The pressure in your head and ears, the stuffy and runny nose, the drainage running down your throat, the fever – these are the telltale signs of a sinus infection. Sinus infections are painful and make it difficult to work or concentrate because of all of the congestion and head pain. Sinusitis occurs when the sinuses swell because they become blocked and filled with fluid, allowing bacteria to grow and cause an infection.
Approximately 37 million Americans experience at least one bout of sinusitis every year. Adults have a higher risk of sinusitis if they have nasal mucous membrane swelling from a common cold, blockage of drainage ducts, structural differences that narrow the drainage ducts, nasal polyps, or immune deficiencies or medications that suppress the immune system. Children are more likely to develop sinusitis if they have allergies, contract illnesses from other children, use pacifiers, drink bottles while lying on their backs, or live with a smoker.
Avoiding Antibiotics for Sinus Infections
The American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery Foundation, put out guidelines in April 2015 claiming that antibiotics for bacterial sinusitis should not be the first resort for treatment. The foundation, which is part of the professional medial association of the same name, has been recommending “watchful waiting” for sinus infection sufferers for years, and their latest guidelines add credence to that recommendation.
The guidelines are for acute sinusitis in adults, when symptoms last 10 days or more; the guidelines say patients should wait another seven days, or a total of 17 days, to wait and see if the infection goes away without antibiotics. Then, if the symptoms do not dissipate, or if they worsen, the patient should see a doctor for antibiotics.
Chairman of otolaryngology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, Dr. Richard Rosenfeld said the study found that, on average, approximately 86% of patients who took placebos for acute bacterial sinusitis got better in one to two weeks, while 91% of patients who took antibiotics got better. While there is a difference in patients taking antibiotics, the cons of taking antibiotics may not be worth it for those with sinus infections.
Overusing antibiotics makes them less effective against bacteria, and may make bacteria more resistant to antibiotics in the future. Antibiotics also have unpleasant side effects for some people, including temporary digestive problems, discomfort, photosensitivity in patients exposed to sunlight, and bone problems. Common side effects of antibiotic use include antibiotic-associated diarrhea, yeast infections, serious allergic skin reactions, and complications from intravenous use of antibiotics.
Alternative Treatments for Sinus Infections
The Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery Foundation suggests that sinus infection sufferers use over-the-counter acetaminophen and ibuprofen to treat the pain associated with acute sinusitis. They also recommend irrigating the nose with a saline solution to thin mucus in the nose, promote drainage, and reduce inflammation. In fact, studies show that high-volume saline irrigations of the nose once a day is an effective treatment for acute and chronic sinusitis. Doctors also suggest using a bulb syringe for extracting fluids from nasal passages.
Using Probiotics to Treat and Prevent Sinus Infections
Dr. Mas Takashima is the director of the Sinus Center at Baylor College of Medicine. He, along with other doctors at Baylor, have found that probiotic sinus rinses are effective at treating both chronic and acute sinusitis in patients. Probiotics, typically used in treating digestive issues or improving gastrointestinal health, add good bacteria back to the gut, where approximately 70% – 80% of your immune tissue is located. Probiotic supplements are also available in capsule form, also providing valuable immune support to help you ward off colds and illnesses like sinus infections.
Dr. Takashima has found that previously healthy patients find they are unable to get rid of their sinus infections after multiple courses of steroids and antibiotics. He realized the problem is the change that occurs in patients’ natural abilities to fight sinus infections, because antibiotics kill the good bacteria in the gut, just as they kill the bad bacteria in the sinuses. And, when the good bacteria is gone, the nasal cavity does not have any good bacteria to help protect it against the buildup of bad bacteria: “Current research in my field suggests this may be caused by the disruption of the natural bacterial habitat of the sinuses by the antibiotics, which is why more doctors are utilizing probiotics.”
Probiotics are extremely helpful in treating sinus infections because they replenish good bacteria, which prevents the bad bacteria from colonizing in the sinuses. So, you may want to consider the benefits of taking probiotics on a daily basis to help ward off sinus infections in the first place.