures to place a dental implant in the upper back parts of their mouth have reported the development of sinus complications following their procedure. The tissues around a dental implant can become infected just like a natural tooth root, which has the potential to cause a sinus infection if the causative pathogen makes its way into the maxillary sinus cavities.